Buttercup Memoirs - 'the opera' in Thurles recalled

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Thurles Musical Society in by-gone days

I remember going to the musical every year in my home town Thurles as a child.

Cup of butter, little yellow flower – dear little buttercup, sweet little buttercup – deep cadmium yellow scattered in the grass – I see my little girl self with my sister, Eileen running and waving my arms interweaving the flowers in the wild flower meadow on our uncle’s farm.


I remember going to the musical every year in my home town Thurles as a child. My father, Michael O’Donoghue played the violin in the orchestra. The musicians practised in our house for months beforehand so when we went to the performances we knew all the songs inside out and would mouth the words of all the choruses:


‘The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la’ ‘three little maids from school’ or perhaps ‘we sail the ocean blue’ – and dear little buttercup.
I remember them all: The Mikado, HMS Pinafore, Oklahoma, The Desert Song etc. The adrenaline coursing through my veins, wanting to be on stage – I was entranced with the music, loved the dancing – totally engrossed with the magic of it all. Then at the Festival Club afterwards the singing would really start – relaxed, sweetened by a drink or two people celebrated, met old friends and breathed bon homie – the pride in the town was tangible.

Five Little Maids from School - from 1952
For days afterwards all the chat in the cafes, pubs and shops would be about ‘the opera’ – Who sang well, acted well, looked well and who didn’t. The costumes were discussed in detail. The dancers were often considered a bit risqué with their sexy dancing! The animation in the peoples voices as they talked about the performances was great. You could sense the excitement.


Some of the townspeople who took part in the opera were also in the Cathedral Choir. Their demeanour totally different to when they participated in the opera. They wore holy and sad faces and sang with special voices and lip shapes the hymns in church. They reached high notes, lingered a while – shivered the notes and descended from perfect pitch to silence. They sang from the soul for Gilbert and Sullivan.


In church we listened in awe and enjoyed their music with solemnity until the advent in the 1970’s of the guitar playing Youth Hymnsters with their rocking, hippy, modern music. Attendees at these masses swayed and sang out loud. They praised the Lord with love and conviction and maybe a little flower power.


They were and refreshing changes – except I didn’t believe in the church anymore and so I didn’t go anymore.
And ‘the buttercups’ – well I then took a great interest in the visual arts and have painted many a wildflower with joy while marvelling at the symmetry and beauty of nature. The petals on a flower, the colours of those flowers, a sunset, the sea – oh, the sea, changing, angry, gentle, rippling - there/always there.

A scene from Ragtime
The human face – young ripe, aging – features changing, remaining the same, tells life’s story. All is recorded in the wrinkles: I have a fascination with wrinkles: their beauty symmetrical, theatrical, awful, scary and delightful in a smile.
‘Where is the beauty in youth?’ I ask myself – I was too immature to enjoy you: always fretting, trying to be perfect, worrying about others, scared of what they might think.


Now I am older and wiser and the wrinkles have taken over. That’s grand!
And I will think of buttercups – they get old too – wither and die. And life’s great cycle continues.

Elizabeth O'Donoghue Walsh