THE first old chestnut of the year has fallen. Mid February and Ballinrobe comes alive to the sound of music. This week Ballinrobe Musical Society stages their latest production, ‘Beauty and the Beast’. This current troupe carry the baton of a rich and proud tradition stretching back to 1944 when the first notes were echoed across the ’Robe.
It faded away for a few years according to Old Moore. Rationing, the beet campaign, The Quiet Man and Mayo winning All-Ireland’s in ’50 and ’51 took centre stage.
In the early ’70s it reformed as St Mary’s Choral Society. Sr Francis was the driving force behind it. Others like Kay Treacy, Augie McDermott, John Finlay and Tony Walkin to name but a few enlisted for the long haul. It’s stood the test of time. Many a star emerged on stage as a result of the fine musical tutelage of Sr Francis in her school music classes.
But don’t buy the notion that the mission statement of Ballinrobe Musical Society is ‘an all work and no play’ dictum. Far from it. Tales of the behind the scenes pranks are legendary. And with such tellings emerge the usual suspects. Lads like Eugene O’Malley, Noel Ansboro, Christopher Guckian, Tom Deveraux, Luke O’Malley, Joe Acton, Gerry Hughes and Billy Burke never needed any tuition for the role of pranksters. They are Oscar winners. We’ll scratch the surface here but this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Directors and producers like Courtney Kenny, Noel Kirrane, Pat Heaney, Joe Donoghue, Joe Dillon, Carol Coleman, The Reverend Rice-Thomas and Wally Loughrey ran the gamut, turning a blind eye to off-stage antics whenever possible. Courtney Kenny despised matinees. Tayto-gorging, Coke-swigging, chair-shuffling bag-bursting kids proved too much for his professionalism. The Matinee returns this year.
Back in the old Town Hall nights Joe Acton was MC. Nightly he welcomed the members of Rathmines and Rathgar Musical Society to the show. And The London Opera Society on one occasion.
There was the famous bell connected from the hall to Flannery’s Bar as Billy Burke confirmed to me indoors in Outdoor Pursuits this week. When the supporting cast were due on stage, someone pressed the bell backstage. In the bar, Vera Flannery had the unenviable task of giving them their queue for curtain call.
There was the odd bit of poor timing. Luke O’Malley, taking his prompt from Eugene O’Malley, and arriving on stage in ‘My Fair Lady’ to inform Mrs Higgins that ‘the horses had left the paddock’. They hadn’t because Luke was a scene too early. His reappearance drew rapturous applause.
Tony Walkin tying two ladies apron strings together. Luckily the ties undid. Tony had them anchored to the main curtain support. Other things too. As an actor doffed his hat in a scene from ‘The Pirates of Penzance’, Gerry Hughes off-stage filled it with water.
Donning his hat, he gave himself a public baptism.
Geraldine Flanagan was the star of many a show. She humorously recalls another public washing. “There was devilment every night. In South Pacific I was doing the reprise of ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right out of My Hair’. Billy O’Carroll was Stage Manager.
“They had a shower erected on stage and when I went into the shower to sing, Billy had emptied a bottle of Fairy Liquid into the water tank. There were suds and bubbles everywhere and the audience erupted. You wouldn’t get away with that carry-on now. I made lifelong everlasting friendships from it.”
Ballinrobe Musical Society has evolved. Bookings must be done online at the Lake District office this year. Long before the technology of Ticketmaster or MasterCard, Sean and Carmel Costello provided this service from their living room in Abbey Street.
They had their own unique system going and it never failed to put bums on seats. They fitted everyone in despite limited space. It’s because of people like Sean, Carmel, Tony, Geraldine and the pranksters that the shows went on.
It was always alright on the night.