RENOWNED names in drama circles from Maud Nash to Ted Harrington have treaded the boards across East Clare and sowed the seeds for subsequent generations of producers, players and audiences to nurture and maintain their high standards to this day – none more so than the people behind the multi-award-winning Sliabh Aughty Drama Group.
Earlier this year, they opened the 65th Scariff Drama Festival to a rousing applause with Michael Carey’s comedy/drama ‘They Will Be Done’ and swept the boards along the national festival circuit winning a slew of awards, among them ‘Best Actor’ winner several times over for founding member Noel Hogan, who honed his talent from an early age under the guidance of Mountshannon teachers Pake and Phil Harman.
“Pake and Phil Haran were a teaching duo who taught in Mountshannon Primary School at the time. They had a strong interest in drama and a couple of times a year they would put on a schools show. They would get the whole school involved – it sowed the seed in me anyway. They were very proactive and ahead of their time, I’d say,” says Noel, who has maintained strong links with East Clare drama societies in their various guises since the ‘80s.
“About 1984, I joined Scariff Drama Group and I was with them until about 1988. Sliabh Aughty was founded that year and I went to Sliabh Aughty then. We did ‘The Field’ under Maud Nash and qualified for the All Ireland Final, and came second in the All Ireland Final down in Gorey. After that, I went back to Scariff Drama Group again and stayed with them until they more or less disbanded. I rejoined Sliabh Aughty then, I don’t remember the exact date, but I’ve been with Sliabh Aughty ever since.”
Sliabh Aughty Players formed in 1989 with Maud Nash at the helm. The group went strong for 10 years and, with the exception of one production in 2004, the group went quiet until 2006.
“I don’t know really why Sliabh Aughty came and went. While Maud Nash was at the helm, they were very active and very successful and then Maud moved away from the area. Nothing happened for a few years and then Mike McNamara took up the baton for a few years and he produced ‘Sharon’s Grave’. We didn’t go on the festival circuit with that. I then produced a play a couple of years later, ‘Big Maggie’. Brendan Quinlivan followed on and he produced a few plays and then John Allen came along and, between Brendan and John, we got back on the festival circuit, and we’ve been fairly active for the last few years.”
One thing Noel has noticed in recent years is a renewed interest in amateur drama for both players and audiences.
“There were a good few of us who were interested. I suppose there was a dearth of producers there and the appetite was there. In this area in particular, I noticed with the drama festival in Scariff that the attendances are very good. People are attending from fair distances to it every night. The catchment area seems to be spreading wider; it wouldn’t be uncommon for people to travel from Ennis to the festival every night or from Clonlara, where they have an active drama group in Shannonside, and from down around Killaloe, Newport and Ballina. They get great value for money and I think the standard has increased a lot in recent years.”
Standards have remained high as this year, under the directorship of John Allen, the group took to the festival circuit bringing home a slew awards for either Best Play, Best Producer, Best Actress and Best Actor from festivals in Mountmellick, Claremorris and South Wicklow among others, winning them a spot at the national finals in Shercock, County Cavan.
“I got a couple of awards this year and a few down through the years, if I was lucky enough to have gotten a part that would qualify for an acting award. A lot of it is to do with the actual role that you get. If you’re able to make a decent fit to the role you aught to be in the running for an acting award but you don’t always get it. I didn’t get a lot more than I got!”
Noel owes a lot to those who went before him, laying the foundation in high standards – namely Maud Nash and Ted Harrington.
“Maud was ahead of her time. She was a wonderful producer. She was producing plays long before I ever came on the scene and her record would speak for herself. She has had numerous successes down through the years and would be well known in amateur drama circles around the country. She’s still active; she produced a play in Ballina last year. Ted was another wonderful producer. He was a very active member of Scariff Drama Group for many years and not only was he a wonderful producer, he was also a great actor. He won many best acting awards himself down through the years and, when Maud moved away, Ted took on the directing role and went on to achieve the All Ireland Finals in Athlone with ‘The Blithe Spirit’, a comedy play.”
Noel is also confident that the future of drama in East Clare is secure with promising young actors like Fergus Dermody, who won Most Promising Young Actor at the national finals in Shercock, coming up through the ranks.
“The future is bright. There’s a lot of interest and there’s great support, there’s phenomenal goodwill all over the country. When you’d be travelling around the circuits you’d see it, you’d meet all the people and there’s phenomenal goodwill. Particularly around East Clare, anyway, I know that anything you put on a stage will be very well supported. Everyone in the area loves to see it, whether it be a play or a drama or whether it be a musical or whether it be something like the pub theatre we put on every year – we get great support.”
Above: Noel Hogan in character on stage.
Brian Arthur/Press 22