God Bless St Patrick: Irish Masculinities on Film – Part I

Getting ready to head to New Orleans for this year’s American Conference for Irish Studies, I thought a fun post might be to postulate somewhat on what is sure to be rife on the television set this coming weekend: movies about Ireland, especially those that seem to conform to every stereotype ever imagined about the island.  Really, an entire blog could be devoted just to this topic, so these variations of cinematic Irishmen I thought of while falling asleep are certainly just a beginning foray rather than a definitive list.

Well, it has to start with John Wayne, doesn’t it?


What would St Patrick’s Day be without The Quiet Man?  This is John Ford’s epic, yet intimate vision of an Irish-American returning home to life and love in Innisfree after half a lifetime away in the steel refineries of Pittsburgh and the unquiet times of the boxing ring.  If ever the Irish Diaspora yearned for a cinematic image to fill their longings for a romantic and unchanged homeland, Ford delivered… and then some.  Good luck trying not to find this on one of the movie channels this Saturday!

I have to say, Sean Thornton is my favourite of Wayne’s various incarnations – I started watching TQM at such a young age (3, maybe?) that I only ever thought of him as the owner of White-a-morn.  All of that Cowboys and Indians craziness came as a real shock.

Everything about this movie is deliciously overdone, reflecting diasporic ideas about Ireland rather than a mirrored reality.  From Barry Fitzgerald’s impish Michaleen Og Flynn to Red Will Danaher’s boorish bravado (did you know Victor McLaglen was the Provost Marshal for Baghdad during WWI, as well as being the British Army’s heavyweight boxing champion?), and Maureen O’Hara’s fiery red hair matched only by her temper… John Ford played up every romantic stereotype about the Irish and obviously had a field day doing it.

And yet, maybe because I grew up watching this every 17 March with my own extremely Irish grandfather (Shamrock Shake from McDonald’s in hand… I’m sure Grampy had something a bit stronger), I cannot fault the movie in any way – even the “walking her back” scene before the big fight.  True, it is hardly the greatest pro-feminist statement I’ve ever seen on film — in fact, it rates right up there with Rhett manhandling Scarlett up the staircase (more on GWTW later).  I laughed as a small child, snarled as a young woman… and now I just shake my head.  After all, it’s not like Mary Kate takes it like a meek little thing – in the noble tradition of the defiant Kate, Maureen O’Hara nearly clocks John Wayne half way through the meadow.  Good on her.

A final note on TQM – it has, without doubt, my favourite censored scene on film: Michaleen discovering the broken wedding bed, his eyes widening: “Impetuous!  Homeric!”


Ah, it seems my flight is about to be called, so I will go on with part II once I’m in Louisiana…


About midatlanticmusings

Historian of the Irish Diaspora and masculinities, wife, mother, lover of good books, red wine, fine whiskies, pop culture aficionado, and Star Wars wonk.
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One Response to God Bless St Patrick: Irish Masculinities on Film – Part I

  1. Rob (Peregrinatio Pro Dei Amore) says:

    Great article Jane! In my last post I forgot to mention a John Wayne film you should watch – The Searchers (Collector’s edition). In it there is an extended commentary on JW’s ‘manliness’ and what it is to be a ‘man’ in today’s society (though I know this is not your time-period). Also, there’s a book (poorly) titled “Why Men Hate Going to Church” by David Murrow you’d find worthwhile. I’ll also mention (in passing) “The War Against Boys” by Christina Hoff-Sommers too. TTFN.

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