Friday, May 6, 2011

Donnybrook: The Quiet Man

The Movie
   My favorite movie, full stop.  How nice for Sean Thornton (John Wayne), arriving with his baggage (literal and figurative) in his ancestral village of Innisfree to find confidantes, a soul mate, enemies and endearing characters all set up and waiting there for him, in a beautiful pastoral setting.  The Quiet Man (1952, directed by John Ford) tracks the adventures of a man returning after many years to a place his family once lived, and the preconceptions and adjustments that entails.  Maureen O'Hara plays Mary Kate Danagher - a woman with a mind of her own, and Barry Fitzgerald is the matchmaker / shaughraun Michaeleen Oge Flynn.  Red Will Danagher (Victor McLaglan), Mary Kate's brother, provides a good bit of the conflict through his blowhard bullheadedness; Irish tradition and Thornton's past provide the rest.

The Setting
   I'm happy to be tackling this one at last, because I always wondered about the time period, setting and just what the heck was up with Mary Kate and her property.  It was the early fifties when the film was made, but since no date is indicated, I had always had some vague notion of isolated locales within Ireland that still used buggies and Model Ts and had traditional notions of dowries deep into the 1950s.  Well it didn't take much to find that the movie was shot in County Mayo and is set in the 1920s at the time of the partition of Ireland into Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State (rebellion is only darkly hinted at in the film).  During this time in Ireland, around half of the Free State populace was employed in agriculture, and many lived in situations of overcrowding.  While part of the British Empire, Ireland was not permitted to industrialize.

The Set-up
   The main conflict of the film is the understandable reluctance of Thornton to engage in fighting for the money portion of his new wife's dowry.  She is firm in her need to follow tradition and have her husband respected within her family and the community by getting the money back from her brother.  Dowries were of high importance in the 1800s in Ireland, due to land inheritance customs and other sociological issues, and to Mary Kate, the dowry has a worth other than the grasping materialism that Sean thinks is her motivation.  Events are brought to a head when Mary Kate leaves.  Thornton pulls Mary Kate from the train and forcefully walks her back.  The transaction is eventually settled, but Red Will Danagher is feeling put upon, he takes a swing at Thornton and a cathartic donnybrook breaks out.

Donnybrook Fair
   The definition of 'donnybrook', from a local source:
"A 'donnybrook' is sometimes used to describe a general melee or row particularly in 'stage oirish' situations. The scenario seems to be that we all go around wearing funny hats and red beards shouting 'Shure' and 'Begorrah' while we beat one another with small blackthorn sticks." -The Clare Champion, 2010
   The term comes from the Donnybrook Fair, held in the Donnybrook (Domhnach Broc) section of Dublin from 1204 AD until the 1850s, when it was banned.  Originally begun as a fair for merchants and artists, by the 1800s the fair became notorious for its drunken carousing and, above all, its fighting.


   Medieval fairs (the source of our modern day Renaissance Fairs) were started by the Normans as a way of promoting trade, and were a good source of funds for the church.  Merchants and musicians would gather to hawk their wares, and all would have to pay fees to the holder of the fair charter, which was originally granted by King John of England and passed from hand to hand for centuries after.  By the 1700s, the focus of the fair was less on trade and much more on entertainment and drinking.  Dublin had expanded, and its suburbs were also encroaching on the traditional fair grounds, which had originally been outside of the city walls.  A campaign was got up by the locals, the charter bought out and the fair closed down.

Links and Sources
if Monet painted drunken fistfights
William Dowling's excellent essay on The Quiet Man, Rutgers
Family and Community in Ireland, Clare Local Studies Project
Donnybrook Fair, Wikipedia
Donnybrook, World Wide Words
Oh, Donnybrook..., Clare Champion
The Irish Family..., Fairfield University

1 comment:

  1. I want to thank you for this piece, which was lots of fun, and especially for the link to Mr. Dowling's excellent essay.