by Oliver and Phil Flannery 

Tubbercurry, in 1945, had not much to offer in the way of social activities for its young adults, particularly during the Winter season. The only venue was the local Legion Hall, run by the C.YM.S., with its main activities of snooker, table tennis and card playing – the Social Rooms in St. Brigid’s Hall were still in process of development.

‘For the want of something to do’, as expressed by a member of the first group of players. “a number of us joined a commercial class in the local Vocational School being given by the Commerce Teacher. Paddy Murray”. As the ‘excitement’ of learn­ing Shorthand and Type-writing began to pall their teacher, who was deeply interested in Drama, decided as a diversionary tactic to keep up attendance figures at the class, to spend some of the class-time in producing a play, using the members of the class as cast. This idea was supported by the then Headmaster of the school, Sean O’Dowd, another Drama enthusiast and one of the co-founders of the Western Drama Festival. Thus was born the Phoenix Players – the parents being Paddy Murray and Sean O’Dowd. The cradle and rehearsal base for many years afterwards was the Vocational School and, after many sugges­tions from the cast, the name decided on was the one proposed by Paddy Murray himself, The Phoenix Players. As the Phoenix rose from the ashes ‘The Phoenix Players’ rose from the old defunct drama group ‘The Tubbercurry Players’.

The first pro­duction, cho­sen to suit the all-male class, was “The Golden Priest” by Aodh de Blacam and rehearsals commenced in the winter of 1945.

It was staged to much acclaim in Tubbercurry, Kiltimagh, Enniscrone and Ballina. Then, due to the cancellation of a play from Athenry which was due to open the 1946 Western Drama Festival, it took over on the opening night and ended up as winner of the Confined Cup ie. the Premier Award for rural groups!!! They were also awarded third place in the Open Section that same year.

Paddy Murray’s forte as producer was voice production and movement and this fact was com­mented favourably upon by the adjudicator.

Thus was born ‘The Phoenix Players’ and that first production was the first of many to delight audiences countrywide and the first awards were only an indication of the success that the group would enjoy on the Festival Circuit. Club organisation during the opening years was not extremely efficient. The £35 takings in Kiltimagh did not reach the puzzled treasurer in full due to the ‘hos­pitality needs’ of the cast; and the trip to Enniscrone, though planned on the Tubbercurry end, had been forgotten to be publicised in Enniscrone so an audience had to be recruited there on the night. A ‘useless’ bit of information is that this episode happened on the day that ‘Lovely Cottage’ won the Aintree Grand National!

The first production was followed in late 1946 and 1947 by two One-Act Plays –  “The Dreaming of the Bones” (Winner of three Festival Cups) and “The Romantic Lover”. Sean O’Dowd also produced two three-acts ie. “Journey’s End” by R. C. Sheriff and “Alarm Among The Clerks” by Mervyn Wall, both staged locally and at the Bundoran Festival.

By this time ladies had been welcomed into the club and in Autunm of 1946 the first official A.G.M. of the group was held and the following officers were elected –

Chairman: Sean Cahill                                   Vice-Chairman: Bertie Cullen

Hon. Sec.: Joseph Gallagher                          Ass. Sec.: Ita Rafter

Treasurer: Joseph Masterson                        Producer: Sean O’Dowd

Committee:                                                   George Molloy, Sean O’Dowd, Paddy Fleming, Bertie                                              Cullen and Margaret Holohan.

A much-talked about production of Louis Dalton’s “They Got What They Wanted” brought the players to a larger public in 1947/’48. On the advice of J. J. Henry, of Radio Eireann, adjudicator at the Western Drama Festival, they staged shows in Bundoran, Cavan, Enniskillen and in the Fr. Matthew Hall, Dublin. This venture involved hiring three taxis for the trip to the city and a sojourn of three days there.It took the cast some time to recover from this venture but it also took the Fr. Matthew Hall a while to recover!

