All Ireland Drama Festival in full theatrical flow as Ruby takes his final bow

Easter and the second long weekend are safely tucked away, and life is back to normal again.

I wanted to tell all the readers about a lovely visit I made to Bennettsbridge in County Kilkenny recently. I am trying in individual ways to mentor the various women who are going forward to be county councillors for the first time in the Local Election on May 24. Some two weeks ago during Easter week, Deirdre Cullen, who is a teacher from Bennettsbridge, contacted me about going to her town to talk about her and promote her in general. I was delighted to take up the invitation and so my niece Gráinne Lenihan (also a teacher ) and I set off on the Wednesday morning for Kilkenny and Bennettsbridge. We had a grand trip down thanks to the terrific directions which were laid out for us by a friend of mine here in Athlone, and we arrived safely in Bennettsbridge. I’m sure some of our readers have already been there for some reason or another. It is a fairytale type of little town, over a humpback bridge and there you are, in the middle of it. Deirdre is a teacher with the local Education and Training Board in Kilkenny, and the reason she gave for the event that week was she was on a week’s holidays, as also was Gráinne, so everybody was free, so to speak, to gather.

There is an old primary school right beside the church in the town, and it has been taken over by the community, refurbished, repainted and so on, and it now makes for a wonderful community hall. We arrived there at 11am and she had gathered a huge crowd. Deirdre told us she put the notice of the gathering in the local parish bulletin the week before, and as I say a huge crowd turned up, including also the TD John McGuinness and two councillors from another LEA. Each woman present had brought a cake, a tart, buns or whatever, and such an array of goodies was laid out, it was well worth going for such a wonderful repast. I moved around and talked with everyone, and they with me, and we had a really good gathering. Deirdre spoke, then I spoke, and then Deputy McGuinness, so all in all, there was plenty of informal talk and then the bit of formality when the three of us separately stood up to speak. Deirdre Cullen is a very fine candidate with a young family; two children aged ten and eight who were with her at the coffee morning. There was a fine gathering of men as well, so it wasn’t just all women, though we were in the majority. I thought it was a very good engagement by Deirdre with her local community, and in turn all present seemed to find it an enjoyable outing.

Then in the early afternoon, Deirdre brought us to visit the studio of Nicholas Mosse, who has a very noted pottery workshop and café in Bennettsbridge. I had heard of it for some time and was so glad to make a visit to it. We had a lovely lunch and worked our way around the pottery and the workshop. It is a wonderful place, and I would say to any of the readers who have an opportunity to be going that way, through Kilkenny, to visit Bennettsbridge and in particular to visit Nicholas Mosse and his enterprise there. He is a Quaker, and I was very interested in all he had to tell me about the Quaker settlements of long ago, which still remain around Laois, Kilkenny and Waterford. Talking with him and visiting his studio was an unexpected delight in what was a political outing.

I was glad to see last week through the newspapers that Helen Dixon, who is the Data Commisisoner here in Ireland, was in Washington before a Senate committee, giving evidence and a submission to it. It is wonderful to see someone from a family you know so well being excellent in her field, and clearly her opinions and what she had to say mattered so much to those whom she was addressing. Her family must be truly proud of her and the international role she is playing.

Here in Athlone we are in the throes of the RTÉ All Ireland Drama Festival and all of the events which are accruing through the nightly drama and the various fringe events which are on daily and nightly. We are all very proud of the first female festival director, Regina Bushell, who has been so long connected with the drama festival and is giving great leadership and oomph to the whole ten days of the event. It is great to see so many strangers in the town; perhaps they have been participants in a play the previous night or are waiting to tread the boards that night, but it all gives a great cosmopolitan air to the town of Athlone. And of course the added bonus is that while the main event is in the Dean Crowe Theatre, all of the other events are spread right throughout the town. Around this time I think so often of the brave trio of men – Brendan O’Brien, Alfie Faulkner, and my father PJ Lenihan – who all of those years ago got together and decided that Athlone should be the natural headquarters for the All Ireland Drama Festival. I remember my father saying “It will mean that all roads will lead to Athlone”, which indeed they did in those far-off drama days, and they continue to do now.

That time, when it was mooted that there would be such a venue, there was great vying among many towns to become that venue. The clincher to really get it to Athlone, was that Sportex Hall, attached to General Textiles Ltd (where my father worked ), was offered by him free for the first event, and that in fact sealed it for Athlone.

There was drama of another kind just last week, when Ruby Walsh decided he was going to step down from being a champion jockey. He decided just like that; having won the race, he got off the horse and said “I’m finished now, that’s my career over.” Imagine having the courage to do it, just like that. His wife and three lovely little girls were there and it was a lovely family scene, despite all the high atmosphere of a successful race meeting. I’m not a horse-racing fan but I’ve always admired the stamina and the wonderful sporting prowess which Ruby Walsh has, and I wish him and his family good luck now in his retirement.

That’s my lot for this week. Hope to talk with you all next week.

In the meantime go safely.

Slán go fóill.

Mary O’Rourke

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