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The Carrigallen Community Players
 
Carrigallen claims a history of amateur theatre dating back to the last century. Johnny Cosgrove, great-great-grandfather of Jim and Geraldine Cosgrove, Clooncorrick, who died in the 1960's aged 94, was one of the leading drama enthusiasts in the 1880's together with John Slowey, Hugh Kiernan and James Harney, a policeman's son. At that time Clooncorrick Castle housed performances. In the 1890's, Johnny Cosgrove and his group also played in the primary school, which was situated in the grounds in front of the present Catholic Church. Rehearsals were held in a section of O'Reilly's premises, which were also used as a courthouse. In the early part of this century, up to 1926, drama was performed in the Market House, owned by the late Jack Smith, a businessman in the town. These premises later on became Brewsters' garage (more recently Dan Dolan's garage and presently owned by Paddy McCann).

In 1918 The West's Awake was staged to raise funds for Sinn Féin. In the early 1920's John Joe Dolan's father, Con, and Packie Cosgrove took part in a play called The Shaughran. When the players were taking their production to Ballinamore they prevailed upon Jack Smith to lend them his new Bedford truck. The driver of the vehicle was Peter Kennedy. Between Carrigallen and Ballinamore they were hijacked by the IRA: the lorry was commandeered but was returned the following day to its owner. Some of the people associated with the productions in the Market House were John Briody, Barney Reilly, John Campbell, Con Dolan, Katie Rourke, Eugene Sweeney, Richards, Delaneys, Farrellys and of course the Cosgroves.

A new chapter opened when the construction of the Gaelic Hall, Chapel Road, commenced during the troubles. It was built with voluntary labour and was completed in 1926. The building is adjacent to the old primary school. The first play staged there was Lily of Killarney. Another show in the early years of the Gaelic Hall was The Whiteboys. Involved in these productions were Michael, Barney and Mary Joe Cunnion (the Cunnions owned a bakery in Church Street), Rosie and Maisie McIntyre, Packie Maguire (still living in Church Street), Michael Gilhooley (brother of Mrs Cosgrove), Mrs Cosgrove, Jimmy and Packie Cosgrove, Tom Farrelly and P Kiernan. Mrs Cosgrove supplied a lot of the curtains and materials for stage dressings.

The Cosgrove family have been involved in Carrigallen drama from the 1880's up to the present day. Packie died in 1978. Simon Lee, The Real McCoy and The Porter were plays performed in the thirties. New recruits were James Flynn, Jack McTiernan, A B Curran, Jimmy Curran, Larry McDermott and Tom Dorr. During the 1930's impromptu plays were performed in McManus's egg store at the corner of Church Street. I am told the uncovered mill-stream flowed through the shed. It was here that the young aspiring actors learned their trade. Although there was free entry, audiences were minimal. John Donnelly recalls that when an entry fee of threepence became mandatory, there was no problem filling the house! The advertising was done by Willie Nixon from the roof of the store with a gramophone horn. Seating consisted of tea chests and egg boxes. Some of the people who acquitted themselves well in the training school were Michael and Jim McManus, Billy and Gerry Cosgrove, Willie and Harry Nixon, and John Donnelly, Main Street.

Another venue used at that time was a shed on the Chapel Road, now Pat Magee's display yard. Jack Smith's customers used the shed to rest their horses. Seán McManus remembers that quite a lot of digging was necessary in preparation for performances! The budding stars, unknown to Jack Smith, entered his yard and with an ample supply of calico sacks (emblazoned 'Marshall of Belfast') headed for Mrs McIntyre's of Church Street where Packie Maguire's house stands. She first of all erased 'Marshall of Belfast' and then proceeded to stitch the calico sacks together to make a backdrop. Packie Cosgrove painted the required scene and the job was finished. At that time Jack Smith contributed much to the economic and social life of the community in Carrigallen. He worked a paraffin generator in his yard which, along with supplying electricity for his own business, provided light both to the Market House and the Gaelic Hall when it was required.

Professional travelling companies frequently performed in Carrigallen because it was unique in rural Ireland at that time to have both electric light and a receptive and discerning audience. John Cowley and Annie Dalton of the The Riordans, the Baileys, Taylors and Carrickfords, to name but a few, performed in Carrigallen. While in town they boarded in the Corner House guest house, now John Joe Dolan's pub. In fact Robert Carrickford, who plays Stephen Brennan in Glenroe, performed in the Market House, the Gaelic Hall, St Patrick's Hall, Main Street, and more recently in the Corn Mill Theatre when he played in The Country Boy in 1994.