This year also saw the production of the One Act Play by Lady Gregory,”The Rising of The Moon” – the first time that an involved lighting plot was used which won much praise on the circuit and was the first of many such created by Sean O’Dowd. This same producer continued his good work in 1948 and ‘49 with a three-act play by P. V. Carroll “The White Steed”, which again won the Confined Cup at the local Festival, and a One-Act by J. J. Bell “The Thread of Scarlet”! This latter play lives on in the memory of the cast as a ‘total disaster’ on the night – ‘The rain did not fall outside the window as intended, but flowed into the set; the wind machine did not function as the silk yarns snapped; the can of peas intended to recreate the sound of the sea fell down the stairs out of the effects-man’s hands and, finally the adjudi­cator, Lennox Robinson declared that he didn’t know what the play was about! – on this point the cast agreed.

Due to family commitments, Sean O’Dowd withdrew from the producer’s role in the early ‘50’s but his place was ably filled by T. J. Murphy who, in three consec­utive years, won the Production Award at the Western Drama Festival for “Michaelmas Eve” by T. C. Murray; “The Jailbird” by George Shiels and “Rope” by Patrick Hamilton. “The Jailbird” tied for the Open Cup at the Western Drama Festival with Ballina’s “Mountain Flood” and “Rope” has the distinction of being the one Phoenix Player’s production to win the Open Cup outright. (In later years the club policy changed and it was decided not to compete at our local Festival). Paddy Murray, then very involved in drama with the young Vocational School Players, still found time to work with the Phoenix Players in two One-Acts ie. “The Workhouse Ward” and “Spring” which was staged in 1950/’51.

The 1952/’53 season saw a variety of plays produced with a number of pro­ducers in action. Sean O’Dowd was involved with “Cartney and Kevney”; Bernard Brennan, assisted by T. J. Murphy produced”Journey’s End” – a play which reached the All Ireland Finals in Athlone but is best remembered by many of the cast for its ‘explosive’ qualities. A member of the Cavan Festival committee is reported to have said that it took them a week to clean up and repair the stage after the number of bombs exploded by an enthusiastic backstage crew, and the Bundoran presentation was marred by the roof explosion which demolished much more of the set than intended! A busy year was completed by Sean Cahill’s presentation of two One-Acts –  “The Dreaming of The Bones”and “An Sar Gadaidhe”, and by T. J. Murphy’s direc­tion of “The Burglar and The Girl”.

1953 saw the inauguration of the first All Ireland Drama Festival in Athlone and the Phoenix Players were honoured by being asked to stage a presentation show on the Final Night – the play chosen, produced by Sean O’Dowd, was Lady Gregory’s “The Rising of The Moon”.

1954 saw an excellent production of “The Shadow of The Glen”, which missed the Open All Ireland award by 1 mark due, according to the adjudicator, to the dra­matic final exit being ruined by a door that didn’t function when needed! That mishap lived long in Sean O’Dowd’s memory!

‘Oh,for the zvant of a nail the shoe zvas lost,

For the want of a shoe the horse zvas lost.

For the want of a horse the rider was lost,

For the want of a rider the message was lost,

For the want of a message the battle zvas lost”

-Benjamin Franklin

So ended this first decade of the Phoenix Player’s existence – ten years of enter­tainment, triumphs, catastrophes, history-making and enjoyment and certainly ful­filling the ambition of the founder members of “providing Tubbercurry people with a wonderful outlet for their energy, creativity and dramatic ability”.




by Oliver and Phil Flannery 

For the first two years of this decade the show was kept on the road, bad debts were paid off and finances of the club improved by the efforts of the local convent chaplain, Fr. John Duffy. The Three-Acts staged in these years were “Speed The Plough”, “What Happened To Jones”, and “Birthright” – all very popular produc­tions locally. “The Pot of Broth”, a One Act by Yeats was also presented. The club was honoured by being requested by Lennox Robinson to stage the premier production of his ‘Absurdity in Three Acts’ – “Speed The Plough”. It was presented at a matinee perfor­mance during the 1955 Western Drama Festival, with Lennox himself in the audience. The cast strove valiantly but even Lennox himself agreed that the play was not a ‘winner’ – we never heard of any further pro­duction of this particular play.

