Hope comes in many forms, but for those of us who lived in the London of years ago, a highlight was the Annual Westport Reunion. It was a vital link with home. Those who came brought news, stories, the breath and smell of home.
Covies working in and around London were there with a large crew visiting from home. This was long before mobiles, Skype and social media. Back then when you left home, you left! Even a ‘long-tailed’ phone call was a luxury.
A major part of any Westport Reunion was The Mayo News. There was always a scramble for a copy! Irish Post photographer, Mel McNally, double-jobbing on the night, took shots and scribbled down names. You were anxious to be included in a photograph for The Mayo to show those back home that all was well.
Fr Tony King greeted all. Calmness restored. Martin Curry, News Editor with The Mayo News, held court, espousing the importance of keeping in touch and writing down greetings for a feature in the paper. Then he’d meet Charlie ‘Chuck’ O’Malley and Haulie Hoban and the rowlin’ would start for the night!
Another very important social event that attracted huge crowds was the visit of St Patrick’s Drama Group to St Joseph’s in Wembley to ‘put on a play’, thanks to an invite from Noel Heneghan. ‘The Country Boy’ was performed on March 15 and 16, 1996. Word was spread via The Mayo News, inviting all emigrants to attend.
Among the many requests to the travelling cast was ‘Bring us over a sod of turf!’. They duly obliged. Up to 2016, St Patrick’s Drama group had presented eleven plays in St Joseph’s, which closed shortly afterwards.
America was never far behind England! In April 1998, St Patrick’s Drama group brought ‘The Country Boy’ to Cleveland, Ohio. Martin Curry headed to Chicago in 2006 ‘on reconnaissance’ to the ever loyal Covie, Ambrose Kelly (Mill Street native), to prepare for St Patrick’s Drama Group’s performance of Michael Joe Ginnelly’s classic, ‘A Wake In The West’, in the Irish American Heritage Centre.
The trip, which features in Fintan MacMahon’s excellent book, ‘St Patrick’s Drama Group, Westport 1964-2014’, was a huge success. Ambrose Kelly was the most consummate host, ambassador, convoy driver, pick-up man, deliveryman, set designer, fixer, ‘greeter and seater,’ and ‘My Kind of Town’ Covie! He was the perfect link, aided by his lovely wife, Teresa.
The Irish Americans were charmed by the play and meeting all the group members afterwards. The group, in turn, were all excited to meet so many from home and those with Westport-area family links. Many met uncles, aunts and first, second and third cousins for the first time. It was a most moving experience for several people. It was equally thrilling for those who emigrated to Chicago a few years previously, or 30 or 40 years before.
Next week, St Patrick’s Drama Group will travel back to Chicago for two performances of ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane’ in the Irish American Heritage Centre on Thursday, February 20, and Friday, February 21. Regina McCormack (Mag), Conor O’Neill (Ray), Colette McGinty (Maureen) and Séamus Beirne (Pato) will tread the boards, with Mary Carr as director and Marion Moran as producer.
All travelling will have copies of The Mayo News for distribution at the performances. Patrons will snap up raffle tickets as they vie to win annual digital subscriptions to The Mayo News. Only the medium has changed, the stories are the same! Among other excellent prizes are those from the Castlecourt Hotel, Hotel Westport, Amayo photography and Carraig Donn.
We used to say ‘American papers please copy’; now we urge all to tell family and friends to use social media to publicise next week’s performances!
In some strange way, St Patrick’s Drama Group members will represent the heartbeats of thousands as they cross the Atlantic next week, forming a link between a community separated by time and space. This time around we shall be among those who ‘bring’ the tidings from home, assuring Covies of the breath, smell and love from home; knowing we too shall receive, in abundance, Deo volente.
St Patrick’s Drama Group will perform ‘The Beauty Queen’ of Leenane in Westport Town Hall Theatre this evening (Tuesday), February 11, at 8pm for one night only. The show then heads to Chicago for February 20 and 21 performances.