Esso trophy makes welcomed return to its spiritual home

After an absence of almost 20 years, the Esso trophy is returning to its spiritual home of Athlone.

For some 40 years, the Esso Trophy was the most coveted prize in amateur theatre. First presented by Esso Petroleum Ireland in 1959, the silver cup was the premier award presented annually to the winners of successive All Ireland Drama Festivals, until Esso ceased its sponsorship in 1999.

The first group to win the Esso Trophy was Listowel Drama Group, who presented Sive by a then unknown author, John B Keane. Subsequently, John B became a household name and his plays have been a regular feature of the festival programme ever since. The last producer to raise the trophy was the late Pat Connaughton, who directed Enniscorthy Theatre Group’s production of The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh in 1999.

Since then, the trophy was held at Esso HQ in Dublin Port. However, in recent years an approach was made to Esso, now Topaz, to have the trophy repatriated to Athlone. With the support of the Athlone Municipal Council, arrangements were put in place to have the iconic cup transferred on the basis of a permanent loan. Athlone Castle Visitor Centre and Museum was chosen as the perfect home where the trophy will now go on display as part of the castle’s museum experience.

Carmel Duffy, manager at Athlone Arts & Tourism, is overjoyed at having the trophy as part of the museum’s collection.

“The Esso Trophy was such an important part of the All Ireland Drama Festival and, as such, forms a fundamental part of the cultural and social history of Athlone. The Castle Museum is a fitting place to house this beautiful piece of silverware and we are proud to facilitate its accommodation here, where it can be admired by visitors for years to come,” Ms Duffy said.

At a reception held at the castle recently to welcome the trophy, festival director Joe MacCarrick said: “For over the 40 years of its ‘reign’, the trophy stood as the iconic symbol of excellence in the world of amateur drama, and was a recognisable mark of distinction for whatever group was crowned champions.

“The trophy evokes memories of a bygone era when the great Dublin groups of Strand, Sundrive and Temple Players graced the stage with unforgettable productions. People like Rev PV O’Brien, Una Parker, Victor Wheatley and Kitty Norton were just a few of the many luminaries whose work will forever be associated with the trophy.”

Mayor Aengus O’Rourke has commended the committee which made the return of the ESSO Trophy to Athlone a reality, recalling how his grandfather, PJ Lenihan, whom he never met, was involved in the establishment of the All Ireland Festival in Athlone.

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