Wexford Drama Group celebrates 50 years in the spotlight – Wexford People, December 10 2016

Wexford Drama Group celebrated their 50th anniversary in theatrical fashion with a celebration in the Irish National Heritage Park recently.

The group pulled out all of the stops to ensure the night was unforgettable, with plenty of drama, music and nostalgia to keep the crowd going. Over 60 people attended the event, which marked an end to the celebrations for this year.

Mayor of Wexford Frank Staples held a Civic Reception for Wexford Drama Group at the beginning of the evening. He spoke about the history of the group and, on behalf of the people of Wexford, expressed his pride in having such an organisation in the community.

It was a nostalgic evening for many as members from years gone by joined together with current members. Three of the former members – Des Waters, Jean Gould and Noreen Colfer – were part of the original group founded 50 years ago and in honour of this, they were presented with a lifetime membership by the current members. Throughout the night, different generations of the group performed short pieces, while old memorabilia such as posters and photos were dotted around the venue. A particular highlight was a moving video featuring interviews with some of the older members, which was compiled by John Michael Murphy.

Chairperson of the group Carol Long said a few words to the crowd, as did Phil Lyons, who shared some of his memories about his years in the group. Phil was also part of the event’s organising committee, along with Aine Gannon, Hilda Conway and Paul Walsh.

To top everything off, everyone enjoyed a meal, music by Damian Nolan and plenty of dancing until the early hours.

‘It was a really great night. It was lovely to mark the occasion as people do come and go. The event got people back in touch with the group,’ said PRO of Wexford Drama Group Tom O’Leary.

The night followed on from an event in Wexford Library the previous day, during which excerpts from the group’s first play ‘The Heiress’ were performed by former and current members. The play was produced by the group back in 1966 and in honour of the occasion, original cast members Jean Gould and Noreen Colfer played their parts once more. An exhibition of photographs and memorabilia of the last 50 years was also unveiled.

Following a successful weekend, the show must go on for the drama group. The will now turn their attention to their next production ‘Portia Coughlan’ by Marina Carr which will hit the Arts Centre stage in February.

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/wexford-drama-group-celebrates-50-years-in-the-spotlight-35270067.html)

Horeswood native Sarah Cleary brings a taste of Rocky Horror back home – Gorey Guardian, October 15 2016

Fishnets, corsets, streamers and party hats are all part of a day’s work for Horeswood native Sarah Cleary and the aim of her game is to bring people into her wacky world.

As the organiser of the country’s many Rocky Horror Picture Show productions, Sarah’s current day job is a far cry from office work or a teaching stint but every bit as hectic. With the countdown to Halloween underway, preparations are in full swing for this year’s shadow cast productions.

First stop will be Wexford Quay, where the Spiegeltent is set to come alive with the weird and wonderful world of the Rocky Horror Picture Show this Friday. With only days to go, Sarah is hoping that the Wexford audience is as prepared as she is.

‘The shows combine a film screening with live acting but it’s not just a show for people to sit and watch. We want complete audience participation. We want the people getting up on their feet and using the props we supply and we encourage them to throw rice, toast and streamers at the stage,’ explained Sarah.

‘There are absolutely no holds barred when it comes to Rocky Horror. Fancy dress is more than encouraged and everything and anything is welcome. We encourage people to take on new personas so that they can get whipped up in the atmosphere.’

‘It’s the most crazy surreal experience you can imagine to watch an entire audience take on various characters.’

This year marks the third time that Rocky Horror has rolled into Wexford and owing to previous success, Sarah is looking forward to bringing the madness back home.

‘I have to say that the first time we put it on in Wexford, I was apprehensive doing it in my hometown. I am a very proud Wexford woman and didn’t want to let the side down!’ she said. ‘I was blown away with how involved people got and how willing they were to participate in the show. I have to applaud the people of Wexford for that. Hopefully it is the same this year.’