1956 saw a new influx of members into the Phoenix Player’s and the group, from 1956 to 1960, under the direction of Sean O’Dowd, staged a total of six Three Act plays including “Twenty Years A-Wooing”

“Nano”; “Give Me A Bed Of Roses”; “Home At Seven”; “Home Is The Hero” and “Anyone Can Rob A Bank”. The Three Act play was usu­ally done as a Christmas show and played the local circuit of Tubbercurry, Curry, Benada, Cloonacool, Mullinabreena, Gurteen and Riverstown. Some of them were staged at festivals but the emphasis for a festival play mainly went to the One Acts. Most noteworthy of these were “The Death of Cuchulainn” (a Yeats verse play) nom­inated to Athlone and “The Gaol Gate” by Lady Gregory, which won premier awards at three festivals and was placed second in the All Ireland Festival of 1958.

In a class of its own was “Teach na mBocht”, the unabridged original version of Lady Gregory’s play, which was winner of the pre­mier award at the two-day Feile Dramaiochta an Jarthair held in March 1960. The present Bishop of Achonry, Most Re~~ Dr. Thomas Flynn was ‘roped’ into this production in the role of prompter. He was then chaplain to the local convent and very supportive of drama. It is reported that his role as prompter was not too arduous due to the dexterity of some of the cast of manoeuvring their scripts under the bedclothes! Other One Acts put on the boards in these years were “They Also Serve” and two further Lady Gregory plays – “On The Racecourse” and “The Rising Of The Moon”.

Highlights of these years, in the memories of the members involved, were the social aspects of life with the Phoenix. Rehearsals were held for two years in a room rented from Miss Ciss Gilligan of Emmett Street and for the remaining years in the ‘upstairs apartment’ of Clarke’s House in Main Street, then owned by the Gallagher family and lent free to the club. Both venues had open fires and tea-making facilities so rehearsal nights consisted of work, craic and refreshments and on many occasions rehearsals ran into the wee small hours. Many neighbouring festivals were visited but enjoyment more than award-winning was or seemed to be higher on the agenda.

One memorable trip took the players to the Killarney Drama Festival where on the Sunday night, after presenting “The Gaol Gate” and “The Death of Cuchulainn”, the cast and crew, after the adjudication repaired to the local Rugby Club for a Dance and Social. They then set out for home, had early breakfast in Shannon Airport and arrived on The Square in Tubbercurry in time for work on the Monday morning. Other memories include having a Christmas party complete with cooked turkey and trimmings in the large Dressing Room of Riverstown Hall after the staging there of “Home Is The Hero”. The group were invited to Killybegs Hospital to entertain staff and patients with “Twenty Years A-Wooing” which was staged in the Hall and ‘broadcast’ to the bed-ridden patients. This play also showed the versatility of the club. The play was too short for a full night’s entertainment so a fourth act was added on ie. “Helen’s Wedding” (thought of before The D’unbelievables!). This extra act exploited the members skills of music, song, dance and comedy and involved all the stage crew. During this decade Social Outings for the Phoenix Player’s members and friends were arranged in the early summer to close the Drama season and fur­ther bond the club members – these outings were mainly to seaside resorts such as Bundoran, Galway, Ashford Castle etc.

An innovation in 1957 was a Night Class in the Vocational School, organised by Sean O’Dowd, and consisting of eight lectures/demonstrations in the various aspects of Drama – staging, lighting, voice production and make-up. Mr. Barry Cassin, under the auspices of the Arts Council and sponsored by the Western Drama Festival, visited Tubbercurry in 1959 and conducted a Drama Course in the area, visiting six clubs for a series of classes – the Phoenix Players being among the partic­ipating clubs. Again in 1952, Barry held a course for Producers in St. Brigid’s Hall. This was facilitated by the local club and attended by 48 people, representing 20 clubs from the western counties and the north.

One cannot leave the 1945 – 1965 period in the life of the Phoenix Player’s with­out paying tribute to all the producers, actors, backstage crews and audiences of that era. We feel, however, that special mention must be made of two people, both now sadly deceased – Sean O’Dowd who produced the vast majority of the Three Act and One Act plays and whose huge skills in production, staging and lighting was wide­ly acknowledged at local and All Ireland level; and Joe Masterson who appeared in every single Three Act play produced during these twenty years, and most of the One Acts. His work, skills as an actor, interest in the Phoenix Players and drama in general made him one of the be~t-known Tubbercurry drama personalities of the time.

