The Quiet Man

by Maurice Walsh

In the 1930s, Irish novelist Maurice Walsh placed the moors and mountains of Ireland firmly on the literary map with this celebrated collection of stories. Since then, readers have continued to be charmed by these accounts of the simple and common activities of the characters in 1920s rural Ireland. The lives of Hugh Forbes, Paddy Bawn Enright, Archibald MacDonald, Joan Hyland, and Nuala Kierley intermingle as the themes of nationalism, human dignity, honor, and love are given full play. Made famous by John Ford’s Oscar-winning film The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, these remain humorous and poignant tales set against a backdrop of intrigue and Irish civil unrest.

Appletree Press description.

It’s now time to dip into the true ‘unread bookshelf’. It’s funny how writing a blog affects your reading habits. I was looking at the options presented to me and thought ‘No, no, no, you can’t choose yet another book set in central or Eastern Europe. Das Volk will not appreciate it’. So I looked and looked and settled upon ‘The Quiet Man’.

Yes, you’ve all heard of the film and I imagine in this day and age that could put off more people than it would encourage. The book I am reading was published in 1964 and has the tagline ‘The Book of the Film’. Nowadays these are usually hastily written movie tie-ins. I once fell for that when I bought the book of ‘A Walk in the Clouds’. Yes, it is a cheesy Keanu Reeves film, but I liked it. When I googled it I came across the book and ordered it. Lo and behold it was a ‘book of the film’ written after the fact and mirroring every scene exactly. This book, however, was originally published in 1935, long before the film.

I thought I could wax lyrical about how this was on my grandparents’ shelf in Mount Prospect Avenue. There were some books I read when visiting my grandparents as a young girl. I remember sneakily reading a few chapters of ‘Light a Penny Candle’ by Maeve Binchy, even though my mother felt it was too grown up for me. After my grandfather went to hospital and I stayed every now and again with my grandmother I used to always choose something. Inevitably it would be some potboiler from years before. I like reading these old popular books. You don’t find them in bookshops, because they are not classics, but they sold at the time and were popular for a reason.

After my grandparents died I took some of their books (and some I had ‘borrowed’ through the years became mine by default.) One of the books was a ‘teach yourself Russian’ type book from the 60s. I hadn’t known that my grandfather had been in interested in learning Russian. My own interest stemmed partly from work trips my father made to Russia just before the end of the Soviet Union and later trips to Ukraine and Lithuania. The Russian dictionary I’d bought him once as a present got put to firm use when I went to Belarus. It was only when I returned for Christmas that my grandfather said a phrase to me in Russian….what was it…something simple, perhaps ‘kak dela?’ and I learned that these were the remnants of his self taught Russian in the 60s. It was the height of the cold war. In hindsight we look back and know the aftermath, but at the time my grandfather thought it might at some stage be a useful language. It was one of those silly but heart-warming facts. My grandfather, my father and myself, we had all attempted to learn Russian in our own way and for different reasons.

And there I go, taking over this post with Russia even though the subject is a most un- ‘Eastern European’ of books. Anyway, it’s all a lie. This didn’t come from my grandparents’ bookshelf. I had all of these warm fuzzy feelings to share and then I opened the cover and saw ‘€4’ written in pencil. So I must have picked it up second hand somewhere. Most likely the Temple Bar market. €4seems quite expensive for a book like this second hand, a book that cost a fraction of the price originally and probably came from somebody’s grandparents’ shelf. But on the other hand, I like the Temple Bar second hand market and the random books you find there so maybe buying this is my contribution to keeping it going.

The amount I have not written about this book, you would think I was trying to avoid writing about it. On the contrary, I had written most of the above while I was still in the early stages of reading.

‘The Quiet Man’ was originally published as ‘Green Rushes’, an interwoven selection of short stories told in chronological order. The Prologue sets the stage and summarises some of the events in advance, without telling too much. I approached this book with trepidation and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed each of the stories and rooted for the characters. The book is very much of its time. I don’t think it would be possible for anybody these days to write in the same style or language used by this author. If they did it would really irritate me and I would feel that it was being schlepped on. Perhaps in that era this was also the case, but that is not how I read it. It really makes me sad that Hiberno-English is disappearing. Yes, in Ireland we speak with (to some) impenetrable accents and we have plenty of sayings that are unique to this country, but many of them are dying out. We all watch US and UK TV and increases globalisation means that patterns of speech are becoming homogenous. Some turns of phrase used in this book could not be used by me except as pastiche. But some simple phrases…. for example I insist on sticking to ‘amn’t I?’ instead of ‘aren’t I?’ Word tells me it’s wrong. Or another I noticed in this book: saying ‘He used do …’ instead of ‘he used TO do …’.

The basis of the film ‘The Quiet Man’ is the third of the five stories; though as I have mentioned, the stories are all linked and the quiet man himself, Paddy, pops up in them all.

I finished this book on the plane on the flight home, my first trio home in over 6 months. I know that is not much to a lot of people, but it is to me. I didn’t start writing this up on the plane as the turbulence was a bit much and it was easier to move on to the next book. Originally I wasn’t going to bring a spare book with me, as there would be plenty of unread books on my parents’ shelves, many of them technically mine. However then I thought: ‘I’m going to finish this book, I need a spare’. And as I was going to be flying I thought ‘ok, I’ll bring something light’, but then I thought ‘I might not like that one, I’ll take another slim volume just in case.’ Tomorrow I’ll go into Dublin for some final Christmas shopping. I don’t think I’ll take either of these books with me to be honest, I’m sure I’ll find something else here tonight when I look. I’m listening to Bach’s Christmas oratorio while my father has fallen asleep on the sofa. We had some of the Tio Pepe sherry we purchased in Jerez and then some Rioja, a last minute purchase at Malaga airport.

Ok, it is now Christmas Day and since writing the above I’ve finished two other books, so I’m falling behind. I’m going to try and rush and finish writing about this one and move one.

The emigration to America is very evident in this collection. Three of the main characters are Irish American. This Christmas the media is full of stories about returning emigrants from Australia, Canada and closer to home. The stories from the US are more about illegal immigrants who cannot return. I don’t think too many go any more to the US; it is not the utopia of earlier years, the ‘America’ of Hotel Savoy.

It was funny, on reading this, how I felt the familiarity set in once I got to the fifth section, which is set in Dublin. For most of the book there was a sense of distance, which I put down to time, but then when I started reading the Dublin section I realised that it was more of the old country/Dublin divide. Dublin and the areas immediately surrounding it, the Pale, has always been accused of being less than Irish, even being West British. Of course I always hated this accusation growing up, but there can be no doubt that growing up in Dublin is different than growing up elsewhere in Ireland. However, I think you can argue that this is the case in most countries. The capital city is always a bit different and to visit the country properly you have to see more than just that. Of course, I’m not actually from the city of Dublin, but even so!

I have to wrap this one up; it’s the 30th, Christmas holidays are over and I have three more books to write about. I feel I am failing with this blogging business after less than a month of trying. I find I have so many thoughts racing around my head, but I am not quick enough to write them down on paper or I don’t have the time to organise them properly. I’m going to try not to give up though. To summarise on this one – a pleasant surprise, if you come across it you should read it!


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