Sarah’s rise to Rocky Horror revelry began eleven years ago, when she approached the Sugar Club in Dublin with the idea of putting on the Rocky Horror Picture Show. An avid fan of the film, she longed to recreate the events once held by the Classic Cinema in Harold’s Cross before it closed down.

‘I have always loved the film and decided Dublin needed it back again,’ she explained. ‘I put it on to test the waters but I never planned for it to be so successful. The first night, we sold out. Eleven years later, I am performing three or four shows around the country.’

Over the years, Sarah has discovered just how many Rocky Horror fans are in the country and the lengths that they will go to get involved in one of the live productions. What is it that makes the showings of cult classic such a hit?

‘I think one of the reasons is that it’s a release valve. Whether you are a doctor, a lawyer or a journalist, everyone needs to let off steam. Rocky Horror is a very safe way of doing so,’ explained Sarah. ‘It is similar to burlesque and other such communities that sometimes people are reluctant to get involved in because they feel they are exclusive. Rocky Horror, on the other hand, is every man’s dress up.’

‘I think ultimately we are creatures that want to seek out fun and Rocky Horror is the epitome of letting your hair down and enjoying yourself.’

While others are letting their hair down, Sarah will be curling hers up as she takes on the persona of Janet for the production. She describes taking on the character as a fun but strange experience.

‘I am quite tall with long blonde hair but for the show, I have it curled up to be like Janet so people never make the connection between us when they meet me later on. Also in real life, I tend to wear clothes,’ she laughed. ‘On the stage I am essentially running around in my underwear but I have gotten used to it. All shapes and sizes are celebrated in the show; it isn’t an environment where you need to be perfect.’

When the clothes are back on and the show is all over, Sarah has plenty of other things to keep her busy. In the real world, she is otherwise known as Dr Sarah Cleary, having gained her PHD in Controversial Horror and Children’s Censorship. She now lectures part-time in Trinity specialising in Gothic Studies and English Literature. Along with working in the academic environment, she also runs her own events including the Horror Expo which will be held in Freemason’s Grand Lodge in Dublin in the coming weeks.

But as night falls this Friday night, all responsibilities will be parked aside as Sarah makes her transformation, which is guaranteed to take a lot more preparation than a night in the Stores.

‘As Dolly Parton once said, it takes a lot of money to look this cheap,’ she laughed.

(First published in the Gorey Guardian newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/goreyguardian/out-about/horeswood-native-sarah-cleary-brings-a-taste-rocky-horror-back-home-35119888.htmlhttp://www.independent.ie/regionals/goreyguardian/out-about/horeswood-native-sarah-cleary-brings-a-taste-rocky-horror-back-home-35119888.html)

Wicklow residents recall the day a film crew met their fate – Wicklow People, September 17 2016

A moment of movie magic turned to disaster in August 1970 when four people were killed in a plane crash during the filming of World War I film ‘Zeppelin’ off Wicklow Head.

During a scene involving a plane and an Alouette II camera helicopter, the two aircraft collided, resulting in the loss of the lives of the director, camera man and two pilots.

Vincent O’Reilly, who was working in a factory on the waterfront, was the first to ring the emergency services.

‘There weren’t many phones on the go in the 1970s but I had the phone beside me in work and when I saw it happen, I gave the emergency services a call,’ he said. ‘As far as I am aware, I was the first one to do so.’

The Irish Air Corp pilot Jim Liddy of the SE.5A and all on board the Alouette were killed, including pilot Gilbert ‘Gilly’ Chomat, renowned cameraman Skeets Kelly and director Burch Williams.

Two of the main actors in the film were Michael York and Elke Sommer but neither were involved in the accident.

Vincent’s brother Stan also recalls the catastrophe.

‘I remember the shock and the horror,’ he said. ‘People down there were outside watching the filming for the day and they couldn’t believe what they were seeing.’

Tommy Dover of the Wicklow RNLI also has vivid memories of the crash, despite being very young at the time.

