Ivy Leaf Theatre, Castleisland

The Castleisland collection includes a selection of newspapers, local and national, retained by Michael O’Donohoe for their relevance to the subjects of his research.


A local publication, Castleisland News, relates to the town’s Ivy Leaf Theatre and Arts Centre.1


The theatre, which finds home in a refurbished Church of Ireland, has been host to the Kerry Drama Festival for almost 30 years.2


Changing face of the Church of Ireland in 1981


Castleisland is custodian of a festival that was founded over 70 years ago in Killarney by Josephine Albericci of Cahernane House.3


The first festival took place in Killarney in November 1943 when the Castleisland Players staged The Courting of Mary Doyle.


Line up at the Town Hall Killarney in 1943


Adjudicator Michael Farrell, author of Thy Tears Might Cease (1963), enthused on the remarkable drive of the Castleisland cast.  Timothy Prendiville was noted for his performance.


Outlet for playwrights


In the early years of the festival, those like Listowel’s John B Keane, who went on to establish themselves as playwrights, found an outlet for their work.  Keane’s one act play, Portrait of a Scrounger (produced by himself) was performed by the Abbeydorney Dramatic Society in the 1959 festival.4


Seamus de Faoite (James White or Seamus White), who wrote for the Irish Press and was a founder member of the Killarney Players, is a lesser known playwright in the county.


Born in Killarney in 1915, he was educated at the Mercy Convent, Presentation Monastery and St Brendan’s Seminary in Killarney.  He worked as a labourer, factory hand, bread-van driver and bog worker before he went to Dublin as a professional actor for The Players Theatre.


Seamus de Faoite 1950s


Castleisland’s Con Houlihan recalled how de Faoite grew up in Killarney at a time when his neighbour, Dick Fitzgerald, was ‘a walking legend’ and how, in the downstairs bar of The White Horse, Seamus ‘gloried in Kerry’s victories’.


De Faoite’s plays (for stage and radio) include The Old People, The Canon’s Curtains, Blindness, Harrigan’s Girl, Love Were [wore?] a Wild Rose, The Crake in the Meadow (An Traona Sa Mhoinfhear, produced by The Abbey Theatre in 1943).


Four act play by de Faoite staged in 1943


Other works include Death of a King and The Cardinal and The Crows.5


The Cardinal and the Crows at the Gaeity in 1947 and illustration of a scene from the play performed at Fordham University Theatre, New York


The playwright also penned numerous short stories, a number of which, including The American Apples and The Poacher, appeared in The Bell in the 1940s and 1950s. Other titles include Tailor’s Rest, The Boot and A Horse can’t play Football. A collection, The More we are Together and other stories (1980) was published posthumously.


Breandan O hEithir recalled his friend Seamus in Over the Bar (1984).  A review of the book in the Irish Press alluded to the year 1932 when Seamus and his brother Don kissed the ring of Lorenzo Lauri, Papal Legal to the International Eucharistic Congress during his visit to Killarney, ‘They were wearing their grandfather’s war medals. Old Jima was a Papal Zouave in 1870’.


Seamus de Faoite died in Dublin on 6 October 1980 and was buried at Palmerstown Cemetery, Dublin.6


New drama group for Castleisland in 1978 and the Ivy Leaf Theatre, photographed in 2015


It is clear that Castleisland, in hosting the Kerry Drama Festival, is playing a considerable and ongoing part in the county’s rich theatre history.


1 IE MOD/36/36.3/36.3.7. Supplement to Kerry’s Eye, 24 June 1999.
2 The festival was revived in 1988.  It had foundered c1972.
3 Parish Hall Theatre, the Role of the Church in Kerry Drama (unpublished thesis, 2007).
4 Kerryman, 25 April 1959.  Members of the cast included Misses Margaret Lynn, Mary Walsh, Aggie Walsh, Mr N Stack, NT, P J Keane, Kevin Roche and Jer Shanahan.  An image was published in the Kerryman, 18 April 1959.
5 For which play he was awarded the Frank Hugh O'Donnell Trophy. A number of de Faoite's RTE Radio typescripts held at UCD archives.
6 His widow Eileen (nee Fogarty) died 27 August 1990.