The Thief of New Ross

Or how Marie nearly didn't get her prize!

The morning of the DADS trip to the All Ireland Confined Final in New Ross will be forever etched in the minds of those involved in any way with DADS. The leading character in the play "A Thief of a Christmas" is Costello and it seemed a good omen that the trip was undertaken on a Costello bus. The atmosphere on the way down was electric - due, in no small part, to Ollie Turner who kept everyone entertained with "Who wants to be a Millionaire?" and "A night (day?) at the Races" .

When the bus arrived at the venue there was general dismay when the cast and crew realised that the huge heavy bar counter and the even more awkward set of shelves (which constituted the main portion of the set), had to be carried up a long stairs from the ground level car park to the stage (three stories up). After much scratching of heads and consideration of options, folklore has it that Conor Gavin (never one to admit defeat) press-ganged a few rock musicians who were practicing their craft in the basement and the set was duly delivered to the stage!

Everything seemed to be going smoothly until about five minutes before the opening curtain when the committee realised that the curtain was stuck. Assistance had to be sent for and of course Producer George Bruen was pulling his hair out! He had a cast pumped up and ready to go. Then - disaster! Of course it proved not to be such a disaster after all. The assistance duly arrived, the curtain was freed and proceedings got under way albeit about fifteen minutes late.
Costello (aka Martin Silke) with the "Costello Bus".

The play got a wonderful reception from the audience but it must have been a nightmare for the adjudicator - an Englishman called Tony Rushford. This story of the tribulations of the Tuam Christmas market in the 1930's - interspersed with bogey-men, pookies, devils and other spectres, to be followed by a duel to the death - laughing - and all delivered at a madcap pace in genuine North East Galway accents must surely have taxed the skills of even the most patient and experienced of Englishmen!

Afterwards a great night was had by all in the hotel where that cast and crew entertained the local audience into the early hours. The return journey (via Croke Park) was a rather more muted affair as sore heads were nursed and beauty sleep caught up on.

It probably goes without saying that reaching the All Ireland finals was the pinnacle of the group's ambition and having
literally scraped in by a back door cracked open at the last minute, nobody expected much from the contest - particularly after what had seemed to be a less than enthusiastic adjudication...... However, George Bruen (ever the optimist) felt we should be represented at the adjudication and awards ceremony. So he, with his wife Lil, travelled back down to New Ross for the final night.
The crew giving the set a last inspection before the off in New Ross

The play on the final night was "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" performed by hot favourites Backburners, who had qualified in first place with five wins out of seven starts. Of course competition is a funny old thing and as it transpired they finished well down the field. At any rate it finally came to the adjudication and the announcement of the various awards. This is the story in George's own words:

"I was back in New Ross the following weekend for the final adjudication. I went, as they say, “more in hope than in anticipation”. We were competing among the elite of Irish amateur drama and although I knew we were there on merit, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were still, somehow, out of our depth.

 

When the adjudicator announced that the Best Supporting Actress Award went to “……….the young woman who ran a pub in the West of Ireland 50 years ago……..” I began to rise from my seat hardly able to contain the excitement. Then I heard “………….Marie  (which he pronounced "marry") Dowling”. Well of course I knew we had no Dowling in our line-up so it had to be some coincidence that there were two 50 year old pubs featured in the Finals. A bit embarrassed,, I sat down again. No sooner had I hit the seat of the chair than a light went off in my head! Our star performer, Marie Howley had married during the year and she was the “Dowling” who was about to take an All Ireland acting award back to Dunmore. Believe me I ascended the steps to the stage in a haze. I knew it was true but I still couldn’t get my head around it. Even when I had Marie’s trophy in my hand, I had to keep looking at it (a bit like Padraig Harrington after the Open), to convince myself it was real.

 

Then, when he announced that the Best Actor award had gone to Damian O’Keeffe for the finest portrayal of “controlled mayhem” he had ever seen, I actually began to shake. This was, without doubt, our finest hour. To think that we, a new, inexperienced Dramatic Society from a small parish in North East Galway had achieved all this beggared belief, and yet it was true. The rest of the night is but a distant and indistinct memory. The texts and calls home; the euphoria of hearing, over the phone, something of the reaction in Nora Walsh's; talking to Damian and Marie – it has all become something of a jumbled but heady memory. But my recall of that presentation remains as clear as if it happened yesterday and I know I will never lose it."


"We are the Champions" Brian Keating (DADS Chairman), Damian O'Keeffe (Best actor New Ross '07), Bertie Coleman (Producer of "The Righteous are Bold" in 1955), Marie Dowling (Best Supporting Actress New Ross '07), George Bruen (Producer "A Thief of A Christmas").

And so the journey ended. Dunmore Amateur Dramatic Society had come of age and was most definitely a force to be reckoned with in the future. However that night in New Ross will always remain part of the folklore of Drama in the town and the cast and crew that brought Murphy's most difficult play to such heady heights have deservedly earned their place in  local history.
Celebrating success - the cast and crew of "A Thief of a Christmas" enjoying a well deserved night out in Nora Walsh's to round off a memorable year.

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Gerry Finnegan. | Reply 24.05.2010 19.24

I love the photos from our campaign leading up to New Ross.special memories, and a joy to be part of it all, in whatever capacity. Ger Finnegan.

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For a variety of plays to perform, check out my website. www.snorris.ie

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