Corner Boys - 'about a small town with no way out'

AFTER VISTING Galway last September with Lucinda Sly, Carlow theatre company Mend & Makedo return to the Town Hall Theatre with Corner Boys. Like Lucinda Sly, it is written by John McKenna, the two plays forming part of his ‘Barrow Trilogy’ of works set in the River Barrow region.

Corner Boys opens in the summer of 1963 when John F Kennedy made his famous visit to Ireland. For the eponymous corner boys in a small Irish town, life goes on as it always has and seemingly always will. Then the carnival arrives, bringing an enigmatic Frenchman. As events unfold secrets are revealed and everything changes.

Directed by Marian Brophy, this is a hilarious play, yet also, as The Irish Times said "a dark reminder of the past", and as the Sunday Times noted, "a stark look at small-town Ireland in the sixties".

John McKenna is a former radio producer with RTÉ who has written fiction, biography, and poetry as well as plays. His most recent poetry collection, By The Light of Four Moons, was published last year by County Galway publishing house Doire Press.

Ahead of Corner Boys’ Galway run McKenna talked to me about the play; “There is a cast of five, including three male characters who are the corner boys of the title,” he began. “The play is set in Castledermot in Kildare, which is the village I grew up in in 1963. That said, it could be any village or town anywhere around that time. The time period covered is about six months up to the end of 1963. The play reflects on the lives of the five characters, the corner boys and the two local women, one of whom is a sister of one of the boys and she works in a local drapery shop. It’s about the relationship between the five of them.

“A couple of things happen during the summer. JFK comes to visit Ireland which is a cause of great excitement for the two women. There is a mission in the local village which creates its own pressures on people to behave, and then a carnival comes to town which adds excitement and colour to a community where life is very black and white, particularly for the three guys; they have no work, no opportunity, they constantly talk about leaving the village but they never do.

"So it is about a small town with no way out, no work, and no prospects for the three guys, they are dead-end guys yet smart-asses too but that’s all bravado which becomes clear in the second act of the play. Underneath their hard-chaw talk are desperate lives.”

McKenna describes how Corner Boys fits into his Barrow trilogy. “Lucinda Sly was set in 1834, this play is set in 1963 and the third play, which I am in the process of writing, will be set in 1990. They don’t have any thematic connection other than they are all set on the banks of the Barrow. We first toured Corner Boys eight years ago and Marian Brophy also directed that production, but this time there is a completely new cast and a couple of the scenes have been re-written. This is the first time the play has been done in Galway.”

Corner Boys is at the Town Hall Studio on Friday May 27 and Saturday 28 at 8.30pm. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 or


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