It emerged out of the local rural tradition of scoraíocht and story-telling but was given a formal presence from 1945 onwards when the new St Michael’s Muintir na Tíre Hall was opened in Ballyduff.

This new facility enabled the presentation of formal drama productions, the development of high quality stagecraft and, over the years, facilitated Ballyduff Drama Group to become one of the finest amateur drama groups in the country.

photo1

The early years concentrated on mixed musical / dramatic shows but also featured works mainly by the early 20th century Irish playwrights such as Yeats, O’Casey, Synge, Lennox Robinson and Lady Gregory.

The 60s and 70s saw the rise of the popularity of one John B Keane and a local Macra club which won All-Ireland drama titles.

photo2

The group began operating on the drama festival circuit performing “Many Young Men of Twenty” in 1979 and “An Triail” in 1980 and gained initial All-Ireland glory in 1981 when the group won the All-Ireland Confined titled with Dale Wasserman’s “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

photo3

But now it was up with the big boys. Promotion to the Open Competition. And with all the great Irish amateur drama groups on the circuit as opposition. The likes of Sundrive Players, Temple Players, Strand Players and Estuary Players out of Dublin, Tuam Theatre Guild and Headford Drama Group in the West, the likes of Newpoint Players out of Northern Ireland  and great Munster groups like Kilmeen from Cork and College Players from Limerick.

Without doubt, the main driver of the group at this stage was Bill Canning, ably supported by John Coleman.

photo4

And the portfolio began to be more ambitious – a host of American productions most notably the works of Arthur Miller, like All My Sons, The Crucible and A View for the Bridge but also works like The Country Girl by Clifford Odets and Our Town by Thornton Wilder. And great successes with the farces of Ray Cooney like Not Now, Darling and Move Over Mrs Markham

And other stuff began to be done, like dramatic inputs into celebrations and commemorations. Like the commemoration of the Great Famine called Ocras and the production of a newly commissioned play by Mary Kearney called The Fires of Midsummer. And a brand new musical called November 22nd. And a production called Noises Off won the inaugural WLR / Waterford Crystal Arts and Entertainment Award. And there were pantos and one-acts and autumn productions. And a collaboration with the local Comhaltas group in what would become the Booley House . And we welcomed Joe Duffy to town and Ballyduff hosted the Gay Byrne Christmas Special.

photo5

And we began to feature regularly in the All-Ireland Finals in Athlone. And winning regular minor awards. But then came two big ones. Brendan Dunlea won best actor for his role in Ray Cooney’s Run for your Wife and Bill Canning won best director for Amadeus.

photo6

We arrived to the top four table with plays like Out of Order and Blue Remembered Hills. We were getting there. But, after a brief illness, we lost Bill. It was a momentous loss. But we carried on. Geraldine, Richie and Brendan took turns producing. And we came third with Antigone.

photo7

It was a case of so near and yet so far. But then , in 2004, it finally came together. The direction, the performance, the presentation and all the technicalities. Marina Carr’s “On Raftery’s Hill” became the vehicle for Ballyduff to become the first Waterford group to win the All-Ireland Drama Open competition. And it won Best Director for Brendan Dunlea.

photo8

But we would never have anticipated that it would take another 18 years to win our second. In the meantime, mind you, we also looked to foreign shores. Under the brand of Gaelic Storm, we brought a showcase of Irish music and drama to Wales and Scotland and even to the Aran Islands. We brought two productions – The Playboy of the Western World and The Cripple of Inishmaan – to Singapore and we brought a new youth production – Under Bare Ben Bulben – to Berlin. And we scripted and produced a piece which won, for Ballyduff, a national Pride of Place Award.

Meanwhile, on the festival circuit, Albertine in Five Times won festivals everywhere – everywhere but Athlone, that is.

photo9

Valerie O’Leary won Best Actress in Athlone for All My Sons. Sam Shepard’s The Curse of the Starving Class got us into the top four. Taking Over the Asylum came third.

photo10

And we kept ourselves sane with things like The Full Monty which screams unequivocally “if you’ve got it, flaunt it. But, even if you haven’t, flaunt it, anyway”

photo11

And we came second in the All-Ireland Finals – twice!! Once with Ray Cooney’s Caught in the Net and then with John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men

photo12

Methinks that there comes a time when you admit that it will never again happen. Too many “nears”. Too many “yet so fars”. And then came 2022. And no more yet so fars. Just an exhilarating production, winner of six festivals, and once again, like 2004, a wonderful coming together of all the disparate elements. Wonderful cast, sharp and honest direction, great technical crew. And David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole gave Ballyduff its second ever Open title, a host of other nominations and awards and gave Ger Canning her first Best Director award.

photo13

The group is now planning for the next wait of 18 years for its next All-Ireland title!!

photo14

Along the journey of the last 40 years or thereabouts, there have been many on-going friends and vital resources. Like the hall in Ballyduff, once a basic community hall, now a venue with facilities and services capable of hosting any top-class theatrical production. Like a generous array of supporters, particularly its core audience base from West Waterford and East Cork. Like the volunteer casts and crews who have soldiered diligently in the pursuit of theatrical excellence. Like its sponsors and financial supporters who have over the years helped to keep the ship afloat.

 

Last weekend, Ballyduff performed on the Abbey stage in Dublin proudly representing Ballyduff and Waterford but, more than anything, representing years of endeavour and tradition, a tradition of theatre and story telling in the heart of a community and a journey which, we hope, is never ending. In fact, we feel that it has just begun.

 

 

 

 

Tickets

40th West Waterford Drama Festival
Friday 4th March to 12th March 2022. Check out the festival line up and a synopsis of the plays being performed.

Bookings: On 058 60456 from Monday 21st February 2022 - 2pm - 8pm

Festival Ticket prices:
Nightly tickets are €15 and concessions €10
Season Tickets are €90 and includes Festival Programme

Location

If using Sat Nav, be careful when inputting. There are at least three Ballyduffs in County Waterford. In particular, there is a village called Ballyduff about five miles from Waterford City. This is not us! Coordinates 52° 08' 51" N, 8° 03' 06" W will get you pretty near the correct Ballyduff! more

 

About The Festival

Since 1981, West Waterford Drama Festival is held in Ballyduff during March. Over three decades of dramatic excitement, community endeavour, investment in friendship and sheer good fun. All driven by an ethos of volunteerism, community and good humour. more

Supported by Waterford City &
County Council's Arts Festivals Grants