In the past, Noel has written such superb plays as ‘Runners’ and ‘Blues in the Night’. His reputation has grown enormously during the intervening years and there’s no doubt his latest offering will add to his popularity.
Noel explains why he decided to set the play in 1966 rather than a century ago.
“James Power and the Stagemad Theatre Company have been very supportive of me in the past and they asked me to write something for the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising as part of the celebrations and I said no because I felt there was going to be a huge amount of stuff about that period.
“But shortly afterwards I gave it some thought and I decided to write about the 50th anniversary and that brought me back to the mid 60s and thankfully James and the company agreed. Jamie Flynn who plays the central character James Ryan has been working extremely hard during the past number of weeks and I’m excited about the project,” Noel stated before explaining the content of his new play.
“The play is set in the spring and summer of 1966. Ireland is enjoying its first economic boom as living standards are improving, employment is expanding and emigration is in decline.
With its own new national television service, Telefís Éireann, showbands to beat the band and free secondary education on the way, as are the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the Swinging Sixties were really started to swing!”
Noel added: “Waterford, at the time, is a city buzzing and bulging at the seems. New shops, new factories, new schools. And all surrounded by new housing estates and street corners full of restless ‘youths’. Waterford FC have just won their first League of Ireland title and the place has gone Soccer-mad.
“Fianna Fáil are 10 years in government and de Valera seems to be President for life. And with ongoing ‘talks’ on the North, it seems like only a matter of time before the country is ‘all joined up again. As Easter draws near, extensive plans are in place to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the 1916 Rising. James Ryan is a Leaving Cert student with his future unclear.”
Chosen to play the role of Padraig Pearse in the school pageant, James is also a schoolboy soccer star who would love to play for Manchester United, Noel continued.
“With her own ambitions to fulfil, his Mother hopes he’ll get ‘the call’ to teacher training. With one eye on the ball and the other eye on Sharon Bolger, ‘the lack of his life’, everyone else seems to have plans for his future. And now his Dad is returning from England, to work in one o’ them new factories on the Industrial Estate.
“And with the promise of a new Corporation house, ‘off out the Cork Road, somewhere’, this lad and his mother, have more than the Proclamation on their minds. Meanwhile as the GPO beckons, England kick-off against West Germany in the World Cup Final.”
Personally, I have been friends with Noel since the mid-60s (we attended the Waterford FC v Manchester United European Cup game in Lansdowne Road in 1968) and he looked back at his wide and varied life when we met last week.
“I was born in Manor Street in a little house opposite the Manor School. I was the middle child of three. Marie is the eldest and Joan is the youngest. Our mother Nomie, whom a lot of people would know, worked in the Theatre Royal for many years. She passed away eight years ago.
“She was the recognised face of the theatre and it always amuses me when people talk to me and indeed it amused my mother also because it gave the impression we were a theatre family but nothing could be further from the truth.
“It was only in her later life that she started working there because my father Jack had passed away in 1979 and things were at a low ebb and it was John Moylan who asked her to work there as ‘front of house’ and she continued in that role until she was 80 years of age which was extraordinary.
“My father worked with CIE. He was originally from a little place just outside Cashel and he came to Waterford in the early 40s and that’s when he met my mother. He was a bus conductor and the people of St John’s Park would remember him because he used to run the ‘Mass Service’ every Sunday.”
Noel continued: “I grew up in Manor Street until I was 11 or 12 years old and then we heard the news that there was going to be move to re-house people from all parts of the city into a new Corporation-built houses which was great. We lived in a very old and rather dilapidated house with no natural light coming in and an outside toilet. It’s hard to imagine nowadays, it really is.
“Eventually the Corporation began building the new house on Bunkers Hill which was just down the road from where we lived; we moved in in1966 and it opened up a whole new life for us. My father had a front and back garden for the first time ever. I will always remember the beautiful summer of that year and perhaps that is why I set my new play in 1966.It turned over a whole new chapter in my life.
“I was going to school in Mount Sion which was just up the road and that was brilliant. All of the people who moved into those houses became great friends and they were superb neighbours in every sense. The Casey family lived in the hose beside us and the Walsh family were at the other side.
“Then you had the Hayes family and right up at the top you had John Halligan and his parents, brothers and sister. They were simple days but they were lovely days with wonderful people.”
Students who attended Mount Sion had no real option but to play hurling and even though we did enjoy our days running around the Cnoc Síon grounds in Gracedieu with our camán and sliothar under the watchful eye of the Principal Brother Duggan, Noel made a really valid point which was extremely true.
“When I lived in Manor Street we had a little confined space which maybe ran to the Car Stand and that was it. It was a self contained sort of a world before we moved to Bunkers Hill (Rice Park or College Street to give the area its official title) apart from perhaps a day away in Tramore or maybe an evening kicking football in the People’s Park.
“I never really strayed out of that central area and I have the strangest memory of one particular day while I was in Mount Sion and we had to make our way to the hurling pitch in Gracedieu.
“It was on a Wednesday and I got the bus outside Saint John’s Church to take me to the ‘top of the town’ as we called it then. I remember the bus travelling along Congress Place and Dominics Place and I had never been there before. It was a part of the city I’d never seen before which was amazing because I was about 12 years old at the time.
“Watching the rows of houses on that short journey has always remained with me and I’m sure there were many young people from those streets who had never been to Manor Street or Ballytruckle because the geography of the city meant that people were inclined to stick with their own areas.”
Next week: Noel talks about his 37 years as a Physical Education teacher at the Waterford Technical College on Parnell Street and also tells the amazing story of how Mount Sion teacher Sean Crowe set him on the path to writing. He also speaks about how another Waterford-born playwright, Jim Nolan, pipped him in a competition although Jim had no idea he had beaten Noel! All that and much more in next week’s issue.
Tickets for ‘They Think It’s All Over’ are available from www.centralarts.ie
or by phone on 086-4543246