The following is a story told by Helen Corley about the arrival of McFaddens Road Show to Athlone. This would be typical of every village in Ireland.
“So little ever happened in our village that anything out of the ordinary was greeted with great enthusiasm by all. I was eleven when the hand-written notices were displayed in the shop windows. McFadden’s roadshow was coming to the parochial hall. Starting on Sunday night, we were to be treated to five nights of music, song, dance and drama. The excitement was unbearable.
On Sunday evening, rows of bicycles lined the Chapel railings and the wall down to the hall. Dozens of girls and fellows from outlying areas converged outside the hall, even the corner boys, anxious to experience excitement, abandoned their positions and headed towards the hall. The hall, with green painted walls was filled within minutes. Every available hard backless bench and form was filled to capacity.
The show started with five dancers dressed in glittering suits and dresses tap-dancing and singing “There’s no business like show business”. This opening night was a “Variety show”, We watched a magician make an egg disappear. He must have been so disheartened to hear the boos and shouts telling him it was up his sleeve. The troupe of dancers returned and were followed by a comedian who reeled off funny stories. Next came a man , who we were told had a very famous brother. He sang ‘Fraulein’, ‘The old house’ and ‘Mother Machree’. The whole hall erupted into a cacophony of cat-calls and piercing whistles as a girl in a tight lurex dress who was introduced as the niece of a famous actress sang “If i were a blackbird” and “My bonny lies over the ocean”. After the final tap-dance there was a stampede towards the door.
The following night, the hall was so full that anyone leaning against the wall was drenched from the condensation. The play being staged was ‘Maria Martin and murder in the red barn’. We saw Maria meeting her lover and arranging to elope with him. We heard a shot and saw her lying dead as her lover fled but he didn’t get far because the lights went out and he fell over the box that held her going away clothes. We remained in darkness while a man playing an accordion sat with two flash lamps trained on him.
The following nights Willie Reilly and his Colleen Bawn and East Lynn passed without mishap. For me, the highlight of the week was the “Talent Contest”. I cringe with shame when I remember standing on the stage belting out “The happy wanderer” while the compère looked into what he called the applause meter and declared me the winner. I got two little china dogs and a clip on the ear from my mother, when I arrived home, for making an exhibition of myself.
Recently I found those dogs and I was transported back in time to that dismal hall where people so hungry for company and entertainment travelled miles to sit on hard forms and escape for a few hours the loneliness and desolation that was rural Ireland of the 1950s.”