The Co. Tipperary Open Drama Festival: Background
The first drama festival in Co. Tipperary was held in March 1960. It was organised by Muinter Na Tire, under the directorship of Joe Fitzgerald, Thurles and it was he, with Mrs. Josephine Fitzgibbon and Ms. Frances Daly also from Thurles who were the driving force behind the festival for the next twenty one years.
The objectives of the first festival were, in Joe Fitzgerald’s own words “to provide a meeting place for people, whether they belonged to Muinter Na Tire or not, and to promote a kind of drama that went beyond the Irish stage image so prevalent among rural drama groups at that time. In 1960 the venue was the Confraternity Hall, Thurles and Tipperary groups from Cashel, Inch and Roscrea participated. Prior to the Thurles festival there had been qualifying heats at venues all around the County.
Festival Director Donal Duggan with Mary McAleese at a reception for drama organisation in Áras an Uachtaráin, January 2001
The adjudicator that first year was Dermot Tuohy from the Gate Theatre and the price of a season ticket was £1:10:0 [one pound ten shillings which equals one pound fifty pence to day.
In 1963-64 the festival moved to the Gaiety Theatre in Tipperary Town while the Premier hall was being built. In 1965 it came back to Thurles to the new and spacious Premier Hall. After the required probationary years the festival was given the right to nominate groups to the All Ireland finals. From then on it became one of the most respected festivals on the circuit, attracting the best groups who were adjudicated on by the most reputable adjudicators.
In the late 1970’s due to the advent of television amateur drama went into decline and attendance’s fell drastically, so much that 1981 was the last year that the festival was held in Thurles. There was no festival held in 1982.
The Holycross Connection
The Holycross/Ballycahill drama group was very strong at that time, having great success at the festivals they entered throughout the country. Two members, Pat McGrath and Donal Duggan discussed the possibility of resurrecting the festival and running it in Holycross. Holycross Abbey had been restored and was now the parish church. The old church had been renovated and was now St. Michael’s Community Centre, complete with stage and seating for five hundred people w
hich included a balcony. An application was made to the Amateur Drama Council of Ireland [A.D.C.I.] for permission to run the festival
In October 1982, two members of A.D.C.I. , Maire Ni Riann from Limerick and Alan Sparling from Scariff came and inspected the hall to ensure that everything was up to the standard required to run a festival. The hall passed it’s inspection and a special exception was made to allow the festival nominate groups to the All Ireland’s in it’s first year.
On Friday March 4th 1983, the Co. Tipperary Open Drama Festival opened its doors in it’s new home, a converted church beside the 13th century Holycross Abbey and the swift flowing river Suir. Under the chairman Pat McGrath and festival director Donal Duggan, the festival had five open plays and four confined plays. The adjudicator was Tom Honan from Co. Wicklow. Mr. T.J. Maher M.E.P. officially opened the festival to an attendance on that opening night in 1983, of only fourteen people. The open section was won by Wexford D.G. with “Lady Windermer’s Fan” and the confined section was won by Holycross/Ballycahill D.G. with “Lovers”
The festival proudly celebrated it’s 21st birthday in 2003. Tom Honan who adjudicated the 1st festival in 1983 returned to adjudicate the 21st.
A new relationship was formed with Tipp FM Radio and the award for the open section was renamed “the Tipp FM Trophy” The radio promoted the festival prior and during the festival. This relationship proved to be mutually beneficial as the festival gained from the publicity and the radio was happy to be seen to be supporting such a high profile cultural event.
The contribution of Festival Director, Donal Duggan, was recognised in March 2003 when he was awarded the ‘The Tipp FM Arts and Enterainment Award’ for his services to Amatuer Drama for over 20 years.