|Written by Victor O’Sullivan|
|Thursday, 24 May 2012 12:04|
|IRELAND’S first comprehensive school has been quietly churning out performers and musicians who have helped to shape Ireland’s contemporary musical heritage for almost half a century.
A founding father of Celtic Rock, Johnny Fean was one of the first pupils to attend St Patrick’s Comprehensive in Shannon Town back in the sixties.
Johnny, the lead guitarist with the legendary Horslips noted, “The comprehensive school did play a big part in developing the confidence of its pupils in those early days. It was the first of its kind in Ireland, with boys and girls attending, it opened up whole different outlook for a teenager like me”.
He embraced the new world that Shannon and its experimental co-educational school provided. “Mixing with different nationalities in the new Shannon town back then, was like nothing that had ever been known before in Ireland and, when I look back now, I consider myself very lucky to have been part of it. In a way, it was saying goodbye to the old Victorian way of schooling and opening up a brand new chapter with a new outlook.”
Around the same time as creative director Bill Backer was conceptualising Coca-Cola’s I’d like to teach the world to sing just down the road at a café in Shannon Airport, Johnny was fine tuning his Celtic Rock guitar-sound with Horslips.
“Over the years there have been some remarkably talented people that have emerged from Shannon, with the likes of Patrick Cassidy, Ray Fean and more recently Gari Deegan achieving great recognition on RTÉ’s The Voice,” Johnny added.
He attributes part of his drive to those confident early days in Ireland’s new town. “What I learned on guitar in Shannon in the 1960s; from that music gave me the confidence to take it where ever I pleased and I saw no obstacles in my way…the musical landscape seemed endless to me.”
Eamonn Lenihan, presenter with RTÉ’s Lyric FM recalled his own time in Shannon. “There were the factory managers and their families from North America and mainland Europe and refugees from Northern Ireland, Chile and Vietnam and so forth, people who brought a very different dynamic to Shannon, compared with other towns.”
He recalled an interview he held with the ground-breaking guitarist. “As musician John Fean agreed during a radio interview – it was no coincidence that a Celtic blues guitarist like himself came from Shannon and not Dublin or Donegal.”
It’s a view shared by St Patrick’s current principal, Morgan Heaphy. “Music and the performing arts are a very important part of today’s life at our school. This is recognised in the wider community and, as a result, we seem to attract students who are interested in music and drama rather than sport for example.”
In fact, it’s hard to distinguish the comprehensive school from the wider Shannon Town community. Former students established the acclaimed Shannon Gospel Choir and also the Muse theatrical workshop company, where the town’s two post-primary schools challenged each other to the death in a remarkably successful production of Romeo and Juliet.
St Patrick’s Comprehensive has also hosted the musical society’s annual production over many decades and the principal noted the significance in the choice of the venue, “the long association with the Shannon Musical Society also has an influence on how others view the school”.
It’s no coincidence that the school piloted projects such as transition year from its curriculum centre. Mr Heaphy also said the school nurtures a sense of the individual, which can challenge pupils to explore new ways of thinking.
“I think the fact that we don’t have a school uniform or rules in relation to hair length and colour means that students have the opportunity to express their individuality and creativity on a daily basis. Students are encouraged regularly to step outside their comfort zones.”
Former student Dominic McInerney is the lead guitarist with pioneering metal band, Censura. The band charted in 2011 with their debut EP The Island and are currently preparing for a European tour.
“I think what set St Patrick’s Comprehensive School apart from others in the time I was there was the freedom to be different. No uniform meant you could express yourself without saying a word. If you were the new guy and if you didn’t have a group to hang out with, all you had to do was look around for the crowd of Metallica shirts hanging out beside the radiators next to the sweet shop,” he noted.
Dominic remembers extra-curricular activities such as setting up the stage for the annual musicals, which resulted in a hall pass. “It was definitely a peek into the life I wanted, although I would have done anything to get out of memorising the Irish language or pulling my hair out in maths.”
He added, “I think ‘the Comp’ had some very encouraging teachers that supported my non-academic and creative mind…intentional or not, the school did help me to become the person I am today.”
