ActivePaper Archive Mary’s backstage work vital to success of Renmore Panto - City Tribune 1984-current, 08/01/2010

Mary’s backstage work vital to success of Renmore Panto


Mary Barrett: There have been six romances that she knows of within the cast over the years, and four weddings. PHOTO: JOE O'SHAUGHNESSY.

THE Renmore Panto is a classic example of a successful community project that continues to benefit a wider community 31 years after it began.

The success of the Panto is in large part due to the strength of the core committee which has remained more or less unchanged in three decades, and today the group is regarded as one of the most experienced Panto producers in the country.

The roots of the Panto remain solidly in Renmore and one woman who put down her own roots in Galway at around the same time is Mary Barrett, who is synonymous with the annual production.

A native of Clonmel, Mary and her husband Danny arrived in Galway with two young children 32 years ago so that Danny could take up a new position in Galway County Council.

They had met while they were both working for the South Riding Council in Tipperary. Once the office romance was known about, Mary was transferred to another section, but that didn’t cool the relationship and they subsequently married.

Danny then got a promotional opportunity and they both loved Galway. “I had visions of living in a house by the sea, somewhere like Salthill which I had visited a few times,” says Mary.

But the reality was that the house they could afford at the time was a new build in Renmore, which as it happened overlooked the sea. This was a pleasant place to live as it was made up of neighbours who were mostly ‘blow-ins’ and were all young couples starting out in their married life.

Mary got a part-time job as a medical secretary in the late Dr Fergus Meehan’s office (and later in Dr Geraldine Gaffney’s office), something she mixed nicely with rearing her two young children. Two more children were born in Galway and Danny and Mary took to the city like ducks to water.

“Clonmel is one of most inland towns in Ireland and I always had an ambition to live by the sea. I could see the sea from my kitchen window [in Renmore] , Danny liked his new job and the children were settling into school.

“There was a great community spirit in Renmore, which was a new growing community at the time. We saw the opening of a new school and a new church. It was all very new and exciting.”

The Panto started in 1979 on the stage of the Jes Hall on the Sea Road and the young Barrett children participated as part of the school band which marched down the aisles at one stage during the production.

Mary was hooked, not only with the show itself but with the community involvement, so it was only natural that she wanted to get involved.

She assisted the late Liam Belton as PRO in the beginning and has worked in a voluntary capacity as secretary but is back in her favourite role as PRO for the Panto for the past few years, though she, like everyone else involved, has washed and repaired costumes, helped out at rehearsals and helped transport stage sets. All in a day’s work for anyone involved in the theatre!

All the Barrett children have been involved in some capacity with the Panto. Her three daughters have been Smurfs and Clare, who is now a professional actress based in Dublin, has enjoyed a lead role. Clare currently features in Lotto Millionaire advert as one of the nurses singing to the Lotto winner. The girls’ late brother Tommy also enjoyed a few appearances.

“And now some of the Smurfs are bringing their own children to the Panto, which means things have gone full circle. I really enjoy meeting people and getting to know them and I have made a lot of friends through the Panto, not only in my own local community but all across the city.”

It’s easy to understand why Mary makes friends so easily because she has a pleasant way about her, a gentleness and a graciousness that is rare enough these days.

It is with dignity that she recalls the tragic death of their only son, Tommy, who was buried on his 19th birthday in 1990 following a tragic shipping accident in Rotterdam, where he was training for officership in the Merchant Navy.

The Renmore and wider community of family and friends really showed their strength and support around that time, she says remembering the practical help and emotional support.

Pots of food arrived to the house to feed family who had travelled from Clonmel and Tommy’s fellow students from around the country. Stacks of chairs were provided for the funeral by neighbours and afterwards they were collected discreetly and without fuss. Over 80 turned up to sing in the choir for the funeral Mass.

Mary says she will never forget that support. “That’s when the community spirit really kicked in and they gave him a great send off.”

Tommy had of course participated in the Panto, preferring the comic roles when he could get them and the family photo albums include images of the whole family down through the years in the different Pantos.

There was one year when the Panto run only lasted for two matinees when the roof of the Leisureland Auditorium fell in. That happened in 1983, resulting in disappointment for many families and schools who had booked their tickets.

That was before the opening of the Town Hall Theatre, which is now the Renmore Panto’s official home for three weeks over the New Year period, so they couldn’t transfer anywhere else.

But usually it’s a case of the “show must go on” which was proved sometime in the eighties when Ken Long, who was playing Prince Charming fell into the water at the Claddagh and still managed to miss only one show. His stand in for the one night was the charming John Forde.

For the past five years Peter Kennedy, who usually plays the Dame, has written the scripts ensuring local jokes and references keep the adult audiences on their toes!

Throughout the interview, Mary insists (gently) on a number of people being mentioned for contributing to the continued success of the Panto, namely its sponsors. They are Pat McDonagh of Supermacs, Paul Keyes of Dawn Dairies and St Columba’s Credit Union, who have all become firm friends of the Renmore Pantomime Society.

Broadcaster and CEO of Galway Bay FM Keith Finnegan started his public career with the Panto and the circle was completed when he emceed their 30th anniversary gala ball last February.

Mary loves how the Panto gels people together. There have been about six romances, that she knows of, within the cast over the years and four weddings.

You’re a Star winner, Lucia Evans has treaded their boards as the ‘Baddie’ (she was a great baddie, says Mary) and every year a local charity benefits from the proceeds, while the sale of tickets usually pays for production costs.

Mary is proud too of the way the Panto has developed off-shoots such as the Galway Musical Society and the Renmore Variety Group which attracts the teenagers and which won All-Ireland titles at the Mosney Community Games no less than eight times.

She puts the dedication and commitment of the 250 cast and crew down to the leadership of Joe McCarthy and gives high praise too to the Power twins for inspiring everyone since they took over as producers.

Mary can’t imagine now living anywhere else. It is certainly home too to her daughters, Clare, who lives in Dublin, Deirdre, who is a HR Manager in Chicago and Carol who teaches in the Renmore school, not forgetting Danny, who like Mary, retired some years ago.

Is she idle? Of course not. She is an active member of the Renmore Active Retirement Association where “we have great fun”. And when this year’s Panto, Mother Goose, finishes its run at the Town Hall on January 17, Mary and the committee will sit down and decide next year’s show and the process starts all over again.

And guess what . . . Mary loves every minute of it and hopes generations of audiences will keep coming for many years to come.

Booking for Mother Goose at 569777.