‘The Isle of Innisfree’ song (music and lyrics)was composed by Kells native Richard Farrelly, while on a bus journey from his hometown to Dublin. He served as a member of An Garda Siochana(policeman) in Kells while his parents ran a popular public house, later named in honour of the song. This writer had a memorable ‘stag night’ in the very same premises prior to its demise in 1995. The two events were unrelated, writes Noel Shine.
Appropriately enough ‘The Isle of Innisfree’ was aired for the first time on St Patrick’s night 1950, in Kells, at the St. Vincent De Paul Hall and published in the same year. When film producer John Ford heard the lush melodic production of Victor Young’s version he determined to have it interwoven into the narrative of the screenplay for ‘The Quiet Man’. The sentiment of the song, which deals with the feelings of separation experienced by an exile fitted perfectly with Ford’s own attitude towards Ireland. Ford was born Sean Feeney and emigrated to the US from Spiddal, County Galway.
In the film of ‘The Quiet Man’ he hoped to encapsulate the conflicted feelings of “the returned Yank” to his native soil. The exile returns changed by time and experience to find that the idyllic setting of the land of his birth (Innisfree) is reassuredly, the same. The natives too, have in turn, stayed true to his memory of them. However, his prolonged absence, has all but rendered him a foreigner in their minds. When he reacquaints himself with their old ways, conflict arises as he struggles to decipher whether their innate charm, is in fact, a blessing or a curse. In the best tradition of Hollywood, where all’s well that ends well, this conflict is resolved when he conquers the fiery temptress, that is Ireland (represented by the inimitable O’Hara, whose beauty and indomitable spirit could enchant any man at a thousand paces!).
The Quiet Man was never intended to be regarded as a contemplative socio-documentary of its time. Nor did Ford intend it to be viewed as pure escapist old guff either. He rewrote it to ensure that the narrative retained its universal appeal, excluding many pointed references to Ireland’s long history of violent conflict. It is, in many ways a love letter to his vision of Romantic Ireland and a bittersweet remembrance of that romance, cut short by the reality of emigration. That John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara and Barry Fitzgerald were perfectly cast, there can be no doubt. But the stunning cinematic visuals, capturing Ireland for the first time in Technicolour married to the dreamy soundtrack that was Farrelly’s creation have helped, in no small way, to project a timelessly positive image of Ireland. For many, that image first presented by Ford and later by John Hinde in postcard form, is the sole reason many come here. For that, Irish Tourism owe John Ford and by extention Maureen O’Hara a huge debt of gratitude.
Maureen O’Hara, assisted Ford in the pre-production phase of ’The Quiet Man’ by using her skills as a typist to help him bring the project to fruition. Together with Charlie FitzSimons, (Maureen’s brother) they composed their own verse to the air of Farrelly’s ‘Innisfree’ . It’s ironic, that as O’Hara sought to pen her own little ditty to Farrelly’s original that she was completely oblivious as to its origins. For, as Fate would have it, both Dick Farrelly and her own father, Charles FitzSimons both hailed from the monastic town of Kells in County Meath. Maureen herself, was no stranger to Kells in her youth before she too like Sean Feeney and many others took the emigrant trail to America in search of fame and fortune.
‘The Isle Of Innisfree’ or it’s composer were never acknowledged in the screen credits. A slight oversight which didn’t concern Richard Farrelly as he was notoriously reticent about publicity, being the archytypal “Quiet Man” himself . His composition became a worldwide hit for Bing Crosby in 1952 ( his biggest UK success) Today, in 2012 it lives on in the hearts and minds of many as the unofficial national anthem of Ireland.
A few years ago Dick Farrelly was acknowledged by the unveiling of a plaque at the aforementioned Vincents Hall in Kells. There included several musical tributes from local musicians in attendance. But, the night belonged to Sinead Stone and her husband Gerard Farrelly( Dick’s son) who made the return journey from Dublin to Kells, to re-enact the night that ” The Isle of Innisfree” was given to the world. In Sinead Stone’s voice ” The Isle Of Innisfree” had found its rightful home. When Maureen O’Hara was formally inducted into the Irish American Hall Of Fame in 2011 at an event in New Ross, County Wexford it was Sinead and Gerard who provided the musical accompaniment to the occasion. Richard Farrelly, who passed away in 1990 would have been proud.
Next Saturday, when Maureen O’Hara returns to Kells for a formal civic reception and a very public family reunion, the circle which was first drawn on a bus to Dublin will be made complete. Conversely, Maureen FitzSimons/ O’Hara in visiting Kells honours her father, her kinfolk and the town, which gave the world the music of it’s most famous, “Quiet Man”. By Noel Shine. See Meath Today on Facebook for daily updates and extensive pictorials and LIKE !