by George Hand
Storm Gareth raged across the country but it was all blue skies at the Skerries Historical Society March meeting as George Hand, aka Cap’n Andy, cast off the Cotton Blossom and brought his huge audience (we ran out of chairs!) down the Mississippi to the strains of Ol’ Man River while he recalled ‘Showboat and the Marian Society, forty years on.’
Many in the room had sailed with Cap’n Andy before as members of the cast and crew of the Marian Society’s 1979 production. The society had been in business over twenty years by then, putting on three or four act plays and, occasionally, one act plays supported by a variety act. These had all been well received and it was clear there was no shortage of musical talent as the choir had won the Howth Choral Festival Cup in 1978. This win gave Father Larkin the idea of putting on a musical.
The population of Skerries had stayed fairly small, around 3000, right up to the end of the sixties. With the building of the new estates like Shenick, the population started to grow and all those extra bodies were going to be needed as the cast alone consisted of nearly 100 souls. Then there were the stage builders, backstage support crew, scenery painters, wardrobe department and, last but definitely not least, fund raisers lead by Frances Tanner. Dominic McQuillan bravely agreed to produce the show.
Terry and Ina Woods of the Holmpatrick Hotel supported the enterprise wholeheartedly, letting Sean Lawless build a stage big enough to support the 97 strong cast and all the backstage help. There were caravans in the yard acting as dressing rooms though George noted that he had to do his costume changes in the wings. Catherine Noone, from the chorus, has held on to her costume down the decades and brought it along to remind fellow cast members of former glories.
Rehearsals began in July 1978 and got intense as Opening Night, February 6th 1979, loomed nearer – they got Christmas Day off but that was about it. Eileen McDonald recalled that her two year old spent so much time in rehearsals that she began calling the Holmpatrick Hotel, Showboat.
The music was amazing – with Fr Larkin as Musical Director and Olivia Grimes at the piano. The other musicians were paid professionals but the singers were not. George played a recording of Seamus Moorehouse sing Ol’ Man River in a version so haunting that it would make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
But there was so much more to it than that. Chatting with former cast and crew after the talk, I learned something interesting. Before Showboat there was ‘Old Skerries’ and ‘incomers’. Afterwards the two communities had merged. That’s how important Showboat was for the social growth of the town.
Report by Oona Roycroft