Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Social Club Players Athy

Sixty six years ago the Irish Independent in an article on Athy mentioned that the people of the town ‘are friendly hospitable heart warming folk’. It expressed the view that Athy was a place in step with the times and that the key to its success was the local Social Club which provided a recreational centre for men and women. It not only provided recreational facilities but also served as a cultural outlet for Athy and the surrounding district. The Club began as the South Kildare Lawn Tennis Club with a pavilion and tennis courts in an area of what is now Chanterlands on the Carlow Road. The land was previously owned by Bob Osborne, solicitor and I believe he made the site available free of charge for the new tennis club. In 1939 with the help and cooperation of Major Tynan of Monasterevin and two locals, Sidney Minch and H.G. Donnelly, solicitor the tennis club was able to buy the Legion Hall in St. John’s Lane for £200. The Hall had been built in or around 1926 as a meeting place for the World War I soldiers. The tennis club on the Carlow Road continued for several years and indeed I can remember it sometime in the early 1950s when Mattie Brennan of Offaly Street was the caretaker. In the meantime the former Legion Hall became the centre of the Social Club’s activities. The Club members carried out improvements to the hall to provide a snooker room and a card room, as well as a badminton court. However, the most important part of the Social Club’s activities resulted from the founding of a dramatic group known as the Social Club Players in 1943. I believe the dramatic group’s first stage presentation was in April 1943 when ‘Cupboard Love’, a comedy in three acts by Bernard Duffy was put on for two nights in the Town Hall. Directed by Fr. Morgan Crowe, a curate in St. Michael’s Parish Church it featured many of the club stalwarts whose names would appear in many productions over the years. Liam Ryan, Bella Blanchfield, Florrie Lawler, Tadgh Brennan, Mollie Moore, Paddy Flynn, Rosaleen Timmons, Ger Moriarty and D.S. Walsh. Others who appeared with the Social Club Players in subsequent plays included Pat Mulhall, Ken Reynolds, Jo Lawler, May Fenelon, Tommy Walsh, Jimmy Doyle, Betty May. There are many more names listed in the 19 play programmes I have covering the period April 1943 to February 1959. Space does not permit me to list all the actors and indeed I’m not satisfied that I have details of all the plays put on by the Social Club Players. The Social Club Players were adjudged the best dramatic group in rural Ireland at the Father Mathew Feis in 1949 following their performance of Frank Carney’s play ‘The Righteous are Bold’. The cast were Liam Ryan Freddie Moore, Ken Reynolds, Mary Fenelon, Jo Lawler, Joseph Martin, Tadgh Brennan, Tommy Walsh, Claire Moore and Eileen Darcy. Newspaper reviews of the play noted that ‘the high success of the play was a grand tribute to the producer, Jack McGowran of the Abbey theatre and the stage management of Pat Mulhall.’ The Social Club Player’s success was repeated in 1958 when they won the Fr. Mathew Cup with their stage production of ‘Mungo’s Mansion’. The actors on that occasion were Patsy O’Neill, Jo Lawler, Tom Fox, Kitty McLoughlin, Tommy Walsh, Joe Martin, Gerry McDonagh, Dermot Mullen, Mary Harrington and Tom Fox. The photograph shows these actors with some other members of the Social Club and the Fr. Mathew Cup. The first play I ever saw was the ‘Barretts of Wimpole Street’ put on by the Social Club Players in the Town Hall in February 1953. I was just a nipper, brought to the play by my eldest brother Jack. I can’t remember much of that play but it’s a youthful cherished memory of my first sight of the Social Club Players who were a hugely important group which the Irish Independent of 1954 noted ‘enabled Athy to write a headline for many another town and village in the country, one that is well worth copying.’ Within the past week Jody Fennelly and Nan O’Rourke died. Nan, the last of the old time residents of Offaly Street, lived in the house where the Breen family lived for many years. She was a well remembered and well liked part of my growing up in Offaly Street. Jody was a pleasant good natured man whose passion for Gaelic football, the County team and the Athy G.F.C. were unparalleled. Both will be sadly missed and sympathy is extended to Jody’s family and to Nan’s son Gerry and his family.

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