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Tipperary Drama Festival Gets Under Way In Holycross, Thurles

Reporter: Tom Ryan.

County Tipperary Drama Festival Committee 2018
President: Very Rev. Fr. Celsius Tierney, Parish Priest of Holycross/ Ballycahill; Chairman: Tommy Lanigan; Festival Director: Donal Duggan; Treasurer: Maudie Bourke; Secretary: Clare Ryan; P.R.O: Geraldine Henchion; Sponsorship: Ger O’Dwyer; Raffle: Diana Lacey; Technical Support: Marty O’Neill and Paddy Connolly; Subcommittee Members: Peg Ryan, Elaine O’Dwyer, Derek Doherty, Jack Henchion, John Glasheen, Aisling Henchion and Gerry Kennedy.

Ms Imelda McDonagh

The 36th annual County Tipperary Open Drama Festival got under way in style at St. Michael’s Community Centre, Holycross, last Friday night, following a glitzy ‘Cheese and Wine’ reception, hosted by the Festival Committee and attended by many local dignitaries.

The festival was officially opened by International Festival Adjudicator, Ms Imelda McDonagh , who was welcomed by Mr Donal Duggan, latter Festival Director for over three decades and the amiable and informative Master of Ceremonies nightly.

Amongst those introduced to the attendance by Mr Duggan were:-  Archbishop Emeritus Dermot Clifford; Very Rev Celsius Tierney PP; Festival Committee President Mr Tommy Lanigan; an old friend to the festival and its Chairman Mr Michael Lowry, TD; County Councillors Mr Micheal Lowry and Mr Seamus Hanafin and Ms Kay Cahill, (sister of TD Mr Jackie Cahill).

As former adjudicator, Mr Larry McCluskey, pointed out that audiences are very perceptive and appreciative in Holycross and not only do Holycross host the actual annual festival, but they also compete themselves nationally, with great successfully.

There were lovely tributes in this year’s Festival Programme; to the late Eibhlis Quirke, former Secretary of the Festival Committee and to the late Dan Gallagher of Thurles. (Ar dheis De a n-anamacha). The late Dan and his wife, Breda, previously sponsored the “Gallagher Award” for “Most Promising Actor/Actress” and Breda Gallagher and her daughter Mary, were most welcome guests on the night, upholding a proud tradition for the popular Gallagher family.

The festival continues until next Saturday, March 24th, when results will be announced and prizes presented, including the “Tipperary Star Cup” for Best Play in the Confined Section, and the “Tipp FM Trophy” for Best Play in the Open Section.

Wednesday, March 21st (Open section) Noel Coward’s “Blyth Spirit”, – Thurles D.G.
Thursday, March 22nd (Confined) “Some Girls”, Curtain Call, Dungarvan.
Friday, March 23rd (Confined) “Bold Girls”, Holycross/Ballycahill D.G.
Saturday, March 24th (Open) “Duet For Two”, Nenagh Drama Group.

Festival fever is particularly strong in the Suirside village currently, with the Holycross/Ballycahill group’s Jenny Bracken winning “Best Actress Award” in the Rush, County, Dublin, Drama Festival and Aisling Henchion nominated for “Best Sound” at the same festival.

There is a lot of buzz about “Bold Girls”.
It looks like being a very successful year for the talented Abbeysiders. There is huge excitement about the group locally and a record attendance is expected next Friday night to see them on stage in “Bold Girls”.  Early attendance is certainly most advisable and note the ever-popular Festival Club Tea Room will be in operation on a nightly basis.

“Bold Girls”, is a stirring play based around the lives of three women; Marie, Nora and Cassie, all living in war-torn Belfast. Although their men have been either killed or imprisoned for their political activities; everyday life must go on. But the appearance of a disturbing young girl, and Cassie’s revelations, suddenly threaten Marie’s carefully structured widowhood.

This impressive Holycross/Ballycahill group, directed by Claire Ryan; winners of the Confined Section in the Roscommon Drama Festival, comprise the formidable cast of:- Joanne O’Neill, Jacqui Lacey, Eleanor O’ Dwyer and Jenny Bracken, together with a top-class backup team. At time of writing they still have more festivals in which to compete, to bring them even possibly more honour.