Students star as Shakespeare makes a comeback in Shannon
17 May 2011
Photo: Juliet (Michelle Cawley), Romeo (Lorcan Quinn) and Friar Laurence (Feidhlim Hillery) in Muse Productions performance of Romeo and Juliet at the Oakwood Arms.
All those who attended last week’s performance of Romeo and Juliet in the Oakwood Arms Hotel were gifted with a special treat. Muse Productions, in association with students from St Caimin’s Community School and St Patrick’s Comprehensive staged an outstanding version of Shakespeare’s tragic love story.
Muse Productions is the brainchild of two local couples, Ted & Ann Germaine and their good friends Martin & Clare McNelis. All four have a passion for drama in particular and are keen to re-energise theatre-goers in the locality.
Ted had been involved with the award-winning Icarus Drama Group for many years and drew on his experience and contacts to involve a number of Icarus veterans.
Tony Lyttle designed and illustrated the set, his wife Maria attended to hair and make-up. Also backstage old hands such as Eugene Logan, on sound, and Paddy Smyth made their own contributions.
According to Ted, “we aim to provide a platform for all types of theatre to be performed in Shannon with an emphasis on showcasing local talent and providing entertainment to the people of Shannon and the surrounding area.
It is certainly true to say that the new venue is a welcome addition to the town, particularly as it now appears that the promised civic theatre may be no more than a pipedream. Since its addition of a stage and fabulous sound system, the Oakwood Arms has become an ideal and intimate venue for concerts and plays.
Last week the hall was transformed beyond recognition with an imaginative and inventive set making the most of the semi-round, allowing for some enjoyable audience interaction.
This production of Romeo and Juliet brought together some very experienced performers such as Nicky Doherty, Gary Keane and Feidhlim Hillery with some young debutants including the two leads, Michelle Cawley, who sparkled as Juliet, and Lorcan Quinn as Romeo.
As an illustration of the dedication and pleasure that the young people took from the experience one needs to look no further than Lorcan, who cycled to and from rehearsals from his Kilmurry home.
The performance flowed smoothly considering the diversity of age and experience. Michelle Cawley was simply terrific. Despite having to deliver some lengthy dialogue she never missed a line of the very flowery and over-stated language which is uniquely Shakespearean.
Among the more seasoned performers Nicky Doherty was brilliant, as usual, as Juliet’s nurse, combining humour and pathos to a professional acting degree. Feidhlim Hillery as Friar Laurence was also outstanding, one could easily imagine him treading the boards of more famous theatres away from his job as the town’s apothecary!
Superb management of lighting and sound created the right atmosphere to allow the production to ebb and flow at the right moments. No doubt the young male actors revelled in the sword fighting scenes which they enacted with panache and tremendous gusto.
At the end of the performance I can only say, well done to everyone involved in putting on a great evening’s entertainment and particularly to the young people who will have learned a lot from the experience.
I have no doubt that some of them may yet pursue an acting career. Heaven knows but we may be able to look back and say “I remember his/her first performance in Romeo & Juliet at the Oakwood Arms”.
Muse Productions in association with St Patricks Comprehensive School and St Caimin’s Community School will shortly present William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” in The Oakwood Arms hotel.
The Capulets, led by Michelle Cawley in the role of Juliet will be played by pupils of St Caimin’s while Romeo and his fellow Montagues will be led by Lorcan Quinn and other pupils of St Patrick’s Comprehensive. They will be ably supported by an extremely experienced cast of award winning actors, including Feidhlim Hillery, Edel Halliday, Kathleen Browne, Eoin Sheedy, Noel McNamara, Nicky Doherty and Gary Keane. This tale of “Two Households, both alike in dignity” is well represented by the two schools involved. Each school has a history of excellence, a love of drama and the arts, and a healthy rivalry to add a little edge to the proceedings!
This new venture will offer a unique opportunity to pupils from both schools to experience first-hand a living, breathing Shakespearean experience, to lift the prose from a dry page and see it come to life in an intimate semi-round production. The vibrancy and energy of the youth cast will act as a perfect counterpoint to the experienced actors supporting them. The production will be fully costumed and professionally staged with a large multifunctional set and mood enhancing lighting and sound.