Thursday, May 31, 2001

Athy Parish Festival Show 1964

Amongst a bundle of miscellaneous papers and notes which presently overlay my desk, I have found a folded A4 Sheet, the first page of which reads

Athy Parish Festival
Shopkeepers Show
March 11th and 13th 1964
Programme Price 3d

The back page is blank but the two page centre spread provides a pandora box of names, some of which I remember, others not so well. The show opened with a song from “Calamity Jane” and comprised a rendition of “The Deadwood Stage” by the ladies and gentlemen of the chorus. The ladies were Helen Walsh, Esther Bannon, Kathleen Kelly, Carmel Hickey and Patricia Mahon and surprisingly they were out numbered by the members of the men’s chorus. Ernest O’Rourke-Glynn, Joe McNally, Billy Brown, Brendan Ward, John Byrne, P.J. Hyland and S. Murphy whom I believe was Sean whom I will mention later in this article. I recognise quite a few crows amongst that motly crew so I can only assume that an ability to sing was not a pre-requisite for joining the gentleman’s chorus! After the Deadwood Stage had journeyed on its way Cecily Brady sang “My Secret Love”. Cecily of Dublin Road was a leading member of the local musical societies of the 1940’s. After her, the chorus provided a musical interpretation of the “The Black Hills of Dakota” following which the inimitable Wag O’Keeffe entertained the audience with “Why Doesn’t She Come”. An Irish Dance Troupe consisting of Hazel Darling, Deirdre Hughes and Noleen Murphy were next on stage of the venue which is not identified on the programme. Presumably, however, it was the Social Club in St. John’s Lane because as far as I can remember, the Town Hall was by then the temporary home of a clothing factory.

A one act Play “Love and Acid Drops” by Seamus Bourke then followed in which the various parts were played by John Hillard, Michael Dempsey, Dolly Hyland, Phyllis Coughlan, Ann Dooley and Brian O’Hara. Just before the interval, extracts from the Desert Song were song by Michael Noonan, Mary Conlan and Charlie Prendergast. Charlie, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday was like Cecily Brady, a great favourite over the years with audiences at shows put on by Musical Societies in the Town.

The second half of the programme opened with Margot Higginson giving a solo performance from the Merry Widow with my former neighbour from Offaly Street, Mary Tuohy providing a dance accompaniment. Wag O’Keeffe was next back up again with his rendition of Percy French’s great favourite “Phil The Fluter’s Ball”. Charlie Prendergast, with the wonderful tenor voice which for so many years graced the local Church choir then came on stage and sang “Mattinate” and “Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair”. I should have mentioned that early in the first half of the programme, some unnamed individuals calling themselves “Clancy Brothers” provided the entertainment and now following Charlie Prendergast, another unnamed group provided a selection of Skittle music. A little detective work on my part, for I did not see the show, indicates that the Clancy’s and the Skittlers were one and the same and comprised Sean Murphy, P.J. Hyland, Brendan Ward and John Byrne.

Maureen Ryan and Carmel Hickey followed with a number of songs before Ernest O’Rourke-Glynn returned to the stage with Reminiscences. This had all the possibilities of being a show stopper given Ernest’s wonderful speaking voice and his involvement in Theatre and entertainment generally for decades previously. The evening show ended with Ian Atwell singing a selection of songs from “Showboat”. Ian formerly of Doyle Brothers of William Street was by then with Duthie Larges in Leinster Street.

Some of the participants in that Show are well remembered by me. I can still picture in my mind’s eye Brian O’Hara togging out on a Sunday afternoon playing alongside the likes of Joe Aldridge and Denis Smyth in the local soccer pitch. More often than that, my view of the “foreign” game was courtesy of the embankment in the adjoining Geraldine Park when ever there was a lull in the football or hurling match which I was attending. Noleen Murphy and Mary Tuohy were neighbours of mine in Offaly Street while husband and wife team, Wag and Dolly O’Keeffe with Dolly’s brother P.J. Hyland need no introduction. Billy Browne, Sean Murphy, John Byrne, Brendan Ward and Joe McNally were school pals of mine over 40 years ago.

Only last week as I was about to step on an escalator in the Jervis Street Shopping Centre in Dublin, I met a school friend last seen over 35 years ago. When I heard my name called in those unfamiliar surroundings, I turned around to recognise the unmistakable features of Sean Murphy who as a young man 37 years ago trod the boards in the Shopkeeper’s Show of 1964. I remember Sean for an exuberant and skillful piano playing session in a hostelry in Tramore which ran on well into the morning. His tall lanky frame was bent over the piano which he played while standing up, his hands moving rhythmically across the keys while his head and shoulders bobbed in unison to the music. He was magic, as the tunes tumbled out without a pause, each piece taken on a foot tapping life of its own filling the room and his audience with a streamless echo of honky tonk music. That was Sean Murphy in his element and I gather he has never lost his love for pounding the piano keys.

We talked for a while and discovered that for a few years before I returned to Athy, both of us lived within a few hundred yards of each other. Sean lived in the North side of Dublin, having joined the Garda Siochana and was stationed in Raheny station for most of his working life. When we met last week, it was a few days after he had retired on reaching the compulsory retirement age of 57 years and was in the centre of Dublin to buy something to wear for his retirement party later that night. The Murphy family lived in St. Michael’s Terrace and I can still remember Sean’s father, Joe Murphy, a skilled man building the cut stone entrance to St. Dominic’s Church at the end of Convent Lane. Its a lasting monument to the skill of a man who is now dead and whose family are all living away from their home town of Athy.

There are many Eye on the Past readers who will remember Sean Murphy as well as his friends who trod the boards during the Shopkeepers Show in Athy in March 1964. Our best wishes go out to all those amateur troubadours who are still with us and especially Sean Murphy on his recent retirement from the Garda Siochana.

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