The Penny Dinners

The Penny Dinners committee was a name given to a voluntary group who used to provide free dinners for 40 to 80 impoverished children four times per week in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In fact the title was a misnomer, in no sense were they penny dinners. The children could not afford to give a penny for them, nor could the committee provide a dinner for a penny. The funding for these meals came from the people of Galway and also from fundraising productions they put on, mostly in the Columban Hall.

These amateurs got together to produce plays, revues, and variety concerts. Their first play was called The West’s Awake which they put on in the Town Hall in 1929. They rented the hall for £4 per night. All subsequent plays went on stage in the Columban Hall, with titles like Rory Aforesaid, The Bishop’s Candlesticks, The Resurrection of Dinny O’Dowd, and The Colleen Bawn. They also organised sales of work, bridge drives, a ‘newsboy’s concert’, and dances in the Pavilion, where the music was provided by Des Fretwell’s Sorrento Band. Their fee was £5 per night.

The variety entertainments included opera, music, dance, and some short plays and were directed by Mrs G Dillon and Mrs R Bodkin Mahon. The orchestra was usually made up of Mrs B Smyth, piano; Mrs Wallace, cello; Miss Grealish, violin; Mr Jones, violin; and Mrs Margetts, xylophone. The ballet was performed by pupils of Miss M Hardiman and usually a selection of Irish dances were given by Máire De Búrca, Máire Ní Tuathail, and Máire Ní Mheanaimin. Among the solo singers were Miss M Broderick, Miss Bridie Folan, Mr Henry St John Blake, Paddy Tierney, and Kathleen O’Flynn. These productions were "a revelation from the point of view of artistic merit" and would play on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights, invariably to packed houses. “Beautiful settings, lovely costumes and good lighting raised the standard of the production above that of the general amateur performances.”

Some of the songs heard were 'When I Grow Too Old to Dream', 'Let Me Like a Soldier Fall', ‘Happy Moments’, 'The Harp in the Air', “A Bicycle Made for Two', and ‘Toreador’.

So today, we have two photographs of these actors. The first group called themselves the Columban Players and they are, back row, left to right: John O’Connor, Frank O’Reilly, Michael Burns, Andy Keogh, Jimmy Cranny, Peadar Feeney, and Mr O’Donoghue. In front are Darby Kelleher, Miss Norman, Paddy Kelly, Eileen Kelly, Des Mahony, Miss McDermott, Mrs Cummins, and Fintan Coogan

Our second group of thespians shows, front row: Jimmy Cranny, Una Taaffe, Marie Arthurs, Darby Kelleher, Kay McHugh, -------- , Des Mahony. At the back are Bill Hanley, --------- , --- Watters, and Michael Horan.

These people did great work for the poor and obviously had fun doing it.


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