Looking back at the Tipperary Open Drama Festival.
A number of other groups in this festival are no strangers to both the Confined and Open All-Ireland finals. Simply only the best groups take to the stage in Holycross, offering that rare opportunity to meet; not only theatre enthusiasts, but also talented Thespians from all over Ireland.

Holycross-Ballycahill Drama Group are in existence for over fifty years. The group have reached the All Ireland Confined Finals on many occasions, including, 2016, in Castleblayney with “The Thrill of Love” by Amanda Whittington and in 2013 in Rossmore Co. Cork with “The God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza. They have won numerous acting, directing and set awards, not only on the country’s festival circuit, but also in All Ireland competitions.

“Sive” by J.B. Keane, “Run For Your Wife” by Ray Cooney, “Woman and Scarecrow” by Marina Carr and T.S. Elliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral” are among the critically acclaimed productions that the group have performed around the country. They have even brought “The Beauty Queen of Leenane”, by Martin Mc Donagh to Germany, following a special request by the American forces stationed there to perform at their base in Heidelberg.

The above group have won a string of nominations e.g. Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director and Best Set (Andy Slattery) awards around the country. A magnificent achievement for Director, Claire Ryan and her talented cast and stage crew.

Ursuline Convent Secondary Win Glasheen Trophy in Schools Drama Festival
With a hugely impressive production, Ursuline Convent, Thurles won the coveted Glasheen Trophy in the unique Schools Drama Festival, in which Presentation Secondary School, Thurles and two groups from Doon also participated.  Sponsors were Stakelum’s Office Supplies here in Thurles, who were thanked. Mr Donal Duggan, Festival Director went on to thank the teachers for their committed involvement in and contribution to the festival and for fostering local drama and an interest in drama from an early age.

So, it remains a fact; to quote the words of Festival Adjudicator for the “Schools Drama Festival”, Mr Conor O’Connell, (to massive applause, I might add), “Drama is alive and well in Tipperary”.


“Ragtime” Returns To Thurles Musical Society After 14 Years

Thurles Musical Society will bridge a fourteen year gap with their staging of “Ragtime” the Musical here in The Premier Hall, Thurles, from Tuesday March 20thSaturday 24th next, inclusive.

Jack Carolan, Barry Derby, Harry Keane, Linda Ryan and John Scott, main role players in the TMS’ Ragtime.

The Thurles society had the honour of staging the European Amateur première back in 2004 under the direction of Vivian Coates, and amazingly two of the main players are now returning to reprise the same roles again this time round.

While quite a number of the 2018 company were in the 2004 production as well; Michael McLoughlin is returning to play the part of Coalhouse Walker Junior, as he did fourteen years ago. Donal Taylor is also returning to play the part of Booker T Washington, again, a role he played almost a decade and a half ago – Donals wife Maria McElgunn returns to play the part of Emma Goldman, having played the part of Mother back in 2004. And, her brother David will play the part of Tateh in this years show.

Another link with the first production sees Danielle Martin play the role of Evelyn Nesbitt – she is daughter of Ricky Martin who played the part of Father– and niece of Patricia Ryan (Kenny) who played the part of Evelyn last time round.

With a sixty strong cast under the Direction of Christine Scarry, choreographer Lea Carroll and Musical Director Mary Rose McNally, who was also MD fourteen years ago; the Thurles crew have been working very hard to get this massive show off the ground.

Audiences flocked to The Premier Hall in 2004 to see this ‘new show’ and Thurles Musical Society expects more of the same, such was the success of Ragtime last time round.

Tickets, costing €20 for adults and €10 concessions, can be booked at the Booking Office in Bookworm, Liberty Square, Thurles or at 085 2868726.

There are, as always, family tickets available, together with various group discounts.


