Thurles Musical Society celebrates 70 years in existence

Noel Dundon


Noel Dundon



Despite having had to cancel this years show, Made in Dagenham, due to coronavirus, there is much to celebrate for TMS

Last month, Thurles Musical Society should have celebrated it's 70th and seven decades of unbroken staging of annual music theatre in The Cathedral Town.

But, Covid-19 put a halt to all of that and Made in Dagenham which was to have made it's debut in The Premier Hall on Tuesday, March 29 until Saturday April 4, had to be postponed – the aim of the Society is to stage the show as soon as possible, but only time will tell, when that will be possible.

A similar disruption to the annual show took place back in 2000 when the Golden Jubilee production of Show Boat was delayed due to the Foot and Mouth crisis. The show eventually was staged closer to summer than Easter and the audiences were there is force to enjoy what was a great show.

Seventy years in existence is nothing to be sneezed at and Thurles Musical Society has certainly given a tremendous amount of fun, pleasure and quality theatre to the people of the locality and its surrounds. Shows from all the great composers have featured in The Confraternity Hall, Delahunty's Cinema and in more recent times, The Premier Hall with thousands of people getting involved, on stage, off stage, back stage, front of house and in so many other various essential positions and roles. It really has been a magnificent community effort.

There are still many in Thurles who refer to the shows as 'the opera'. But, how did it all begin seventy years ago? And how has the Society grown to be one of the most highly respected, vibrant and successful societies in the country?
Well, that old Irish saying – from a small acorn a great oak tree has grown - certainly seems to have been almost coined with Thurles Musical Society in mind. You see, musical theatre was non existent in The Cathedral Town up until mid way through the 20th century and the idea that a great tree, whose branches would spread wide and far to every street of the town, could develop, was outrageous. But, a seed was sown and from that seed sprouted an idea; from that idea a process; and from that process Thurles Musical Society was born.

The seed had been planted in the mind of the late Rev Father William Noonan, a curate in the Cathedral Presbytery, by Mother Teresa – an Ursuline Sister whose name was also associated with music wherever her vocation took her. Mother Teresa suggested to Father Noonan, a man who loved music, song and dance, and was himself an accomplished violinist, that the establishment of a musical society in Thurles would be a great step forward in the revival of the culture. Little could she, or indeed he, have expected that their idea would be the catalyst and the springboard to the foundation of one of the finest organisations in the town – an organisation which looked at talent, capabilities and stage presence, before any other social or class standing.

Establishing any kind of society, club or organisation is a tremendous undertaking which requires accuracy of insight and calm courage. It demands an element of self belief and self confidence and a determination to press ahead with the plan no matter what obstacles materilised or manifested themselves. In Father Noonan, Thurles Musical Society was fortunate to have such a leader and a man who possessed all the necessary elements to bring his plan to fruition.

Discreet enquiries led him to Mr St John Glynn, who had long associations with Rathmines and Rathgar Musical Society and then to the Butler family in Croke Street, where the first meeting was held. At this meeting were: David Butler, Mai Noonan, Fergus Ryan, Mrs B Dwan, Mr Glynn, Martin T Butler, Father William Noonan and Frank McNamara. They debated and discussed the merits to be gained by establishing such a society and determined that the way forward would be to bring people together in a bid to generate the kind of interest necessary.

This led to an enthusiastic public meeting in the Confraternity Hall, where the following committee were elected:- President Rev W Noonan; Hon. Secretary, Mr M.T. Butler; Hon Treasurer, Mr J O'Shea; Committee:- Mrs B Dwan, Miss Mai Noonan, Messrs D. Butler, H. St. J Glynn, P.J. Hickey, F. McNamara and F. Ryan.

The Society's first production was Gilbert and Sullivan's best loved and perhaps most difficult musical, The Yeoman of the Guard in 1951 which was produced by Mr Glynn. He went on to produce all five Gilbert and Sullivan operas in subsequent years and as the seasons passed it became quite evident that Thurles Musical Society was going places. The crowds flocked to see the shows, delighted in the music, song and dance and most of all, thrilled in seeing their neighbours and friends in the various roles.

What an abundance of musical talent was to unfold. No less than five members of the Dwan family graced the stage in the inaugural production with the lovely Rita playing the leading role. The ensuing years were a series of musical triumphs for Rita, her beautiful voice thrilled audiences not alone in Thurles but also in Roscrea, Fermoy and Tralee where she was awarded the trophy for Best Female Voice in the Festival Of Light Opera. At that same festival, the Choral Award was won by Thurles Musical Society's The Gypsy Baron.

Rita Dwan's brother Denis shared the lead in the first production with another well known and well loved tenor, Willie Moroney. Mrs Bridie O'Sullivan, Olive Kennedy, Nancy Nearman, Joe Ryan, Sidney Collier, Willie O'Dwyer, Jack O'Connell, Tom Mason, Conor Russell, Jim Lambe, Michael Maher and Peg Hyland all had parts in that first show. Olive Kennedy had the distinction of being the first ever to step out on stage for Thurles Musical Society.
Mai Noonan (Skehan) was Chorus Mistress for the first three shows and Mr Bobby O'Connell was Conductor. Included in the orchestra were P.J. Hickey and Vasco O'Donnell, both of whom were to play major roles in the Society for many decades.
Father Noonan continued as President for fourteen years and thanks to his unstinting devotion, the society went from strength to strength. But, even after he departed the Cathedral Presbytery, Father Noonan continued to have more than a passing interest in TMS activities. He regarded the Society with great fondness and was thrilled to have been made an Honorary Life Member alongside many of his great friends and colleagues.

It was perhaps fitting then that, as he had been instrumental in starting Thurles Musical Society on an adventurous journey into the unknown, Society members should also accompany Canon William Noonan on his final journey to his place of rest in Templemore in 2010. He had carried the Society on so many occasions, now it was the turn of the Society to shoulder his coffin and help carry him to his Maker whom he served so diligently and loyally throughout his life of service

Had Fr William Noonan known on that sunny summers evening when he strolled through the gardens of the Ursuline Convent all those seventy years ago that he was about to breathe life into an organisation which would have such a profound influence on The Cathedral Town and it’s people, he would surely have been very chuffed. His reward was seeing all those audiences delighting in the on-stage antics; in seeing so many tackling the choreography, the tricky music, the challenging repertoires. He delighted in seeing Thurles Musical Society weaving a rich tapestry in the fabric of Cathedral Town community life and in excelling as a proponent of the arts, of music, song, acting and dance.

Seventy years is a milestone by any standard – and Thurles Musical Society salutes all those who have been involved in their many marvelous stories, on and off the stage. They extend a sincere thanks to everyone for support and encouragement and look forward to the next decade with great anticipation.
Right now, the curtain remains closed, but in time, it will rise again, together with the spirit of the people.
Made in Dagenham - the show which almost was, this year - will be staged as soon as is possibly permissable.