FOUNDED in 1953, Ennis Musical Society has been responsible for bringing the most popular Broadway and West End shows to a County Clare audience and this year is no different, as it embarks on a milestone performance.
Ennis Musical Society’s 60th show is the dark comedy, Little Shop of Horror.
The Franciscan Order is the foundation on which the Ennis Muscial Society breathed its first life and, in 1953, the society, then known as the Friary Choral, took its first steps onto the amateur stage.
Under the dedicated direction of its founder, the late Fr Eunan OFM, it held its début performance of The Country Girl at the New Hall, which was known locally as Paddy Con’s/The Jet Club and is now home to Madden’s Furniture.
It took six years before it staged its next production, Wild Violets, in May 1959. The revived society was by then known as the Franciscan Musical Society.
Someone who has been involved since the mid to late 1950s is current musical society president, Kaye Gaynor, who is delighted to share in the success of the society as it celebrates 60 shows this March.
“The society started off as a small local society and then the Franciscan Friary were involved in it because a lot of the members were involved in the Franciscan choir. So it became known as the Ennis Franciscan Musical Society and that was dropped about 10 years ago by mutual agreement.
“The late Ita O’Shea was one of the founder members and she was still involved in it up to the day she died, about five years ago. She was totally involved in it all those years and it is one of the longest running societies,” she said.
Over the course of its long history, the society has claimed many national accolades and continues to participate in the Association of Irish Musical Societies (AIMS) awards.
“We have had a lot of success with the shows, especially in the earlier years, because there isn’t as much interest in competitions now. In the earlier days, we won numerous awards, including individual singers like Maura McMahon (O’Gorman) and Jack Wall. He was known all over the country, apart from here,” she said.
When Kaye joined in the mid-1950s, her first show was Desert Song and she remembered what a great social scene it was, and still is.
“I was in chorus for years and then I got into onto committee and chairperson and all that. I had more to give in that end of it than the singing end of it. When I came to Ennis – I wasn’t from Ennis, I’m originally from Cork – I always had an interest in music and a friend I met said, ‘would you join the musical society?’. I said yes, without hesitation, because I always liked it. That was back in 1955.
“I often say it made such a difference to me because I was coming into town as a stranger and, all of a sudden, I was involved with a group and I got to know people straight off. I’m in it since. Now I’m retired. I’ve been president for the past six or seven years. It is a very embracing society and that’s what I always felt it should be and it still is,” she said.
Kaye added that it is wonderful for the society to be reaching this milestone and she said she can see a bright future for the society going forward.
“I’m absolutely delighted that it is still going. Naturally, the people who started it are gone to God but it’s still going strong, and it’s wonderful that the younger people of Ennis and County Clare have backed it and have kept it going, which is a big thing. If, 60 shows later, they still seem to get the young people involved, I’m not worried about it, I think it will keep going. I would be devastated if it didn’t. They have a great committee and always have,” she said.
The society’s 60th show, Little Shop of Horrors, was released on the West End in the early 1980s. It is composed by Alan Menken and written by Howard Ashman. It will be staged for four nights in Glór, from Wednesday, March 8 to Saturday, March 11.
“This show is one of the new ones. Nowadays, you have younger people and a younger committee and they go for the new shows. It’s going strong and that’s the main thing in this day and age; there are not a lot of musical shows that appeal to young people.
“I always went for the older shows – I loved The Merry Widow; I’m nearly 90 years of age – but I’ve grown into the newer ones. I’ve got to see the nice side of them. If you know anyone my age, they think the modern musicals are nuts but I can enjoy them too,” Kaye adedd.
By Carol Byrne