Imelda McDonagh To Adjudicate Co. Tipp. Open Drama Festival

M/s Imelda McDonagh to Adjudicate at the Co. Tipperary Open Drama Festival in Holycross, Thurles, Co. Tipperary, from March 16th to March 24th.

Author and Freelance Journalist Tom Ryan Reports:-

M/s Imelda McDonagh

Holycross/Ballycahill Drama Group, Thurles Drama Group and Nenagh Drama Group will be the Co. Tipperary representatives in the prestigious Co. Tipperary Open Drama Festival to be held in St. Michael’s Community Centre, Holycross. Competitors will bid for an array of awards, including the “Tipperary Star Cup” in the Confined Section and the “Tipp FM Trophy” in the Open Category.
The Festival Director is Mr Donal Duggan as usual and a dedicated committee have been working diligently to maintain the proud traditional status of the Abbeysiders in this great festival featuring the country’s top drama groups staging some of the world’s finest drama.

Meet Adjudicator M/s Imelda McDonagh
Adjudicator, Imelda McDonagh, is an award-winning director and actress with a first-class Honours M.A. in Theatre Studies. She is a qualified Make-Up Artist and holds a Licentiate (Speech and Drama) from The London College of Music.
Well known for her various acting roles as ‘Lady Bracknell’, in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”; ‘Blanche’, in Tennessee William’s “A Streetcar Named Desire”; ‘Baglady’, in the rarely performed Frank McGuinness play of the same name; ‘Stephanie’, in Tom Kempinski’s “Duet for One”; ‘Gertrude’, in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, and ‘Kate’, in Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons”.

She recently performed with The Dublin Shakespeare Society, as part of the Shakespeare 400 celebrations and as ‘Maisie Madigan’ in the second of Sean O’Casey’s Dublin Trilogy, “Juno And The Paycock”.

Also, much at home in the world of musical theatre, M/s McDonagh has won the coveted Association of Irish Musical Societies’ award for ‘Best Director’, for her production of Samuel and Bella Spewack / Cole Porter’s, “Kiss Me Kate”, for Gorey, (Co. Wexford) Musical Society, and was nominated as ‘Best Director’ for the Irish Premiere of Alistair McGuckian’s “The Ha’penny Bridge”.

Her most recent production was the loosely based on actual events musical, “Footloose” (Music is by Tom Snow, lyrics by Dean Pitchford, and book by Pitchford and Walter Bobbie), for the Oyster Lane Theatre Group, her seventeenth musical to date.

Imelda has enjoyed adjudicating throughout Ireland since 2001, including the finals for Macra and the Irish Country Women’s Association (ICA) and the Confined All-Ireland Drama Finals, in Tubbercurry in 2017.

She is also secretary of The Association of Drama Adjudicators and has recently been awarded “The Civic Merit Award” for her services to the community by Irish President, Michael D. Higgins.

Programme of Plays and Drama Groups (D.G.)

Friday, March 16th, – (Open) – “Unbroken Circle”, – Gorey L.T.G..
Saturday, 17th March,(Confined) – “The Beauty Queen of Leenane”, – Kilworth D.G..
Sunday, 18th March, – (Confined)“Abigail’s Party”, – Skibbereen D.G..
Monday, 19th March – (Confined) – “Caught in the Net”, – Conna D.G..
Tuesday 20th March –  (Open)“Stolen Child”, – Brideview D.G..
Wednesday 21st March(Open)“Blyth Spirit”, – Thurles D.G..
Thursday 22nd March(Confined)“Some Girls”, – Curtain Call, Dungarvan D.G..
Friday 23rd March(Confined)“Bold Girls”, – Holycross/Ballycahill D.G..
Saturday, March 24th(Open)“Duet For Two”, – Nenagh D.G..

Conor O’Connell to adjudicate unique Schools Drama Festival

The County Tipperary Open Drama Festival Schools Festival, the only such event in Ireland will be held on Tuesday, March 13th, starting at 7.30pm.

The entries to date include Ursuline Convent Secondary School, Thurles; Presentation Convent Secondary School, Thurles; and Colaiste na Trionoide, Doon, east Co. Limerick, who will stage two plays.

