José Luis Guerín – Innisfree (1990)


A documentary focused on the modern-day village of Innisfree, the location used by legendary director John Ford for his Irish romance The Quiet Man.

Innisfree (from the Gaelic Inis Fraoich, the heather island) is the name of a tiny island in Lough Gill, to the south ­east of Sligo town, which was immortalised by Yeats in one of his best ­ known poems, ” The Lake lsle of Innisfree ” (The Rose, 1893). Written at a time when the poet lived in London with his family, and “felt very homesick” (Kirby, 1977: 46), “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” expresses a nostalgic longing for a simple country life apart from the stresses of urban life that places it within a pastoral tradition.

…(J.L Guerin) realised that whenever he asked Spanish people about lreland they invariably resorted to The Quiet Man as their main referent, mentioning the country’s beautiful Technicolor scenery and her people’s fondness for drink and rnusic, but failing to perceive the repeated hints provided by Ford that give the lie to the emigrant’s drearn of lreland.
Following a visit to the village of Cong, Co Mayo, the location Ford had chosen for his film thirty­ seven years earlier, Guerín would also realise the potent effect the shooting of The Quiet Man had had as “a late colonising wave which changed the economic, social and mental structures of the county”.

In fact, the inhabitants of the area have almost come to see themselves in the way the film portrayed them. And not only has the place deliberately kept an old­ world feel, but it has even appropriated as part of its lore alien elements that were introduced by Ford and his film crew during the shooting of The Quier Man such as the Aran caps they wore, the ballads John Wayne used to sing, or expressions such as Michaeleen’s “The horse’s more sense than I have.”

Indeed, the first half of the film, which includes many references to Ford’s film,
has no discernible chronology. Significantly, though, once a group of children finish summarising the plot of The Quiet Man, and we see “The End ” on the screen, there begins a certain temporality, an intimation of everyday routine in the community.

Another visual image of great evocative impact Guerín resorts to is that of the cottage.
On the one hand, the film opens with the derelict cottage of the O’Feeneys, i.e. John Ford’s family, who emigrated to the States. Then there is the cottage used in The Quiet Man, i.e. the materialisation of an emigrant’s dream of home.

And finally, there is the fake reproduction of the cottage set up by a local publican for the sake of the tourists who flock into the village to buy souvenirs, and who, incidentally, are shown a false version of The Quiet Man. The ruins of an actual Irish cottage, its idealised image and a commercial forgery illustrate how far representations of Ireland have strayed from reality.

The continual misreading of The Quiet Man and the fact that Guerín’s Innisfree has gone largely unnoticed reflect the recalcitrance of cinema audiences to acknowledge any discourse which challenges stereotypical views.

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