Paddy was interviewed by Gerry Ahern
Tell me about the tradition of Drama in Athenry.
I really don’t know when drama started in Athenry but I can safely say it is eighty years of age and could be even a hundred.
Where were the plays held?
Plays were held in the Town Hall, now known as the Community Hall. Sometimes they would visit other parishes and put on their show. They would attend Drama festivals as in the forties and fifties. They had an excellent cast and won many awards at national levels.
What plays do you remember attending in your youth?
The first play that I attended was “The Righteous are Bold” and, boy, will I ever forget it. The gist of the story was that one of the family or actress was possessed by the devil and to see her breaking statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Now seventy years ago – to a green lad from the country – it was some shock and then the priest performing the exorcism.
Two other plays that I remember were “The Ruling Class” and “The Playboy of the Western World”.
Who were the best actors of those times?
Mick Fahy, Christy Howley, Tom Armstrong, Mickey Hession, Jim Kearns, Noel O’Grady, Steve Jordan, Paddy O’Regan, Stephen Burke.
Who were the best actresses?
Kitty Lardner, Joan Murphy, Rosemary Kennedy, Kitty Fahy, Roseleen Fitzpatrick.
When did you join the Drama group?
In the mid to late seventies I joined the group. Prior to that in my youth I played hurling and football and I was also involved in Macra na Feirme and the National Farmers’ Association, so my spare time was very limited.
Tell me about your first play?
Whenever I went to a play I would pick out some character and say to myself that I could play that part and sometimes think I would do better. Now at this stage Athenry Drama Group had lapsed for a few years. And I think it was Kitty Lardner put a notice in the parish newsletter inviting anybody interested in Drama and reviving the Drama Group to attend a meeting. I said to myself that this was my chance, and so I went to the meeting. There was a great response and in the hall were many of the old players and lots of prospective stars. So that’s when I headed for the stage.
Tell me about rehearsals.
As the numbers were big it was decided to have three one-act plays to try and use up all the talent that was available. I was cast for a play called “A Pound on Demand”. In one scene two drunks enter a Post office wanting to draw a pound. Now I’m pretty drunk but my mate is really under the weather. But it’s him that has the money on account.
The clerk gave him a form to sign to withdraw the pound but after several attempts at signing, the clerk could not accept his signature. Then both of us kick a racket and start abusing the poor clerk and than demanding to see the Postmaster General. We also start interfering with customers, so the young clerk sends for the Guards and we are arrested.
We performed the three plays for three nights in the Town Hall to full houses every night. We also took the plays to the Kiltullagh One-Act Festival. When the adjudicator met our group backstage she said that you would know the cast members who were used to the stage.
Kitty Lardner, who directed the three plays, laughed heartily at the remarks saying that he may look like their Daddy but that it was his first appearance on the stage.
Who were the set designers?
Before I joined I think Tommy Reilly was the main man and no doubt Kitty Lardner had a big input in designing also. I say this because when the group was restarted Kitty was designer, producer and dressmaker and as they say ’small bother to her’. Tommy Ryan used to do the work of building the sets. He was brilliant at transforming the sets to suit the plays.
Who was in charge of lighting?
As far as I know Richard Murphy did most if it, making most of the lamps himself. In later years different firms started making special lights and hiring them out to groups. These were attached to a bar, a small bit in front and higher than the stage. Cables would lead from each light to a switch board to control the lights as required. In my time Joe Tighe was in charge and set up these lights.
Tell me about the directors of these plays.
In these later years Kitty Lardner was the director of our plays and since then Rob Gallagher, Joe Tighe, Kerrill Hanlon have directed. For the last few years Terry Nolan is the director and I hear great praise of his method and style.
What other plays did you take part in during the early years?
‘A little bit of land’, ‘The Mourning Thief’, ‘The Field’, ‘The Black Stranger’, ‘The Hiker’, ‘Say Cheese’, ‘Big Maggie’, ‘A Pound on Demand’, ‘Spreading the News’, which we did in a competition on Mid-West Radio and also on a open stage in Athenry’s Market Square for Lady Day festival.
What Drama Festivals did you act in?
Kiltullagh, Clargalway, Shannon, Glenamaddy and Tuam.
What awards were won?
Steve Burke won Best Actor in Claregalway. In Kiltullagh we won the overall best play with ‘A Little Bit of Land’ and yours truly got the award for best actor. Elaine Kavanagh received the Best Actress award.
Who were the outstanding actors in the group?
Now Gerry, being a playing member of the team it’s not fair to pick or choose. I believe every one cast for a role is good and fitting and most suitable to play their part. Anyhow here are a few names: Steve Burke, Rob Gallagher, Seamus Lynch, Jimmy Kennedy, Joe Tighe, Martin O’Grady, Kerril Hanlon, Terry Nolan, Dan Hanlon, Ronan McCarthy, Juno Barrett and Leo Coffey.
But I’ll stick my neck out saying Aiden Archer is the best of all as he is so versatile. He could play rich man, poor man, genius or fool.
Up to the top of the Drama class, Aidan!
And the best actresses?
Again I don’t like calling the shots especially at my age and my memory slipping. I will start with Kitty Lardner, Joan Murphy, Mary Murphy, Ann Kavanagh, Elaine Kavanagh, Deidre Rabbitte, Rita Brady, Noreen Hession, Patricia Dempsey and Tracy Kelly.