About Ballinasloe Musical Society
A chat after choir practice in St. Michael’s Church on a Summer’s evening in 1923 marked the beginnings of the Ballinasloe Choral and Orchestral Society. With a “fiver” conributed by a local curate, Rev. Fr. John Heenan, in the kitty, it was decided to prepare Gilbert and Sullivan’s one-act Operetta "Trial By Jury" for presentation later that year. The church organist and choirmistress, Miss Lavinia Sheridan L.I.S.M agreed to act as both Producer and Musical Director. Encouraged by the reception given to "Trial By Jury" the infant Society went on to present the more popular of the Gilbert and Sullivan pieces, like "H.M.S. Pinafore", “The Pirates of Penzance”, and “The Mikado”. Next the Society moved into Grand Opera and presentations of the lighter works such as “Maritana”, and “The Bohemian Girl” were matters of musical moment thet gave the society confidance and added greatly to its reputation.......Looking back over those shows of the early years, we are reminded of the pioneers of the Society and the names of those who appeared in those very early productions come flooding back. John Holloway, Michael Croghgan, “Baby” Fitzpatrick, Mary Leech, Isobel Devitt, Nell Crichton, the Moores, Dick and Bertie, are singers of quality that older patroons of the Society can recall. Most of them are no longer with us but one may hope that they are now part of the heavenly choir. The members of the Society today salute them and thank them for the worthwhile heritage they have handed on their hope, today, it that they may carry on in the fine traditions laid down by these pioneers. With them, we remember fondly others who served the Society well, performers like Mary McCullagh, Annie Egan, Noreen Ward, Dermot Cullen, Frank, O’Rourke, Bunny Carr, Lady Sonia Ffrench, Joe Hill, Mary Wales-North (all the way from Louisville, Kentucky), Ita Kelleher and so many others. Names and memories come flooding back – so many, in fact that there is no space to record them all and to those worthly ones who may have been overlooked, apologies are tendered and forgiveness sought.
Keystone and inspiration of the Society from its foundation in 1923 to 1960 was Miss Sheridan, Producer, Musical Director, Coach in Voice and Dialogue, Scene Painter. Her musical standards wew always high and they were always imposed whether the members liked it or not. Hers was an indomitable personality that welcomed – even enjoyed – a challenge and sometimes led and sometimes drove the Society into better things. The debt owed by the Society to this dynamic woman is great indeed. It was a matter of great regret that she did not live to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Society in 1973.
Shows like “Les Cloches de Corneville” and “Miss Hook of Holland” marked the Thirties, while the Forties saw the revival of “Maritana” and “The Bohemian Girl”, that introduced the Waterford tenor Frank Ryan to Ballinasloe audiences and marked the debut of a local singer Noreen Ward, who was to entrance audienced with a simplicity of acting technique and a soaring soprano voice. The Sixties began in triumph for the Society with an appearance at the Waterford festival of Light Opera that captured three of the top awards and a couple of Certificates of Merit for the excellence of its presentation of “Oklahoma” that was in competition with the leading amateur Musical Societies of Ireland, England and Wales.
Lieut. Jim McGee succeeded Miss Sheridan as Musical Director for the Waterford trip. Gallantly, Jim McGee made sure that any credits and awards for the Musical Direction in Waterford were shared with Miss Sheridan. Lieut. McGee went on become Colonel McGee in charge of the Army School of Music. In between, he managed to serve the Ballinasloe Choral and Orchestral Society very well.
Ever ready to give audiences what they wanted, the Society went on to present musicals like “South Pacific”, “The Quaker Girl”, Calamity Jane”, Guys and Dolls”, while those in charge of the finances worked very hard to keep abreast of the rising production costs. “Hello Dolly”, “Blue Moon” and “The Desert Song” were shows that marked tp opening years of the 1960’s and in 1973, a production of “The Merry Widow” celebrated the Society’s Golden Jubilee in a presentation that paired another fine local soprano, Maureen O’Donoghue with Ireland’s leading baritone, Austin Gaffney, in the roles of Anna Glavari and Count Danilo. Rising costs finally won over and five years passed before the Society manged to get another musical on stage – this was a revival of “Calamity Jane” in 1978. the 1980’s started with “The Boy Friend” and “Fiddler on the Roof”.
A few productions were staged in the John Shea Memorial Hall, St. Brigid’s Hospital, while The Town Hall was closed for renovation. Early in 1989, the Society was back in the Town Hall, refurbished and renovated, for a very successful revival of “Oklahoma”, which earned commendations for the Society.
Since then, the Society has had many different Musiacal Directors like Mrs. Kay Purcell, Mrs. Marie Power and Mr. Noel Henry. Alll of them added greatly to the success of the Ballinasloe Musical Society. Producer, Leonard Anderson took the Society to the Northern Ireland Festival of Light Opera in Bangor in the early Summer of 1995 with an energetic production of “Godspell”. As with the trip to the Waterford Light Opera Festival thirty five years before, the group made quite an impression there and came home with a lot of happy memories and an award to match the A.I.M.S nomination for Best Show.