In Autumn 1961, due to a number. of the club members leaving Tubbercurry owing to change in employment, marriage etc., the Phoenix Players had a ‘rest period’ but members were heavily involved in the organisation of the local Drama Festival. As we shall see they ‘rose from their ashes’ again during the next decade, and strode the stage again with renewed strength, expertise and enthusiasm.

1965 -1975  ::  A NEW BEGINNING

by Billy Kilgannon

My Involvement with amateur drama commence in 1962 during my time in Tubbercurry Vocational School. Liam Jinks, the Irish teacher loved to produce plays in the Irish language and I was fortunate (sometimes I think unfortunate) enough to be chosen by him to participate as an actor.

During these years we presented one-act plays in Irish Festivals (Feile Dramaiochta) in places like Carna in the Connemara Gaeltacht, Tourmakeady and Dungannon. Liam would pack us all and a few essential props into his Ford Anglia and set off in the afternoon for places we had never heard of before, often returning just before dawn the following morning. We always hoped for a mid-week draw as this meant time off school!

It was in 1966 that I first got to know the late Mickey Murray R.J.P. I was employed by Tool & Gauge at the time and the company opened a Social Club in the vacant old Garda Barracks. (Heather House is now built there). Mickey fre­quented this club and it was there we first dis­cussed the idea of doing a three-act play. A number of other lads were talked into it and so was born the Tubbercurry Dramatic Society. Almost all the male members of the group were employees of Tool & Gauge. We had the use of rooms in the Social Club for rehearsals. From 1966 until Mickey suddenly passed away in May 1971, we pre­sented, under his direction four full length plays and a one-act. The one-act, Marty, by Michael Sheedy was our most successful on the festival circuit when we were placed third at the All Ireland Finals in Loughrea in 1967.

Mickey loved amateur drama. He gave gener­ously of his time to both the Western Drama Festival where he was Stage Manager from 1966 to 1971 and to the Dramatic Society where he nurtured a love and appreciation of amateur drama in a group of young people. All of us were only in our late teens or early twenties at that time.

After Mickey Murray passed on we dispersed. That was the end of the Dramatic Society. We said as a group we would never present another play.

The Phoenix Rises Again

In August 1971 I met Joe Masterson in town one evening. He had recently returned to Tubbercurry after spending a number of years working for the Irish Heart Foundation in North Donegal. Joe wasn’t the type to ask ones opinion about anything and certainly not someone like me in their early ‘20’s about amateur drama. The conversation went something like this “Yer not doing any more plays with the Dramatic Society”. “No”. “We’ll start the Phoenix Players again, you’ll be the Chairman, I’ll be the P.R.O., don’t worry about the Secretary and we’ll do “Anyone Can Rob A Bank”, that’s the last play the Phoenix did before we broke up in 1961. I’ll play Badger Gray and Rita Gannon will play Sarah the wife like we did in 1961. There’ll be a part in it for you too. I’ll talk to Rita, you get a meeting organized and we’ll start from there. See ya”.

Before the year ended the play was presented in St. Brigids Hall with the cast as he had planned and was an outstanding success. With just a few exceptions the group has presented annual productions ever since. It should not go unnoticed that the ten years in which the Phoenix Players were dormant were the same ten years when Joe was not resident in Tubbercurry.

Joe too has passed on to his eternal reward. We miss him sorely. Drama was his life and he was an inspiration to many of us. A few ‘local’ plays followed in 1972 and 1973 and then in 1974 the group returned to the Drama Festival Circuit after an absence of 14 years with John B. Keanes play “Moll”. It was an instant suc­cess at every festival. I can recall being asked to go to Glenamaddy and Claremorris Festivals on closing night. The group were per­forming at another festival that night. We won so many awards at both festivals I needed help to carry them off the stages. This was the beginning of what proved to be an outstandingly successful tour of the Festival Circuit in later years.


by Philip O’Gorman

With the very apt title of ‘Perfection City’ a group of young men embarked on the Festival trail with a determined self belief, a common will to succeed and not even a tiny doubt as to their artistic capabilities.

