Jim Kearney’s interview with Kitty Lardner wasn’t just an hour of excellent entertainment, it was also an invaluable insight, from an historical and cultural point of view, into Athenry’s past. The expert interviewing skills of Kearney combined with Kitty’s character produced an intriguing hour of humorous, relaxed and informative conversation.
Kitty was introduced as actress, producer and director with Athenry Drama Group for over fifty years. Kitty took it from there outlining the importance of drama in her life and the lives of the local people. The McMasters Travelling Drama Group often packed Athenry Town Hall twice a year and preferred this venue even to Galway. This nurtured a love of theatre and Kitty says she had seen “Hamlet” five times as well as “The Merchant of Venice” and “Romeo and Juliet” before she was in sixth class. Famous actors like Harold Pinter, Michael MacLiamor and Hilton Edwards acted in Athenry and techniques were learnt by local actors from these professionals.
Jim Kearney read an article, probably from the Connaught Tribune praising the cast in the play “A Moment of Peril” further emphasising Athenry’s rich past in drama. Players mentioned included James Lardner, Daisy McKeown, James Payne, Martin Morrissey and T.J. Daly. Kitty expressed her fear that television had dulled peoples’ imagination and detracted from drama.
The conversation moved on to Larry Lardner, Kitty’s father, a member of the executive council of the Irish Volunteers and second in command to Liam Mellows who lived next door in Brodericks at the time. Kearney raised the question of the troubles and her father’s involvement. Kitty described the troubled and dangerous times for her father and family but could not resist relating the humorous anecdotes especially, where her father left one Sunday night for “a few minutes” and returned fourteen months later. Sadly, Larry Lardner died aged 52 of a ruptured appendix, but not before he made a significant contribution to the birth of the new nation.
Getting back to the drama, Kitty explained that the first plays were with the Gaelic League and in Irish. Michael O’Cathain from Carraroe directed 3 Act plays. The first won the All-Ireland held in the Mansion House in Dublin. In the 1930s “Con The Seachran” was produced. Some of the people who took part were Frank Curran, Jack Cunniffe, Jimmy Cleary, Bridie Hession, Mrs Taylor, Tommy Reilly (producer) and Charlie Redmond. Father Langan’s arrival was important accord ing to Kitty because the group attempted plays they otherwise would not try like the “Importance of Being Earnest”.
In the 1940s O’Casey’s plays were produced. Again, numerous familiar names appear; Stephen Jordan, famous as a T.D. and in G.A.A. circles, Christy Howley, Kevin Hynes, Jack Molloy, Ena Cleary, Detta and Kitty Fahy, Kathleen Corley, Dick and Joan Murphy were just some of those mentioned. Also, some people who had worked in the town like Mick Fahy (postman), Michael Kilkelly (postman) and Tom Armstrong who worked in Pat Duffy’s (now Murphy’s The Arch). Kitty also mentioned some of the families that had long associations with the drama group like the Hynes, Jordans, Fahys, Murphys, Paynes, McLoughlins, and four generations of Barretts, Mike Bassett, Christy Barrett, Juno and Jim Barrett and today Rose and Rachael. Kitty continued on with the drama productions and achievements through the following decades down to the present day and the many names associated with them.
I would like to continue writing on the excellent interview but unfortunately, I am running short of time and space. Kitty raised a number of very important points in the interview and these should give us food for thought. Among them the role of television and it’s impact and effect on society today i.e. decline in audiences for live drama. Another striking fact was the talent that came into Athenry – working in the Bank, Post Office, Mart, Railway, etc. It is important to ensure that Athenry is a Parish of in migration rather than out migration. Lastly but not least Kitty made it clear that the group would be delighted to have new members either as actors or back stage helpers.
This interview is very important because it illustrates the importance of Athenry Parish historically and politically and its great achievements and contributions to the Arts, Culture and Sport. When Kitty invited people to join the Drama Group, I think she is saying that there is plenty of talent in this parish in every field and there is no reason why we can’t build on this.
On behalf of the Athenry Journal I would like to thank Kitty Lardner for all the joy she has brought us in the past and wish her every success in the future.
Written by Dermot Monaghan
Published here 03 Jan 2023 and originally published August 1996