Down Memory Lane

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Some of my earliest musical recollections of the late 30s, 40s and 50s are those of childhood and family, the church choir, soloist Tim O’Regan, the rich yodelling baritone voice of Christy Barrett in concert, the Athenry Pipe Band led by Martin and Willie Reilly and others, the pioneering age of Drama and Variety charted by Tommy Reilly and a period of intense musical activity during the 50s. The venue for such events was always Murphy’s Town Hall which was centre and geographically unique to the area and county at large.

Today the hall remains a symbolic and integral part of community endeavours. The Canton Hall was thriving at this time and an inspiration to young and old. Apart from World War II restrictions which were not greatly apparent, this was an era of self expression, of travelling shows notably Carrickfords, Dalton, McMaster, McLiammor, McFaddens; of Local Drama and Variety Productions and Festivals at home and on tour, of feiseanna, weekly ballroom and crossroad dancing, silent and talking films, district sport meetings, circuses, a time of great humanity, reasonable living standards and manly ideals.

Canon McGeogh, Fr. Delaney and Fr. Mulrennan were supportive of every worthy cause. The Presentation School provided a wonderfully imaginative and musical education. I remember my associations with Sisters Columba and Fursy who taught me piano and violin, convent operettas, notable performances by my school friends, in particular a stage performance of Negro Songs sung by a group of high infants suitably blackened and costumed and led by Frank Hession.

Visions of a forced landing by an American “Flying Fortress” at the farmyard in 1943, and the subsequent Buglecall “to arms” by Charlie Redmond and kettle drumming of Denny Madden (both members of the local defence force) in the Market Square, remain to this today – Athenry Gárdaí of which my father was a long serving member were quickly on the scene accompanied by some local Defence Force members and later by Galway Army personnel.

Our teachers in The Boys School, namely Mrs. Woods, Sean King and principal Martin Walsh, allowed us home for the day.

It was after leaving secondary school and some consideration I called a Public Meeting in the Town Hall on the 20th February 1950 for the purpose of forming the Athenry Choral Society.

The appointed Committee and attendance included:

Chairman Fr. E. Delaney;
Secretary Jim Kearns;
Treasurer Seamus O’Sullivan;

Committee Members: Joe Mahon, Patrick Regan, Stephen Jordan Snr, Mrs C. Barry, Josie Curran, Joan Murphy, Ruth Mahon. Attendees: Frank Glynn, Frank Milmoe, Matt McNamara, John Stack, Jack Cunniffe, Tom Cleary, Sean Curran, Eugene Bennett, Edward Delaney, Edward Somers, Noel O’Grady, Birdie Payne, Della Hession, Lena Mitchell, Anne Jordan, Patsy Murphy, Kathleen Curly, Joan Murphy, Marjorie Murphy, Kitty Lardner, Maeve Glynn, Pauline McNamara, Mildred Reynolds, Maureen Fleming, Sheila Barrett and Rosaline Fitzpatrick.

It was decided on the 28th February, 1950 that the Society would stage a variety concert in March, to finance the cost of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera.

Mrs Sheila Broderick was unanimously elected Musical Director/Producer and co-opted to the committee. The concert was a huge success and box office takings amounted to £70.0s.5d and netted a profit of £24. The costumes were made by the choral members, admission fees were 2s.6d. Mrs Sheila Broderick resigned as Musical Director on the 4th April. Mr Joe Mahon and Miss Josie Curran who accepted the positions of joint Producers/Musical Directors at this time, were re-elected on January 9th 1951 and thereafter.

The adult membership of 1 shilling was increased to 2 shilling on March 9th 1951. The following additional members were registered from April 1950 onwards: Lilly Brody, Mollie Clancy, Lolo Houlihan, Josie Houlihan, Patricia O’Neill, Margaret Kavanagh, Betty Ruane, Nano Kennedy, Nora Beirne, Ena O’Grady, Nell Kennedy, M. Minihin, M. McDermott, L. Moynihan, Josie Pollard, Claire Dempsey, Mary Mulloy, Marie Whelan, M. O’Loughlin, Jane Healy, Mick Fahy, Eugene Daly, Jim Ruane, M. Harney, P. Kennedy, M. Whelan, Charles Meehan, Jimmy Somers, M. Reilly, K. McNamara, K. Whelan, E. Brody, V. Crilly, T. Raftery, S. Jordan Jnr, P. Keane, Simon Curran, Richard Murphy, Noel O’Grady, Desmond Jordan, Christy Barrett, Charles Redmond, John Kelly, T McNamara, E. Waldron, Tommy Ryan, Jimmy Payne, Terry Atkins, Christy Howley, Jack Malloy, Brendan Higgins, Jimmy Reilly, Kevin Mahon, Frank Sweeney, Tom Armstrong, Dinny Madden, C. Kennedy, Des Dempsey, Sean Dempsey, Derek Kennedy, S. O’Grady, Christy Flynn, Kevin Hynes, Vinny Mahon and Donal Kennedy.

Mr Jim Kearns resigned as Secretary on September 16th, 1950 and was replaced by Miss Lolo Houlihan (Secretary) and Nano Kennedy (Asst. Secretary). Mr Simon Curran (Chairman) and Ruth Mahon (Treasurer) were appointed on January 9th 1951 and also in 1952 and 1953.

“H.M.S. Pinafore” was performed on December 28/29th 1950, The “Mikado” on January 9th 1952 and repeated for An Tostal on April 22/23rd 1953.- “Trial by Jury” and ” The Gondoliers” were staged in 1952 and 1953 and the lily of Killarney in December 1954. Admission was 3s 6d and 2s. The orchestra included members of the Galway Cáirde an Cheoil Light Orchestra of which Charlie Redmond and I were members and also Mrs Noone (violinist) and Miss Mary Reapy (violinist), Tuam, and was conducted by Herr Rudy Menge, conductor of the Galway Light Orchestra. The principals of all five operas included Mick Fahy, Joe Mahon, S. Jordan jnr., Vincent Crilly, Jim Kearns, Eugene Daly, Vinny Mahon, Charles Redmond, Charles Meehan, Tom Armstrong, M. Whelan, T. Raftery, B. Higgins, Donal Kennedy, Mrs C. Barry, Kathleen Curley, Maureen Fleming, Shirley McMahon, Mollie Clancy, Josie Curran, Mary Mahon, Rosaline Fitzpatrick, Mary Malloy, K. Hynes, J. Walsh and Joan Murphy.

The shows could not be staged without the many who worked untiringly backstage particularly Eddie Somers who threw light on practically everything for years.

If music had its serious side it also produced hilarious fun and camaraderie. The characters of mirth were legion. Prima donnas disliked and rebelled against ill fitting costumes. All soft drinks were banned in the dressing rooms. Rehearsals were never a bore when Brendan Higgins was around and Charlie Redmond recommended triple seated pants for protection and refused to re-take anyone’s measurements. The fleet weighed anchor many times and sailors wasted no time.
The tiring Red Shadow made his debut on and off the stage on one occasion and the conductor never even noticed.

Artists such as Donal Kennedy, Joe Mahon, Josie Curran, Vincent Crilly, Simon Curran, Michael Fahy, Mrs Barry, Sheila Broderick, Rosaline Fitzpatrick, Joan Murphy, The Jordan Family, The Presentation Community and others too numerous to mention made an outstanding contribution on a social scale. The Society may have ceased in 1954 but it left in its wake a legacy of achievement, a platform for new beginnings and very fond memories of those that made it possible, not so long ago.

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About this record

Written by Jim Kearns

Published here 08 Feb 2021 and originally published November 1995

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