During the 1940's there was no individual director. Such was the calibre of the members that everyone contributed to the production of plays. The first production of the 40's was The New TD. Involved at that time were Nell Hagan, Kathleen Smith, Fr Seán Smith, Anna M. Donohoe, Maureen Donnelly, Barney Doonan, Willie Reilly, Pauric Reilly and Jim McManus. At a performance in Rossan, Fr Seán's moustache went missing and a goat came to the rescue. The only condition Seán insisted on was that the required hair be cut some distance from the tail The cast rehearsed, on occasions, under candlelight, in Peter O'Rourke's new house which was not as yet occupied by its owner. In 1942 The Whip Hand was produced. Plays at that time served a dual role, to entertain and to raise funds for parochial purposes. The annual play was usually performed on just one night in Carrigallen but if the need arose a second night was provided. In 1944 Wigs on the Green was staged, followed by This Hand is Yours in 1945. In 1946 or 1947 Little Nellie Kelly and Spring were performed together. At that time a variety show consisting of music, song, dance and recitation was included in the annual concert. It was a lengthy performance but was enthusiastically received by all.

Another production in the 40's was Shadow of a Gunman. Matt Cusack remembers the shot effect realised by banging the gun barrel off the wooden leg. Involved in the plays were Lily Cosgrove, John Donnelly, Willie and Harry Nixon, Willie Cosgrove, Mrs Cosgrove, Eilish Greene, Jimmy Cosgrove, Rose Anne Kiernan and Eileen Sweeney. Walter Fleming (husband of Eileen Fleming) and Johnny Smith, Francie Smith's uncle, were singers of note, while Eugene Masterson, Madge McGerty's father, was an accomplished Irish dancer. The Swan Song, considered to be the best play performed in the Gaelic Hall, was staged in 1953.

Fr Lynch came to Carrigallen as curate in 1954. The following year he directed Nó Bac Leis, a two-act play. Michael Hackett and Barney Doonan were two of the drama enthusiasts at that time. A few lean years were to follow, during which time Fr Pat McNiffe PP saw it fitting to build St Patrick's Hall, Main Street, and so bring down the curtain on the era of the Gaelic Hall. The first play to be staged in the new hall was The Far-off Hills by a Carrick group. In the late 50's, the McPeaks from Belfast and the famous Dubliners performed here. A Gallogly man from Aughavas ran film shows. They were all cowboy films and Seán Donnelly recalls standing on an adjacent shed to get a look in the window.

In 1960, with co-producer Frank Mc Glynn, Fr Lynch produced Moody in Manitoba by George Shields. Bill Henry and Tom Hickey, both from Cavan, were invited along by Fr Lynch to help with the production. Betty Hickey accompanied them to advise on make-up. Taking part then were Seán McGarry (Seán had a shop where Eileen Ward now lives); Bartley Conroy, (a teacher in Drumeela), Lily McGoohan (Lily Plunkett); Paddy McCormack, a Westmeath man who married a McCabe girl from Drumeela, Barney Doonan, Alfie Harte, Tommy and Joe McCartin.

Mugs and Money, directed by Fr Lynch, went a step further the following year, 1961, when the Company entered a novice drama festival in Cavan. The competition was held in the afternoon and continued on into the evening incorporating three shows in succession. This format was not conducive to attracting big audiences and thus drama companies had to play to very small houses.

This was a very successful outing for the Carrigallen Players, with Lily McGoohan winning a medal for best actress of the festival. The following year, 1962, Fr Lynch directed All The Kings Horses. Bartley Conroy played the part of a garda. The money accrued from performances was used to help reduce the debt on the hall. Having satisfied the home crowd, Fr Lynch recalls travelling to venues such as Swanlinbar, Corroneary and Potahee. The remuneration from those outings was half the takings on the door. Along with the names already mentioned in the fifties, we can add Eugene Corr, Tommy Kiernan, Betty Connolly, Margaret Faye, Dolly Reilly, Tim McCaffrey, Mrs Dawson, John McGoohan, the two McCuskers and Geraldine Mullery N.T.

In 1963 Fr Patsy Young replaced Fr Lynch as curate. The production that year was Old Acquaintance. Sheila Mitchell, who had just returned from England, was roped into the cast. Sadly her brother died in England before the show was ready for the stage and the production never came to fruition. It was at that time also that the Carrigallen Players adopted the name the Community Players. In 1964 Frank McGlynn directed Roadside.

