Among Ernie O'Malley's many initiatives to articulate and promote a distinctly Irish culture was a project involving his good friend the American photographer Paul Strand. The two men planned a joint project for a book, taking a village or group of Irish villages and Paul Strand taking the photographs and Ernie O'Malley providing the text. Sadly it never materialised.
One project that had huge significance in expressing and promoting a vision of life in post-Revolutionary Ireland - both the beauty of the country and the way of life of the people - was the film 'The Quiet Man'. Based on a short story by Irish writer Maurice Walsh and filmed on location around Cong in County Mayo, The Quiet Man was released in 1952 and remains for many the classic Irish movie. Both the film and the original short story bear more than a passing debt to J.M. Synge's masterpiece The Playboy of the Western World, with its story of a 'playboy' who arrives at a small cottage from afar with a reputation for having killed a man. The hero woos a local girl despite her attachment to an overbearing local man - and despite the attentions of an older local woman - and the story turns on a climatic fight. JM Synge's play itself was partly based on the story of Achill man James Lynchehaun.
Director John Ford had invited Ernie O'Malley to act as an assistant on the film, advising on local ways and customs as well as offering specialist input for the scenes involving local IRA men. As Des MacHale's excellent book, 'The Complete Guide to The Quiet Man', points out, Maurice Walsh's original story 'The Quiet Man', published as part of the collection 'The Green Rushes', had a significant IRA involvement but this was minimised in the film for political reasons. Ernie O'Malley's title in the credits for The Quiet Man is 'IRA Consultant'.
Ernie O'Malley and the Irish-American director John Ford, who had a keen interest in military matters, got on famously. According to female lead Maureen O'Hara, John Ford: 'had a great deal of respect for Ernie... . He had such respect for Ernie. They would natter away like old buddies... . They liked each other. They were friends.' (quoted in Richard English, 'Ernie O'Malley', p65) It is possible that Ernie O'Malley was involved in John Ford's decision that he and the cast of The Quiet Man - including John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara - would break from filming to take part in a concert to raise funds for the 'County Galway Volunteer Memorial Fund'.
One interesting coincidence with an Achill connection is that when John Ford tried to get backing to make 'The Quiet Man', the studio RKO Radio Productions made him sign a deal for three movies with the proviso that if the first one made a profit, RKO would finance The Quiet Man. For that first movie John Ford chose to make 'The Fugitive', which was based on the novel 'The Power and the Glory' written by Graham Greene, who was to work on Achill and to have an affair with Ernie O'Malley's close friend, Catherine Walston.
A second Achill Island connection with The Quiet Man is the legendary film star John Wayne. During filming of the movie in 1950 the cast was able to explore the County Mayo countryside. John Wayne, who had strong Irish roots, later observed: "I have made many films in and out of Hollywood but I have seldom enjoyed my work so well. In the odd spells I had free from the camera, I took stock of what the countryside provided in fishing and hunting. It's a sportsman's paradise. I do a lot of deep-sea fishing and I thought I was up in all the thrills of the game until I saw them after shark in Achill. That, I thought, was the highlight of my visit and I would like to come back some time and do a little of it". (quoted in Des HacHale, 'The Complete Guide to The Quiet Man', p38) We can only speculate whether it was Ernie O'Malley, who got on very well with John Wayne and who visited Achill frequently, that introduced The Duke to sharkfishing on Achill Island.