The adjudicator is once again Mr Conor O’ Connell, nephew of former Thurles hotelier and businessman, Mr Derek O’Connell. A great friend of the organising committee; Conor has himself starred in an acting role on stage in Holycross, with the renowned Silken Thomas Players and who was a big hit with the young players last year.


Thurles Talented Actress Amy O’Dwyer Exits “Fair City”

The very attractive and talented actress Ms Amy O’Dwyer; a native of Two-Mile-Borris, Thurles, Co. Tipperary, and she who played the character of ‘Hannah’ in the RTE One soap, ‘Fair City’, alas, met her stage death last night.

Amy’s character (Hannah) died, on set, at the hands of Dr Oakley (Marcus Lamb) after he pushed her down a stairs, as she attempted to rescue baby Saoirse.

Exiting from the soap, Ms O’Dwyer, who in previous years was no stranger to the Thurles stage,  (Phoenix Productions and Ursuline Convent Musicals), stated that she will now greatly miss her fellow cast members, especially her fellow ‘Phoenix Way’ crew, since she worked mostly in storyline with them. Despite their rocky relationship on TV screens; Miriam (Sorcha Fox) and Emmet (Daithi MacSuibhne) in real life she regards them as close friends.

Amy, also a most talented vocalist, regrets that while there were so many people she didn’t get a chance to work with, because of her daily scripts, she admits she will now miss the busy hum of working on the ‘Fair City’ set, together with the supportive comradery that was so abundantly available.

Fair City comes to our screens again tonight on RTE One at 8.00pm, and in tonight’s episode, viewers can observe the inevitable fall-out, which comes about following Hannah’s (Amy O’Dwyer) death.


Tipp Drama Festival Director Pays Tribute To late Biddy White Lennon

Journalist and Author Tom Ryan, Rahealty, Thurles, Reports:-

The Festival Director of the Co. Tipperary Open Drama Festival, Mr Donal Duggan, has yesterday paid tribute to the memory of actress/author, Ms Biddy White Lennon, who passed away just last weekend.

The popular actress who played Maggie in the popular RTE soap, “The Riordans”, adjudicated at the Tipperary Drama Festival in Holycross twice, once in 1984 and again in 2013.  Mr Duggan, then (as now) Festival Director and Mr Tom Molony (then Chairman of Holycross/Ballycahill Drama Group) and highly regarded seasoned Thespian, Mr Pat McGrath, were even incorporated into Biddy’s script for the Radio 1 version of the popular soap, “Glenroe”.

Pictured above, in better times, are (L to R) Mr Donal Duggan (Festival Director), the late Biddy White Lennon and Mr Michael Lowry, TD.

Biddy stayed locally in Holycross during her festival sojourns as adjudicator, including with Mr & Mrs Tom and Elizabeth Molony, The Green, Holycross. Indeed in the radio script for “Glenroe” it was mentioned that the Glenroe Players were on the festival circuit and met Tipperary Festival Director, Mr Donal Duggan and Committee Chairman, Mr Tom Molony, and the inimitable Mr Pat McGrath in Holycross at the festival, thus ensuring a modicum of fame for this Abbey-side trio.

Biddy reminded Mr Donal Duggan of this when they next met in 2013. “She was pleased with her stay here in Holycross”, said Mr Duggan, who brought her on a site-seeing tour of the Rock of Cashel and other historic places in the county; a traditional courtesy he affords all festival adjudicators.

Mr Duggan said he was saddened to hear of the passing of the popular actress/author; stating
“Biddy was a very competent adjudicator and very easy to work with. Her popularity from her years as ‘Maggie’ in “The Riordans” helped to attract huge audiences to the festival in 1984.  She went on to write the radio script for “Glenroe” having adjudicated at the Festival in 1984.  Ar dheis De a hanam”

Yet one other Thurles resident was well acquainted with Ms Biddy White Lennon. George Willoughby got to know Biddy through numerous appearances in “The Riordans”, during the years 1975/76, while working as a featured extra. “Being involved with the “The Riordans”, was like being a member of a close-knit family. The word ‘celebrity’ back then did not exist; featured actors and lowly extras like myself taking part, all used the same canteen facilities, on location”, said George.