‘We were kids when it happened. There were about seven or eight planes and a helicopter with the crew so we went to the castle to watch the filming,’ he said. ‘I just remember the bang. It was my first time experiencing fear. Everyone started shouting to get the lifeboat.’

It is understood that the same aircraft had been used only several weeks previously during the filming of ‘The Blue Max’ and everything had run smoothly. Witnesses of the Zeppelin disaster believe that the two aircraft may have accidentally veered too close to one another.

Despite the accident, the film was completed and later released in 1971 under the director Etienne Perier.

(First published in the Wicklow People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/wicklowpeople/news/wicklow-residents-recall-the-day-a-film-crew-met-their-fate-35046061.html)

House of storytelling ignites the imagination – Gorey Guardian, August 20 2016

By the light of oil lamps, crowds have been enjoying the unique atmosphere of Bygone Days Storytelling House for 16 years. Now a leaky roof poses a threat to the famous thatched cottage enterprise, writes Amy Lewis.

Untold tales, thoughtful rhymes and jovial melodies have been shared before the blazing fire at the Bygone Days Storytelling House for 16 years and with a bit of luck and generosity, locals are hoping that its story can continue. Nestled in the village of Oulart, the thatched cottage has been at the heart of the community for longer than any of its current residents can remember.

Built in the 1700s by the road on which horses and coaches once made the slow journey to Dublin, it served as a family home until the 1990s when it was bought by local man Jim Mythen. However, it was not until 2000 that local residents decided to thatch and refurbish the cottage and make it the storytelling hub that it is today.

Each month since then, crowds of 50 to 60 people duck under the half door of the cottage and huddle into the low-lit room in the centre of the cottage.

Visitors are immediately met by a sense of warmth, not only due to the blazing fire that heats the old-world room, but because of the welcoming atmosphere that the place exudes. This is a place where people can share their stories, sing a tune or just simply, sit and listen.

The festivities of the evenings have long been presided over by local man John Dempsey – who has served as Fear an Tí since the very beginning – along with his wife Eileen. Together with owner Jim and members of a committee of locals, the pair have kept the fire burning in the storytelling house for 16 years.

‘We were involved with the local panto for years and when the house was vacant, we decided to try a storytelling night. The first one was on 20 June, 2000, and the crowds have been growing since then,’ explained Eileen.

‘Since then, we have run it on the first Monday of every month. There have only been four nights that we missed due to things such as bereavements and snow.’

Although the house has no electricity or running water, the group manage to cater for huge crowds regularly with the help of old oil lamps converted with bulbs and a a power source brought in from Jim Mythen’s home.

The huge old-style open fire is also a source of light in itself, and with its crane and fanners, it is as much an attraction as the festivities.

The monthly sessions aren’t advertised but according to Eileen, the audience continues to grow.

Since it was established, the house has welcomed storytellers, musicians and visitors from across the globe, including Cork-born storyteller Jack Lynch and various other well-known voices from destinations as far away as Australia.

Under the dim lighting of converted oil lamps, they have ignited the imaginations of many with tales of love, loss and everything in between.

However, the house is not only a place for seasoned performers to find a platform.

‘Our motto is leave your feeling on the gate post coming in,’ said Eileen.

‘There is a fantastic atmosphere here. It is a place where everyone is able to relax and people just seem to sit and talk to one another. People don’t have to perform. There is no pressure put on anyone.’

Along with sharing stories, everyone who visits the cottage also is offered the chance to share some homemade food and refreshments. It always serves as welcome fuel for the guests, particularly the performers, who often keep the stories and music going well into the early hours of the morning.

At certain times of the year, Eileen and co also dish up some local specialities, such as bacon and cabbage in June and colcannon in November. January always proves to be a big favourite as 11,000 locally-caught herring are cooked up for the masses, while at Christmas, each and every guest goes home with a present.