We smiled wryly as we remarked their theatrical innocence – lack of refined technical skills, a sparsely furnished ‘range of experience’ section of their CVs, a ‘floating’ rehearsal base, and a limited financial backing. They were almost renegades; but not quite, somewhat evasive as to their dramatic intent however we only ‘slightly’ doubted their artistic integrity. These doubts were dispelled as we witnessed a highly imaginative and compelling production of a piece they brought close to Perfection on the One Act circuit in 1975. Anticipating the critical gaze on their launch they had expended record hours of rehearsal, determined that the Premiere of David Shellan’s work would be as noteworthy as theirs.

Hungry for further success they were soon to absorb the wider talents of the community launch­ing the first full length production on the circuit since ‘Moll’ in 1974. ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ in 1978 proved to be the first of many productions in this decade; each and every one, adjudged to be at All-Ireland standard. This suc­cess was built on abundant talent and enthusiasm, but above all a great spirit of team work. The pinnacle was reached with the A.D.L. All-Ireland title in 1981, achieved with Brian Friel’s ‘Philadelphia, Here I Come’, but the A.D.C.I. title proved more elusive.

The invitation to advance to the Premier division was deferred for maybe a little too long, as we underestimated the degree of success productions such as ‘Rashomon’ would bring. Scooping the overall ‘Blue Riband’ in an increasing num­ber of festivals – pipping the revered other contenders was now a measure of the group’s progression. At national level the Phoenix were now acknowledged as hav­ing more than flown the ashes.
1985 – 1995  ::  THE BIG SHOWS

by Tom Walsh 

Looking back on the previous decade one could say it was dominated by produc­tions for the festival circuit. Under the dedicated and skilled direction of Philip O’Gorman the group developed and matured and attained recognition as formida­ble contestants culminating in their first appearance in the All Ireland Drama Finals (Open Section) in Athlone in May 1985 with their hilarious presentation of “The Communication Cord” a farce by Brian Friel. The group acquitted themselves very favourably with their production and while the Esso Trophy was not to be theirs on this occasion, nevertheless they did win an All Ireland Best Actor Award which was given to me for my portrayal of the beleagured College Professor “Tim Gallagher”. 

This decade will probably be best remembered as the era of the “Big Show” and a time for diversification. There was less emphasis on the group only made three appearances on the the festival circuit. During the last ten years three-act circuit; 1987 “A View From The Bridge”, 1990 “Conversations On A Homecoming” –  (which resulted in the group making their second appearance in Athlone at the All Ireland Finals) and 1994 “A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg”. 

There were also two appearances on the one-act circuit “Unnatural Scene” in 1986 and “Bedtime Story” in 1987. 1987 also saw the group getting involved in pub drama presenting ‘The Workhouse Ward’ in Nathy’s and Cawley’s Hotel. However. it will be for the emphasis on community involvement that the decade will be best remembered. During the latter half of the eighties the late Joe Masterson had made a comeback to drama in Tubbercurry. Joe was a great believer in the “Christmas Show” a good comedy with popular local personalities involved, stage it one night only, in St. Brigid’s Hall to ensure a full house and create the atmosphere and buzz necessary for a good nights entertainment. This was achieved with such productions as “Anyone Can Rob A Bank” at Christmas 1986 produced by the late Sean Cahill, “Many Young Men Of Twenty” in February 1988 produced by Peter Davey and “Daughter From Over The Water” at Christmas 1988 produced by me. This play was to be Joe Mastersons last appearance on stage and will also be remembered for a spe­cial appearance on stage in St. Brigids Hall by the author, the late M. J. Molloy who addressed the audience on that particular night. 

1989 proved another milestone in the history of the group with the production of a “Passion Play” entitled “The Word And The Flesh”. This stemmed from a long held ambition of mine to stage such a show. There was a lot of talent within the Phoenix Players at the time and it was felt that by using this existing talent, drafting in new talent from the surrounding parishes and enticing back some of the former members it should be possible to put on a show that would be something spectacu­lar. Due to the incredible commitment, co-operation and goodwill of everyone involved – actors in main parts, actors in small parts and back stage crew alike – this was proved correct. A cast and crew of over 100 people were assembled (the biggest ever in the history of the Phoenix Players) and during Holy Week of 1989 patrons both local and from afar were treated to one of the most memorable productions ever seen on a stage in Tubbercurry. 

