THE year is tipping along nicely. There’s a grand stretch in the evenings and the ewes are dropping. And any day at all now Peter McCallig will rummage in his wardrobe and see what shape the tuxedo is in. It’s Peter’s coat of arms and regular attire for the upcoming Claremorris Drama Festival. Peter is just one of many hard-working cogs in a well-oiled machine that has been rolling out this cultural event for forty-three years.
It doesn’t happen by chance. Lots of time and meticulous planning go into the staging of this gig that runs for ten almost consecutive nights in Claremorris Town Hall.
We say ‘almost’ because the schedule is interrupted on Thursday night for the weekly Claremorris Bingo session. And nothing, not even the crème de la crème of Irish drama groups arriving in town, disrupts bingo in Claremorris.
Over the winter months, Peter and other officers like Linda Connolly-Beirne, Eddie Sweeney, Pat Noone, Matt McLoughlin and Jimmy Walsh, and their hard-working supporting cast, beavered busily sifting through applications from drama groups around Ireland wishing to stage their play in Claremorris.
The festival kicks off on Friday, March 8 and Taoiseach Enda Kenny will perform the official opening.
Among the offerings are two Máirtín McDonagh plays, ‘The Lonesome West’ and ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane’, John B Keane’s ‘Sharon’s Grave’, Marina Carr’s ‘By the Bog Of Cats’, ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ by Niall Williams, Ray Cooney’s ‘Not Now Darling’ and two productions of Brian Friel’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’.
This is where it gets interesting; a chance to compare apples with apples. Ballyduff Drama Group from Waterford, who won last year’s festival, are one of the troupes performing this play.
When Ballyduff arrive in Claremorris on the Saturday night Garrymore Drama Group will already have the bar ratcheted up when they’ve staged it on Monday, March 11. By the time Ballyduff Drama Group begin unloading the props and constructing the set to stage their interpretation of Friel’s work, they’ll have a hard act to follow.
Garrymore will leave nothing to chance. Milking time will be brought forward by two hours in Killeenreevagh and Pullbawn. There won’t be much attention paid to homework around Purranes and Scardaune. It will also be a bonanza time for hairdressers up Ballyglass and The Heath country.
Babysitters can name their price with double-time rates applying after midnight. At dusk traffic will crawl bumper to bumper in Crossboyne. Expect tailbacks from the railway gates out to the high crossroad.
The organisers must have done cartwheels of delight when they saw this gift horse opening his mouth. Full house and standing room only images must have flashed before them.
Matt McLoughlin knows Garrymore will tog strong for this as they always do when the gauntlet is thrown down. A good job Enda will have his official functions completed the previous Friday. Otherwise the chauffeur would have to dyke the Merc’ out the Balla road Monday night.
It will be a curtsy to a bygone era in when the Dolans, Fitzpatricks, Monaghans, Connollys, Nallys, Mellettes, Brian Healy, Pat Dixon and Padraic Flannery arrived in town whenever the honour of the village needed defending. You know the rest.
This year also sees the first Claremorris Fringe Festival taking place from Friday, March 8 to Monday, March 11. Two fifteen minute plays will be performed each night after the main play in the Town Hall and two additional performances on the Sunday afternoon. The Fringe Festival venue is the Dalton Inn Hotel.
John Corless is the man giving the pull to this vehicle. Padraic Neary, Michael Joe Ginnelly, Anne Donnelly, Seamus McNally and Jane McNulty are just a few of the playwrights availing of the opportunity to give a Dalton Inn ‘World Premiere’ to their as yet unpublished, unperformed and unseen work.
Claremorris Drama Festival runs from Friday March 8 to Monday March 18. Curtain up at 8pm, except on opening night because Enda is on stage at 7.45pm. After that the real drama.