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This article was first published by Aengus Fanning in the Irish Independent on April 8th 1956

During the years of the Boer War one of the productions of the Athenry Dramatic Group -a -well -established group even then was “The Whiteboys”.  It was good, solid drama and you may meet people yet around Co. Galway who remember the thrill they got out of it as children.

Between the acts, according to the custom then in vogue, the audience was entertained to songs and recitations and one of the singers who helped to keep the audience in humour while the sets were being changed was a young schoolboy named Stephen Jordan.  Later he was to become one of the leading players in the group that staged many another fine old drama after “The Whiteboys”.  Down the years Mr Stephen Jordan has helped to preserve continuity with the past, for he is President to-day of the local group, the Athenry Players, who have maintained a tradition of which Athenry is very proud of.

Since the days of “The Whiteboys,” Mr Jordan and several others of his generation as well as dozens of people who came along later, have been actively and continuously associated with amateur drama in Athenry.  How far back this link with the players of the last century brings us, no one has any idea; nobody now remembers a time when the town was without its plays and players.

Patriotic costume plays like “The Wren Boys” and “The Wearing of the Green” and later the Boucicault plays were all popular in Athenry and were revived time and time again up to and during the days of the Anglo-Irish war and afterwards on into the ‘thirties.  During the war years new ground was broken with a venture into Abbey plays and “Look at the Heffernans” was followed by “Autumn Fire” here may one wonder in parentheses here if any play ever done in Ireland can have achieved the phenomenal popularity of “Autumn Fire” or if even Mr. Murray himself has any idea of how many times it has been produced in the last quarter of a century- the Bundoran group alone have just completed twenty successive performances.

A Glance at the long list of plays done in recent years in Athenry provides proof of discerning taste as well as plenty of enthusiasm.  Every season has had its first-class productions of worthwhile plays, and whether the choice has fallen on such widely varied pieces as “She Stoops to Conquer,” “I’ll Met by Moonlight” or “Arsenic and Old Lace,” each has had at least the Athenry characteristic of a job thoroughly well done.  This same stamp needless to say, was on the most recent production, “The Playboy of the Western World”, with which the group winds up yet another busy and fruitful season.  During the next few months, producer Tommy Reilly and others will be reading up plays in preparation for an early resumption in the autumn.

If one seeks for the secret of the Athenry Players’ success, one finds that there is, first of all, an amazingly rich vein of talent in the town- the population is only just over 1,000.  And the townspeople give the players full and unfailing support- Athenry audiences, indeed take their theatre going seriously, and this can be vouched for by the many touring companies whose visits are always welcome.  The group has been fortunate in always having excellent rehearsal facilities available, thanks to the goodwill of local people.

Another great asset, which means much to every group, is a band of backstage workers who give time and energy generously in looking after sets and lighting.  For the rest, Athenry Players can congratulate themselves on having such an organiser guiding spirit as Miss Kitty Lardner.

The fourth All-Ireland Drama Festival ends tomorrow night in Athlone when Harold Goldblatt and Thomas Mac Anna give their adjudication on the forty plays that have been presented during the past fortnight. The Sportex  Hall was fully booked out last night      for “Christmas in the Market Place,” by the Runners up, Tullamore, who also presented “The Viscount of Blarney” in the verse section. To-day at 3.30 the Jerrettspass Dramatic Society appear in “Home is the Hero.”  At 7.30 the Eclipse Drama Group, Belfast, stage “All Soul’s Night.”

The adjudicators will not find it easy to make up their minds in the open three-act section.  Much may depend on the impression made last night by the runners in the French translation with which they have already added to their high reputation.  Account must be taken, however, of a number of other fine productions, and high amongst these must be placed the Bernadette Players Sligo in “Night Must Fall.” In the rural three- act section both the Scariff Vocational School Players, who staged “The Playboy,” and the Dromcollagher Group, who did “All Souls’ Night,” have reasons for optimism.  In the one-act open class, high marks will certainly go to the Premier Players Ballyshannon, for their “Spreading the News.” A treat for the Athlone audience prior to the adjudication tomorrow night will be a special non-competitive production of “Íosagáin” by the Cavan De la Salle boys, who distinguished themselves recently at the schools’ drama festival in Dublin.

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About this record

Written by Aengus of the Irish Independent

Published here 29 Mar 2023 and originally published Easter 1998

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