There were queues down as far as Kennedys and crowds were turned away – a sight not seen since the Golden Era of the festivals in the ‘50s. Many people still vividly recall the “Crucifixion Scene”. However, the occasion was tinged with sad­ness because on Holy Saturday night Joe Masterson passed away. Joe had been quite ill during the final weeks of rehearsals yet despite his illness he had done trojan work behind the scenes in arranging publicity and presenting a memorable souvenir pro­gramme. His death cast a shadow over the final performance of the play on Easter Sunday night – which incidently was an extra performance to cater for the crowds that had been turned away on previous nights. Joe’s last words were that “the show should go on” on Easter Sunday night. Few will forget the scene after the final cur­tain that night when the entire cast, crew and audience stood in silent tribute before a wreath placed centre stage and lit only from a single spotlight. As they say there wasn t a dry eye in the house”, testimony to a man who can never be forgotten in drama circles not only in Tubbercurry but also throughout the country. 

After the success of the “Passion Play” it was felt that an effort should be made to hold on to our new members and encourage further involvement in Community type Theatre. 

With this in mind the group decided to stage “God’s Gentry” at Christmas 1989. This was a show which required a large cast and also exploited the musical tal­ent of the group and was an inspiration for the Phoenix Players to break further new ground and produce its first ever musical “Calamity Jane” in February 1991. Again this featured a large cast and crew of over 100 people and was the most successful box office show ever produced by the Phoenix Players. It ran to packed houses for an entire week. However, this would not have been a success were it not for the expert musical direction of Sr. Catherine Boland, Brian Cahill and Mary Kelly.

Later that year the group branched into pub theatre and presented “Muldoons Oriental Cafe” (a one-act comedy) in four pubs in the town with all proceeds going towards charity. Further new ground was broken with their involement in Street Theatre as part of the Old Fair Day Programme – a major event held in the town each August. For four successive years 1991 – 1994 the group presented short comedy sketches which proved very popular with the crowds.

The back stage crew showed their expertise by helping the local Marist Convent Secondary School when they presented their very successful musicals “Grease” in 1992 and “Joseph And His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat” in 1994.

1991 also marked the group’s initial participation in Radio Drama competing in the Mid-West/North West Radio Drama Competitions. They participated for four successive years 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994. In 1994 the Phoenix Players were win­ners of the Mid-West/North West Variety Competition and received a cheque for £500 for their achievement. 

In 1993 the Western Drama Festival celebrated its Golden Jubilee year. It was fitting that something “special” should be presented to coincide with the opening of the Drama Festival that year. To mark this event the Phoenix Players presented “A Time To Remember” which was especially written by members of the group. It was a type of variety show in five scenes, one for each decade and consisted of a nostal­gic look back at the Drama Festival over the fifty years told in music, song, dance, comedy and narration incorporating short scenes from some of the famous play pre­sented over the years. Again it involved a large number of people – nearly 100 in all. Although, it may not have had broad popular appeal it nevertheless proved enter­taining to the people who had been involved with the Drama Festival over the years. 

By 1995 a play called “Dancing at Lughnasa” written by Brian Friel had achieved worldwide acclaim. It had now been released to the amateur circuit. It was felt that it would only be right and fitting that Tubbercurry audiences should first see it performed by the local group the Phoenix Players, and with this in mind and under the direction of Peter Davey “Dancing at Lughnasa” was presented in St. Brigid’s Hall in February 1995 and was enthusiastically received by not only local patrons but also many who travelled from further afield. 

1995 was also our Golden Jubilee year. Again this needed to be marked by yet another big show which was to be the “mother of all big shows” certainly as far as numbers, lighting and special effects were concerned. It was back to the Bible again and a decision was made to stage a Nativity Play for Christmas called “Two From Galilee”. It had a cast of over 70 people but also had a choir of 60 which included the Junior Choir from St. Marys National School under the musical direction of Sr. Brendan, the Senior Choir under the direction of Sr. Catherine and Brian Cahill. With musicians and stage crew included we had nearly 200 people involved. Technically the show was to be our biggest challenge to date. This challenge was met admirably by everyone concerned and left us in no doubt that we had the expertise if not the equipment to take on challenging plays of this nature in the future.