“Filming “The Riordans” was quite radical for that time, with Outside Broadcast Units being used rather than the more usual TV studio setting”, said George. “Even if scenery and prop space had been available to build a studio farm, it would have been nigh impossible to rid audio tape of the sounds of then Dublin city life, with its constant drone of Ambulance/Fire/Garda sirens; overhead aeroplanes and endless traffic noise pollution”.

“To speed up the process of getting film back to the studio for editing”, continued George, “it was instead decided to film on a rural farm near Dunboyne in County Meath, although the series would have us believe it was set in a fictional townsland called Leestown, in Co. Kilkenny.”

“The Riordans” radically changed the rules of broadcasting” stated George.  “The rural characters portrayed by cast members like Ms Biddy White Lennon, inspired the creation of Yorkshire Television equivalents “Emmerdale”, which we so enjoy today. Even production crew from what was to be “Emmerdale Farm” visited “The Riordans” rural set to observe how RTE were managing this somewhat new phenomenon of Outside Broadcast Units”.

“Alas, for “The Riordans”, the music originally used to introduce each episode, Seoirse Bodley’s orchestral arrangement of the Irish traditional tune, “The Palatine’s Daughter” (Iníon An Phailitínigh), no longer plays on Irish TV, since the series was regrettably chopped back in 1979″, concluded George.

The Independent North Tipperary Dail Deputy, Michael Lowry, took centre stage on Ms Biddy White Lennon’s last visit to Holycross, Thurles in 2013, when he officially opened the 31st annual Co. Tipperary Open Drama Festival in a packed Holycross Community Centre, where Biddy White Lennon, was the professional adjudicator.

Mr Lowry, who received a warm reception from the audience in the packed theatre in his home village, sponsored the local awards-winning Holycross / Ballycahill Drama Group production of the comedy, “The God Of Carnage”, by French playwright, Yasmina Reza, which opened the
festival on that particular night.

Mr Lowry has supported the festival for many years and is a popular figure with audiences. The attendance at the opening night also included his son, Councillor Micheal Lowry; members of drama groups from various parts of Co. Tipperary; the then “Rose of Thurles” Ms Emma Moore; Littleton’s Jim Ryan (MCC) and the now late Fr. Tom Breen, (PP), latter then also the Festival Committee President.

Mr Lowry lauded the organising committee on its work for the festival over 31 years and in particular Festival Director, Donal Duggan, who has been in that role for all that time.

The Holycross/Ballycahill group got the Festival off to “a great start”, according to the popular adjudicator, Ms Biddy White Lennon, “who was no stranger to Holycross”, as Michael Lowry pointed out. He recalled that in 1983 when the late TJ Maher, MEP, opened the first Festival in Holycross, only fourteen people were to be counted in the audience on that night.

The Festival had grown and developed over the years since then. “We have a fantastic organisation here, in Holycross, and I congratulate them. It is a totally voluntary organisation who have given endless hours to the festival.  Groups come from all over Ireland to Holycross and almost every year, groups from Holycross Festival reach the All-Ireland Finals.  Holycross is now established as one of Ireland’s major Drama Festival Locations”, stated Lowry on the night.

“The God Of Carnage” on that night was directed by Pat McGrath and the cast comprised of Jacqui Lacey, Martin “Marty” O’ Neill, Derek Doherty and Salome Hennessy. Lighting was by Paddy Connolly and Set Construction was by Pat McGrath, Andy Slattery, Catherine Lowry. Set

Design/Dressing was by Catherine Lowry and Marian Gilmore. Sound was by Joanne O’Neill and make-up by Peg Ryan, whilst Sally O’Rourke was in charge of Continuity.

The Set Crew comprised: Elaine O’ Dwyer, Gerry O’ Dwyer, Jack Henchion, Diana Lacey, Geraldine Henchion, Claire Ryan, Kevin Darmody.