There’s an Irish pub near my home that I frequent quite often. It was my dad’s favorite place, and we were often the only people there born this side of the Atlantic. Warm and homey, it was thick with brogues and resplendent with laughter. I once took my soon-to-be-in-laws there and a friend of mine introduced himself to them saying, “Many a times have I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in this very pub with Brian. And, a few of those times, it was even St. Patrick’s Day!”
St. Patrick’s Day has always been incredibly important to me. I’ve attended, and thrown, more Patty’s Day parties than I can count. But after a while, you begin to realize they’re all pretty much the same thing: shamrocks on the wall, maybe a green drink or two, and Irish classics on the radio. The holiday doesn’t seem to have much variety. But that doesn’t have to be the case.
Last year, I decided to throw a party themed after one of my favorite movies, The Quiet Man. It’s a classic film starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara set in a small town in the countryside of Ireland. It’s wildly funny, sentimental, moving, and a great love letter to the Emerald Isle from director John Ford. Hosting a themed party challenged me in terms of decorations and events—and challenged my guests to come costumed. But it was worth it.
It turned out that throwing a party inspired by The Quiet Man was the loudest party of all.
Transforming Your Home into Innisfree
To briefly sum up the movie, John Wayne plays an American boxer named Sean Thornton who decides to move back to his home country of Ireland where he was born before moving to Pittsburgh as a baby. Growing up among the “steel slag hills,” he was told of the greenery and beauty of his native town of Innisfree. So he moves there, soon falling in love with the fiery Mary-Kate Danaher—but the marriage is forbidden by her brother. Romance, drama, and comedy ensue. It’s all incredibly Irish, with outstanding dialogue and a comic master performance by Barry Fitzgerald. It’s a truly great film.
To throw a party inspired by it, you first have to recreate the mood and feeling of a small Irish town before modernity took hold. Start with the feeling of the pub where, unsurprisingly, a lot of the action happens. Order personalized bar signs with your name, or perhaps the name of the main pub in Innisfree, Cohen’s. You can also put up an Irish flag, although Ireland wasn’t technically independent when the movie takes place.
But it doesn’t stop there. To give your home the feel of old Innisfree, consider making it more, well, rustic. John Wayne’s character lives in a thatched cottage; he redid the roof himself. So I bought some thatch that may have been meant for a tiki party, but, if you put it up on the ceiling, it creates a cozy, woody feeling (rather than a hot and tropical one). Your guests will feel like they’re beneath an Irish cottage’s thatched roof, freshly pulled from the fields and dried.
Finally, I blew up pictures of the lusciously green Irish countryside taken on trips, and put them in windowpane-style picture frames so that it seemed like you were looking out the windows into a still, misty emerald afternoon, even in the loud raucous of my basement.
Tweeds and Wools in Greens and Browns
So you have your home the way you want it, but what about you and your guests? While I never require costumes at my parties (because I’d rather people came), I don’t mind throwing ones where costumes are encouraged. And this one is fun, and pretty easy.
For the Women
Maureen O’Hara has quite a few iconic looks in the movie, including a frilly green dress with a bonnet (ideal for a rain-soaked romp in an old cemetery), blue top and white skirt for the climactic “chase” scene, and of course the jacket and knit cap she wears when first she meets Sean Thornton.
Now, of course, you don’t have to emulate her look entirely. Any knit cap will do. You want tweedy and earthy, vibrant colors that aren’t too rich, but look like the countryside. This isn’t fancy dress. It’s homey and homemade, passed down through the years, and brought out when an American gentleman comes courting.
But remember: Mary Kate Danaher is no passive wallflower. Make sure the clothes can contain a proud temper.
For the Men
A lot of the characters in the film wear suits, but that isn’t as much fun as the wooly Irish cap, the biggest necessity for your outfit. Just pair it with a sturdy button-up shirt and pants that can be worn in the field, church, or pub. If you have the hat, nearly any look—suit, suspenders, overcoat—is automatically reminiscent of the Emerald Isle. Of course, there’s also always a kilt.
Music for an Irish Jig
There’s a saying by G.K. Chesterton:
“The great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad
For all their wars are merry
And all their songs are sad.”
He’s wrong about all the songs being sad, but he does capture how music is an intrinsic part of Irish culture, and how you’ll be needing some for your party.
There are the traditional rousing pub songs (“Whiskey You’re the Devil”, “Whiskey in the Jar”), the sad songs (“Danny Boy”, “The Ferryman”), and the patriotic songs (“Up the Rebels”, “The Rising of the Moon”).
Maybe my favorite sad/rousing/patriotic song is “Wild Colonial Boy,” which is also sung by the characters in Quiet Man. And don’t forget, of course, The Quiet Man theme, which is melodic and rousing. You can go modern as well, with the quintessential sing-along song, ”The Wild Rover,” sung here by The Pogues.
Music is incredibly important to help set the mood. You can imagine people gathering in a warm pub out of the misty night, coming in from their fields and out of their homes, gathering around a fire, clinking glasses, and singing the songs of that tragic and poetic and merry and absurd land.
It’s that land The Quiet Man celebrates. Every character has their private sorrows beneath their open cheer, and everyone, even the main villain, loves their country with a deep and encompassing passion.
So make merry. Recite your favorite lines from the movie. And know that while shamrocks don’t always bring luck, when you have your friends gathered in your own private Innisfree, you already have all the fortune this life can bring.
How are you celebrating St. Patrick’s Day? Do you have any movie-themed party plans? Tell us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our gift guides.