The Quiet Man

The origins of a story used in a small but important way in the film were founded in Belleek, Co. Fermanagh. It is the part about the friendship between the local Catholic Parish Priest and the Church of Ireland Rector.


   One of the principal characters was the Rev. James Benson Tuthill, born in 1788 in Co. Fermanagh near the Donegal village of Pettigoe. He was the son of a Church of Ireland minister. Before entering the ministry James B. had spent some years in the army. Ordained in 1812 he was curate in the parish of Inismacsaint which is on the south shore of Lough Erne. In 1824 he was appointed Rector of the parish of Belleek which is on the northern shore of the Erne. With this appointment went the post of a Justice of the Peace for Co. Fermanagh, a most prestigious post with a good income, the Rev. James B. presided over many cases in the local courts. Included in his flock were the leading families of the district, the Caldwell’s of Castle Caldwell and the Johnston’s of Magheramena.


    He resided in a fine Rectory in the town land of Magheramena. The building still stands today and is occupied by a local family. His church stood on a most commanding position of the top of a hill in Oughterdrum. Built in 1780 it could be seen for miles around and the peal of its bell inviting members of the congregation to divine service was carried over hill and dale plus the waters of Lough Erne.


  The second character of this story Neal Ryan, as born in 1795 near the village of Pettigoe. He entered Maynooth College in 1816 to train for the priesthood, being ordained in 1822. A very popular priest, he first served in the parish of Donaghmoyne in Co. Monaghan. In those years, which were shortly after the restrictive Penal Laws had been repealed he assisted at thirty-six marriages on Shrove Tuesday. The day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Church rules did not permit marriages to take place during Lent. The fact that so many marriages took place on the one day when couples had to wait a long time for a priest to become available leads to a question. Did the young people co-habit in the early years of their union?


    In March 1827 Fr. Neal Ryan was appointed Parish Priest of Templecarn. This parish was similar in area to the Church of Ireland parish of Belleek. It included the villages of Pettigoe and Belleek, the Pilgrim Island of Lough Derg, all that area of Fermanagh north of Lough Erne and a considerable portion of County Donegal. A new Church – St. Michael’s had been built in Mulleek in 1810. It was situated in a hollow at the bottom of Oughterdrum hill and was within 300 yards of the Church of Ireland building. The Church in Pettigoe was also newly built in 1820 and Fr. Ryan built another church in Lettercran in 1834. He resided in the town land of Aghafoy, just outside Pettigoe village. Both clergymen ministered to their flocks during the most difficult famine years, being from the same part of the world they soon became firm friends. The horrors of the Famine years of 1846-47 in this poor, rack-rented district baffle description. On one Sunday Fr. Ryan assisted by young men, buried 18 famine victims near Lettercran Church.


  Fr. Ryan was described as a man of the kindest disposition, totally adverse to party strife or religious animosities, and set his face strongly against all outrages that took place in the parish. Denouncing the perpetrators, in no measured language. He was of a jolly, hearty nature, fond of fun, and highly appreciated a good joke, and fond of telling one, being a raconteur of the highest order, which made him a welcome guest wherever he went. He lived on the best of terms with his protestant neighbours. This was so marked a trait in his character that he was popularly known as ‘The Protestant Priest’. One of his closest and warmest friends was the Rev. James Tuthill, the Protestant rector of Belleek Parish, a friendship that lasted their lifetime. His was a simple, honest nature, devoid of guile. He might well be taken for the original of Father O’Flynn, the kindest creature in ould Donegal.


  As a result of the friendship between the two clergymen, when any of Fr. Ryan’s flock where summoned for some minor misdemeanour to attend the local court, which was presided over by the Rev. Tuthill in his capacity as Justice of the Peace, the priest had a word in the ear of the J.P. on behalf of the accused who was then dealt with in a lenient manner. This did not endear the Rector to some members of his own congregation; many of them stopped attending his Sunday service and made complaints to his bishop. His Lordship announced that he intended making a visitation to the parish on a particular Sunday to see at first hand the situation for himself with the intention of dismissing the Rector from his post. The Reverent Tuthill knew that there would be few if any of his parishioners present, because of their attitude to him and he feared the bishop’s visit.


   At wit’s end, it occurred to him to ask the advice of his friend the Parish Priest. “What shall I do?” asked the Rector. “My bishop is to visit me on a certain day and I have little or no congregation”. “Make yourself easy”, said Fr. Ryan; “I’ll get you a congregation”. On the Sabbath preceding the visitation, the priest, addressing his people from the Altar in St. Michael’s, Mulleek told them that his friend, Mr. Tuthill, was in trouble. “His bishop is coming to visit him and he will have no congregation. Now, on next Sunday I will celebrate the Mass early and after it is over you will march across the road up the laneway to Oughterdrum Church. This the people did and they assembled in the Protestant Churchyard, where they had not long to wait for the arrival of his Lordship, whom they received with a ringing cheer! Fr. Ryan had instructed them to go into the Church, join in the service, behave like Christians, go on bended knees, and be very devout when the prayers are said and be most attentive when the sermon is preached, the church was crowded. The Bishop was agreeably disappointed, and declared that he had never seen a more devote or attentive congregation of good decent Protestant people.


   While other parts of Ireland may claim that this unique incident took place it their parish, there is enough contemporary proof that it originated in the churches of Oughterdrum and St. Michael’s, Mulleek. A contemporary and vivid account of the event is to be found in the “Autobiography of a Country Parson” (Belfast 1888) by Rev. James Reid Dill, the Presbyterian clergyman of Dromore, Co. Tyrone, who was a contemporary of both Fr. Ryan and Rev. Tuthill. Maurice Walsh, the well known Irish writer, got hold of the story some where and inserted it in one of his books, “Green Rushes”, from where it was culled by Hollywood to be portrayed as happening in another Irish parish in the well known film, “The Quiet Man.  The Rev. Mr. James Benson Tuthill was, among Catholics, the most popular magistrate in Fermanagh and it was generally said that he was guided largely in dispensing law by Fr. Neal Ryan’s advice. This popularity was probably a cogent reason for the ready request to assist the Rector. The Rev. Tuthill died, aged ninety on 19th August 1877. Fr. Ryan died shortly after on 4th October 1877 aged 82 years.


The full story as detailed above is taken from the book “The Parish of Carn” written by the noted Clogher Diocese historian – the late Fr. Paddy Gallagher a native of Bundoran, Co. Donegal.