Thursday, June 2, 2011

Social Club Players

A very welcome recent arrival by email from America were copies of a large number of programmes of plays put on by the Athy Social Club players between 1943 and 1959.  Many of you will remember the Social Club in St. John’s Lane where the Social Club Players were based.  The club house was originally built by the British Legion as an old comrade’s hall and passed out of their ownership in the mid 1930s. 

The Social Club provided facilities such as a snooker//billiards room, a cards room and a badminton court which was based in the hall which also doubled as a concert hall/theatre.  That hall alternated with the Town Hall as the venue for the plays put on by the Social Club Players.

The first programme I have is for a comedy by Bernard Duffy called ‘Cupboard Love’.   It was put on in the Town Hall on Easter Monday, 26th April 1943 and the following day, with admission fees of 2/6, 1/6 and 1/=.  That programme was printed by ‘Printing Works Athy’.  I cannot say if this was the first play put on by the Athy Players and would welcome hearing from anyone who can give me any information on this matter.

The characters in that play were played by Liam Ryan, Bella Blanchfield, Florrie Lawler, Tadgh Brennan, Mollie Moore, Paddy Flynn, Rosaleen Timmons, Ger Moriarty and D.S. Walsh.  The director was local curate, Fr. Morgan Crowe.

Many of the names mentioned will still be remembered today but I could not recall Bella Blanchfield, Paddy Flynn or Rosaleen Timmons and so made enquiries.  Bella lived in Leinster Street in the house later bought by Ger Moriarty, while Paddy Flynn was from Skerries and Rosaleen Timmons, who was a sister of Kevin Timmons, lived in St. Patrick’s Avenue.  Two weeks ago while attending a conference in Kilmallock, Co. Limerick I had the pleasure of meeting a grandson of D.S. Walsh or ‘Daney’ as he was known.  D.S. had a shop premises at the corner of Leinster Street and Chapel Lane and appeared in several plays put on by the Social Club Players in the late 1940s with his son Tommy.  To complete the family picture Nora McKenna who was later to marry Tommy Walsh appeared in the 1957 Social Club production of ‘The Devil from Dublin’. 

Throughout the lifespan of the Social Club Players many individuals were involved including Liam Ryan, Tadgh Brennan, Florrie Lawler, Pat Mulhall, Jo Lawler and Ger Moriarty.  Other actors came and went over the years, their names recorded on faded programmes and in some cases unrecognised after a period of 50 years or more.  Lelia Lewis played in that other 1943 play by the Social Club Players called ‘Paul Twyning’.  Does anyone know who Lelia was, or Cathal Kennedy who featured in the 1948 play ‘They Got What They Wanted’?  What of Michael Walsh who played in the 1951 production of ‘The Whiteheaded Boy’ or Michael Fitzpatrick who featured in ‘Twenty Years a-Wooing’ produced in 1955?

In 1959 ‘The Turn of the Wheel’ by local playwright Mary D. Mullan was put on in St. John’s Hall and included in that cast were Christine O’Donohoe and Jim Gardner, whose names are unfamiliar to me.  This may have been the last play put on by the Social Club Players.  Recently Len Hayden, formerly of St. Patrick’s Avenue, passed away and I see from the 1959 programme that she played the part of Kitty Ryan in ‘The Turn of the Wheel’.

The Social Club Players won the Capuchin Silver Cup for the best group in rural Ireland at the Fr. Mathew Feis in Dublin in 1949 for their production of ‘The Righteous are Bold’.  The cast included Liam Ryan, Freddie Moore, Ken Reynolds, May Fenelon, Jo Lawler, Joseph Martin, Tadgh Brennan, Tommy Walsh, Claire Moore and Eileen Darcy.  The producer of that play was the legendary Jack McGowran of the Abbey Theatre Dublin and the stage manager was Pat Mulhall.  A press report of the time noted ‘the inhabitants of Athy district are more and more convinced that there is not in the rural parts of the country an amateur group of equal talent.’

I would like to hear from anyone who remembers the Social Club Players or who can identify the forgotten actors I have mentioned.

I also have a number of programmes relating to different to Athy theatrical groups including Athy Teachers Drama Group, Athy Dramatic Society, the Athy Players and Athy’s Comedy Players.  The last named featured in some comedy sketches put on in the Town Hall in 1951 or thereabouts, while the Teachers Group put on ‘Professor Tim’ in the Parochial Hall (the former Social Club premises) in March 1963.  If you know anything about any of these groups I would welcome hearing from you.

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