Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Jo Lawler / Wren Boys

Jo Lawler passed away last week.  A quiet unassuming lady Jo was in her younger days a member of the Social Club Players and featured in many of the plays put on in the Town Hall and the Social Club in St. John's Lane in the 1940's and 1950's.  Looking back at some old programmes I find that Jo played the part of Mabel Scally in Brinsley McNamara's “Look at the Heffernans” in March 1945.  With her in that play were Ger Moriarty, Liam Ryan, Tadgh Brennan, Agnes Doyle, Paddy Flynn, Freddie Moore, Ken Reynolds, D.S. Walsh, Sheila McEvoy, Betty May and Maureen Purcell. 

Jack McGowran of The Abbey Theatre directed “They Got What They Wanted”, a comedy by Louis Dalton in which Jo Lawler featured in a production put on in Athy in 1948.  The 1951 production of Lennox Robinson's play, “The Whiteheaded Boy” again had Jo Lawler in one of the roles where she was joined by her sister Florrie.  The play which I think may have been successful in that year's Irish Amateur Dramatics Festival was directed by another well known theatrical figure, P.J. O'Connor of Gate and Gaiety Theatre Productions. 

Jo continued to appear with the Social Club Players up to at least 1959 and the programme for that year shows that she played the part of Mrs. Lee in “The Turn of The Wheel”, a play written by local playwright, Dorothy Mullen.  In the intervening years Jo featured in “The Country Boy”, “Twenty Years a Growing”, “My Wife's Family”, “The Devil came from Dublin” and “The Far Off Hills”.  There were many other plays in which Jo Lawler featured but unfortunately I don't have the relevant programmes.

Was Jo, I wonder, the last surviving member of the Social Club Players?  It's a question I cannot answer with any degree of certainty but I'm sure some of my readers will give me the answer. 

Jo was a sister of the late Jack Lawler who worked as a Law Clerk for Barry Donnelly.  Jack whom I knew quite well was one of the most saintly men I have ever been privileged to meet.  Innate goodness permeated his every word and deed and his death was a sad loss for his sister Jo with whom he lived in the Lawler family home in St. Martin's Terrace.

Jo in her latter years lived a quiet life and those who met her knew little, if anything, of her involvement in the local theatre of 50 and 60 years ago.  In a way Jo's long life brings home to us the way in which each younger generation have little or no knowledge of what happened or who was involved in events of previous generations.

It's sad to think that this should be so and raises yet again the desirability of having an oral history project geared at recording the life stories of the men and women who by dint of age and experience have fascinating stories to pass on.  It's a subject I will come back to again.

One man who would have benefited enormously from proper records being kept phoned me during the week.  Living in Dublin and now retired, he is trying to get information on Mary Deevey who lived at 89 Woodstock Street, Athy in the 1940's.  If anyone can give me information on Mary or her relations my caller from Dublin would be extremely grateful. 

The local Photographic Society has produced an extremely good calendar for the coming year.  It features twelve photographs of local scenes, including a very colourful Offaly Street captured on film on what appears to have been a good summers day.  The Offaly Street of my day could not boast of such colours as found in Jack Brogan's lovely photograph, for as I remember the houses in those days were cloaked in nothing but grey cement, aged and weathered.  It's a wonderful calendar and one which will give enormous pleasure and bring back memories for Athy people living away from their home town.  I gather the local Scouts group have also produced a calendar but I have not seen it yet but I'm sure it is worthy of your support in this the twenty fifth year of the scout movement in Athy.

With Christmas approaching I am reminded, as I am every year at this time, of the Wren Boys lead by Johnny Lynch of Shrewleen Lane who played through the streets of Athy every St. Stephen's Day up to the mid 1960's.  They were continuing a tradition that went back many years and every St. Stephen's Day when I was living in Offaly Street various Wren Boys made their appearances as they went from door to door “singing the wren”.  Sadly it's a tradition which has died out but this year the Wren Boys tradition will be revived when the Gym Club, Gaisce Group, comprising 15 or 16 young people take to the streets on St. Stephen's Day.  They are all members of Athy's Gym Club with which Aidan McHugh, formerly of St. Michael's Terrace, is involved and they have been practising for some months past in preparation for this years post Christmas festivities.  They will start at St. Vincent's Hospital on St. Stephen's morning at about 11 o'clock and from there they intend to visit all the “older” districts of Athy up to approximately 3 o'clock in the afternoon.  So if you live in Pairc Bhride, St. Joseph's Terrace, McDonnell Drive or St. Patrick's Avenue and in any of the intermediate areas be ready to greet the Wren Boys (and girls) on St. Stephen's Day.  I gather they will also visit a few of the public houses later that evening.

I am finishing off this Eye on the Past with a photograph taken of the 1950 production by the Social Club Players of Paul Vincent Carroll's play, “The White Steed”.  The Players captured on stage are  from left to right:  John Dolan, Joe Martin, Tadgh Brennan, Jo Lawler, Tommy Walsh, May Fenelon, Ken Reynolds, Liam Ryan, Florrie Lawler, Nellie Fox, Christy Burke, Tom Fox and Jim O'Doherty.

To all my readers I extend a Happy Christmas and every good wish for the New Year.

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