A box set was normal then and wooden legs were used. These consisted of eight-foot flats held in place in an overhead groove. Domestic bulbs were used for lighting. Easy Money was the 1965 production. In 1966 Tommy Moran arrived on the scene in Charlie's Aunt. The three-act farce was well received in Carrigallen and the group decided to spread its wings. In Swanlinbar the audience consisted of eleven Carrigallen supporters plus twelve others. Stradone attracted no more than the caretaker of the hall and in Crosserlough not even the caretaker turned up. Jimmy McGerty recalls that when they visited Mountnugent, the audience there consisted of a dozen or so card-players at the back of the hall who had their backs to the stage.

In 1966, the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising, the Tom Clarke Rooms were opened with Rebels and Raincoats. In 1967 Maura Harte played the mother of the house in Old Acquaintance, the play that never came to fruition back in 1963. Jimmy McGerty played the sergeant. He recalls Tommy Moran prompting him from underneath a table on stage. He also remembers Maura's repetitive line to him 'You're a game boy, sergeant'. In 1968 Eilleen Ward played her first role in That Family Feeling.

In 1969 the Community Players took a further step into the world of theatre when they entered their first festival in Threemilehouse, Co Monaghan. This was an unaffiliated festival run by Fr Markey. On arrival at Threemilehouse the hall was locked and on gaining entry the fuses had been removed. 'Where in God's name is Carrigallen?' asked someone. 'It's in Leitrim' replied John Donnelly. When they were leaving, John Joe Smith asked: 'Where in hell is Threemilehouse?' so we were about evens. The only member of the crew made welcome was Gus Ward, who made a great impression on the lady adjudicator, Marie O'Hanlon. He stole the show where awards were concerned. Certificates of merit awarded to some members of the cast failed to arrive by post, as promised. The following year Gus and Una Ward played the lovers in Them.

That same year it was seen fitting to invite Patsy Croal to conduct a Theatre Workshop in St Patrick's Hall. All members of the company were encouraged to participate. This was a very informative and worthwhile exercise, which inspired Sadie Maguire, Veronica Dolan, Gus Ward, Mary Magee and Fr Patsy Young to attend a drama course conducted in Gormanstown with a view to improve standards in the group and to get involved in the festival circuit.

In 1971 with Many Young Men of Twenty directed by Frank McGlynn, the Community Players entered a drama festival in Glenamaddy. This was a registered festival under the auspices of the Amateur Drama Council of Ireland. The company acquitted themselves well on the outing. In 1972 Fr Patsy Young took over the role of director. The first play was Bugle in the Blood. He was also lighting manager, ably assisted by Christy Kiernan. It was a great achievement to reach the All-Ireland confined finals in Loughrea on the first attempt. Patrick McLoughlin was the adjudicator there but he was not impressed by the production and indeed was very critical of the director. Afterwards Mrs Eileen Fleming, who was a very keen supporter of the Community Players, approached the adjudicator and asked 'What do we have to do with the director?' to which Patrick McLoughlin replied: 'Get rid of him and get yourselves a producer'.

In 1973 Gus Ward was asked to direct Sharon's Grave and Fr Patsy Young was in charge of lighting, at which he was very accomplished. In the course of the year Gus became ill and the lot of director fell back to Fr Patsy. He proceeded with his crew to win the All-Ireland award in Loughrea. Involved at that time were Fr Patsy Young, Gus Ward, Gerry Murray, Sadie Maguire, Bernadette Keenan, Mary Magee, Mary Hunt, Maura Farrelly, Veronica Dolan, Michael Hackett, Christy Kiernan, Gerome Maguire, Madge McGerty, Cathal Farrelly, Pat Fitzpatrick, Aidan Harte, Peter McNamee, Seán Nash, Elizabeth McGlynn, Seán Connolly, Annie Smith, Catherine Duffy, James Dooner, Brian Connell and Tommy Moran.

The Community Players arrived rather late at the festival club to find the doors closed. Fr Patsy (a non drinker) managed to purchase a bottle of whiskey which was consumed outside the GAA grounds in Loughrea. They proceeded to Carrigallen and woke the sleeping residents. John Joe Dolan opened his public house and the celebrations continued until morning. The Shaughran took second place in the All-Ireland finals in 1974. On the way to Loughrea the truck, supplied by Hugh Hourican of Arva, broke down near Ballymahon and a replacement truck was sent by Phil Brady of Arva. They were great friends to the Community Players. Phil's son, Niall, is with the company presently.