In a world that is governed by the internet and modern technologies, Bygone Days is a place where old traditions remain strong. However, these traditions could soon become a distant memory. The future of Bygone Days Storytelling House has become precarious due to a leak in the roof and if it is not fixed soon, the story of Oulart’s famous thatched cottage could come to a sad end.

‘The leak is really bad. Last December we had rain coming in on the people sitting there. We have covered it with a sheet but it needs to be fixed. We can’t have water pouring in here on people,’ said Eileen.

‘We are looking into getting funding but we don’t know if we will receive it.’

In an effort to save their local haunt, members of the committee will soon host a fundraiser night in the Riverside House Hotel to brew up some much-needed funds.

It will be the first of many such evenings and the first step towards raising the €22,000 that will be needed to provide a new roof.

Performers from days gone by will gather in the hotel on September 25 to share a little piece of the Bygone’s magic with the public. A night of music, stories and dancing will ensue, with plenty of craic and nostalgia sprinkled in with it.

Tickets will soon be on sale from the hotel and from members of the Bygone Days Storytelling House committee for €10 each. Eileen is calling on people from across the county to offer their support so that the cottage can remain standing.

‘The building itself is very historical, having been there since before 1798. It would be a shame to see it go as we have already lost so many similar places around the country,’ said Eileen.

‘It would be a big loss to the many people who come here if it couldn’t continue. It serves as an outlet for many people, particularly those who don’t go to the pub as it is a place that they can go to meet people and share their stories.’

Eileen and co are hoping to attract a large crowd to their fundraiser in September and hope that their involvement in an episode of Epic Days on RTE at the weekend will have stirred up some more interest.

‘Without our nights here the house would have been long gone. We have managed to keep it up and alive and if we manage to re-thatch the roof, we hope to enjoy more years of laughter, music, song, stories and craic for possibly another 16 years,’ said Eileen.

(First published in the Gorey Guardian newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/newrossstandard/localnotes/house-of-storytelling-ignites-the-imagination-34969293.html)

Arts officer seat remains vacant – Wexford People, June 23 2016

The seat for an Arts Officer in Wexford has been vacant since July 2015, despite an advertisement for the position last July and again in March 2016.

Following the departure of Arts Officer Rosaleen Molloy in June 2010, Sinead Barden was chosen as a replacement as the result of a competition. However, due to an employment embargo in public sector recruitment, this position was only temporary.

The post became vacant again in July 2015 and a call for applications was put out soon after. When no candidate was found, the position was readvertised on March 29 2016 but the position still remains unfilled.

Cllr Malcolm Byrne drew attention to the vacancy at the recent Wexford County Council meeting and later, highlighted the need to have it resolved as soon as possible.

‘It is a matter of emergency that we need an Arts Officer so that he or she can begin to develop a strategic arts development plan for the county,’ he said.

‘Wexford has always had the lead on the arts and it provides huge social and economic opportunities in the county. Given that we are bidding for the position to host the European Capital of Culture, it would be very unfortunate for one of the Three Sisters not to have an Arts Officer in place,’ he said.

Since July 2015, staff at the arts office have taken on some of the tasks that are usually carried out by the Arts Officer. Cllr Byrne commended them for their work.

‘I have to compliment the arts office staff who have been putting in trojan work over the last period. They haven’t let the side down.’

Cllr Byrne said that he understands that interviews will take place within the next fortnight and expects an announcement on a new officer to be made within the next four weeks.

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/arts-officer-seat-remains-vacant-34824182.html)

Stories of Irish emigrants come to life once more with the presentation of a replica travel box in New Ross – New Ross Standard, June 25 2016

The perilous journey made by Ireland’s emigrants came to life once more when a handcrafted replica of an old travel box was presented to the JFK Trust.

Handcrafted by prisoners in the Irish Prison Service, the travel box is an exact replica of an old travel box used by those who boarded emigrant ships in the 1800s. It was presented by chairman of the Committee for the Commemoration of the Irish Famine Victims Michael Blanch, along with assistant chief officer of the Irish Prison Service Mark O’Brien.