In 1975 The Honeyspike, an outstanding production, along with winning the confined All-Ireland in Loughrea, came third in the All-Ireland Open Finals in Athlone, where Tommy Moran, who played Dickybird, won best supporting actor. Alan Nicholl was the adjudicator. His wife was of the opinion that the Community Players should have been adjudged the winners. Fr Patsy went as curate to Glenfarne in 1975 and has deservedly earned for himself a niche in amateur drama in Ireland. Fr Oliver Kelly was lighting manager until 1982, having replaced Fr Patsy Young.

Gus Ward assumed the daunting task of director in 1976 when he produced Big Maggie, which won two premier awards along with best comedy award at the All-Ireland finals. In 1977 Gus directed The Playboy of the Western World, which again won two premier awards on the festival circuit and fourth place in the finals in Loughrea. 1978 took on another dimension when the Community Players made the first break into the open section of amateur drama and were rewarded by achieving a place in the finals in Athlone with To Live in Peace. Numbers had swelled then. Taking part were Maura Farrelly, Vincent Murray, Mary Nixon, Aidan Harte, John Donnelly, Bernadette Doonan, Pat Fitzpatrick, Liam Grimes, John Joe Smith, Cathal Farrelly, Peter McNamee, Eric Bothwell, Richard Nixon, Liam Faughnan, Jimmy McGerty, Rosemary Farrelly, Anne Brady, Catherine McGovern, Hilda Flanagan, Maire Reynolds, Paddy McDermott, John McLoughlin, Michael O'Rourke, Maureen Kiernan, Gus Ward, Cathal Sheridan, Seán Donnelly, Fr Oliver Kelly, Patrick Delaney, P.C. Tague, Eamonn Daly, Elizabeth Mc Glynn, and Madge McGerty.

Eileen Ward directed The Year of the Hiker in 1979. Jimmy McGerty was the stage manager. Aidan Harte always remembers this as his happiest year on the boards. I will have to say the hiker-Peter McNamee-played a memorable part. David Walsh, former sports journalist with the Irish Independent, presently sports journalist with the Sunday Times, came to Carrigallen to see the play and wrote: "McNamee portrayed the part of the hiker in all its dimensions and the intensity of concentration on the part of the audience was almost tangible".

Gus Ward directed Da in 1980 and '81 when it took second place in the ADL confined finals in Mullingar. In 1981 The Workhouse Ward, also directed by Gus, won the All-Ireland One Act Finals. Cathal Farrelly directed Sive in 1982. Paddy Dillon directed The Black Stranger in 1983. It qualified for the All-Ireland finals held in Rossmore, Co Cork. In 1984 Maura McGuinness directed The Country Boy, another play which was much appreciated by the punters. In 1985 Gus emulated the success of Fr Patsy Young with The Wood of the Whispering, which won the confined All-Ireland finals in Tubbercurry, taking numerous awards and places, 11 marks ahead of its nearest rival. The same play came fifth in the open finals in Athlone, where Eileen Ward won best supporting actress for her part as Sadie Tubridy. Taking part in 1985 were K McGuinness, P O' Baoil, E Ward, C Farrelly, R McHugh, P McNamee, P Dillon, C Durcan, J Williamson, I Olohan, L Johnston, J Finnegan, P McIntyre, C Sheridan, F Greene, S Nash, E Daly, E McGlynn.

In 1986 Cathal Farrelly directed Philadelphia Here I Come and in 1987 he was at the helm again with The Field, which reached the All-Ireland finals held in the Hawkswell Theatre, Sligo. The Community Players were as close to professional as you would find and always produced a piece of excellent drama. Neighbouring parishes and towns availed of their free services to finance a variety of organisations. These included Cornafean, Crosserlough, Corroneary, Mohill, Cloone, Ballinamore, Ballintemple, Drumlish, Milltown, Arva, Belturbet, Kinawley, Killeshandra and Colmcille. The Community Players had an excellent reputation since they always played to full houses on and off the festival circuit. Jimmy McGerty transported sets to many of the above venues. He was a great advocate of six-inch nails; a set was put up to stay up!

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Last Updated: March 27, 2012
 
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