‘We were delighted to receive the box,’ said CEO of the JFK Trust Sean Connick. ‘It is a beautiful piece of work that was manufactured by members of the prison service.’

Imprinted on the box are snippets of historic importance such as photographs of the emigrant ships and papers owned by some of the many passengers. These documents were lent to the prison service by the JFK Trust and other bodies so that they could copy them and make the piece as authentic as possible.

‘It’s a historical piece, especially with all of the pieces of information printed onto it,’ said Sean. ‘We were delighted to be able to see it in reality.’

The travel box is now on display at the Dunbrody Famine Ship Experience.

(First published in the New Ross Standard newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/newrossstandard/news/stories-of-irish-emigrants-come-to-life-once-more-with-the-presentation-of-a-replica-travel-box-in-new-ross-34818427.html)

Wexford’s free community art class is proving as successful in reality as it is on paper – Wexford People, April 30 2016

Tucked away in Friary Hall off School Street sits the Open Gate Art Studio – a place where experienced and novice artists alike gather three times a week for some creativity and company.

 

It is a place where anybody can become an exhibiting artist, regardless of wealth, experience or skills.

The studio was established a year and a half ago by Dimitri Avtin, a professional artist who is originally from Uzbekistan. Along with local artist Kevin Ryan and former carpenter Tony Bergin, he now facilitates free painting and drawing sessions for members of the public. Local residents Deirdre and Edward Barker also help to oversee the classes.

Although the studio itself is hidden away, the efforts of those involved do not go unnoticed. Each participant is given the chance to put their work on display in their own exhibition which will run for a two week period.

‘Everyone gets the opportunity to put their art up for the very first time,’ explained Kilmore resident Tony Bergin, who facilitates one class a week. ‘This is to show people that the studio is a nice and a safe place that is not about judgement. I have no background in art at all but through the classes and exhibitions, we aim to prove to people that creativity can be brought out from within you.’

Tony’s own work and teaching style are inspired by the work of American artist Jackson Pollock, who incorporates a drip style into all of his paintings. Tony’s personal exhibition was on display in recent weeks and attracted plenty of attention from visitors and members of the classes.

However for Tony and his fellow facilitators, the studio is about more than sharing art and drawing attention from the public.

‘This was set up as a community facility that Wexford didn’t really have. We wanted to show people that there’s a place where they can come to meet new people and talk over a cup of tea,’ he said. ‘Just like with a book club, we wanted it to be a place where people come and talk and they share. And it’s definitely becoming what it’s meant to be: a community-based friendship centre.’

According to Tony, the classes are growing ‘at a fantastic rate’, with about 15 people in each class. He feels that the casual nature of the classes is what has helped to make it such a success.

‘With other classes, people are sometimes afraid of signing up as they can be expensive and if they don’t enjoy it, their money is gone. With us, you put in a small donation of a few euro to help pay for light, heating and materials,’ he explained. ‘Anyone can join. There are no rules.’

Owing to the positive response that the Open Gate Art Studio has received, Tony now hopes to use his experience as a carpenter to establish a men’s group in the area.

‘It is something that has been in my heart for a while and I am just getting the wheels in motion now. I was trained as a carpenter and so, have the skills to do things around the house,’ he said. ‘I have many friends who say I am fortunate to be able to do these things. I am fortunate. Some men aren’t able to change plugs and hang pictures. With this new group, I intend to incorporate art and home work.’

Through the group, Tony hopes to expand on what has been achieved by the studio and offer men a place where they can come together to chat and learn.

‘I hope to provide a caring safe place for men who are unaware of a facility that they can have access to should they want an ear to listen to them,’ he said.

In the meantime, Tony, Kevin and Dimitri will continue to run classes in Friary Hall and are inviting anyone with an interest in art or socialising to come along.

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/lifestyle/wexfords-free-community-art-class-is-proving-as-successful-in-reality-as-it-is-on-paper-34663377.html)