Castleisland Theatricals from Harry Brogan’s ‘Party Pieces’

Castleisland District Heritage has acquired an original typescript monologue performed in 1957 on Harry Brogan’s radio programme, ‘My Kind of Recitation,’ sponsored by Jacob’s Biscuits.[1]  Sixty years ago, the monologues were popular entertainment and could be purchased for a shilling from Radio Éireann.


Copyright 1950s style: ‘Public performance prohibited without prior permission.’


In Castleisland, the monologues were performed locally to packed halls at events organised by Macra na Feirma.  Indeed, there are some in Castleisland who can still recite the lines from the many weekly recitations.


John Roche, Chairman of Castleisland District Heritage, recalls their appeal:


I became a teenager in 1950.  There was an aspect of the next decade that was far from great – if it was replicated today it would be rightly termed slavery.  Rural youth on farms worked an average 14-hour day, six days a week and half day Sunday.  Pay was a number of shillings at the weekend depending on the generosity of the parents.  But there was another aspect to life on farms in the 1950s – the wonderful camaraderie of plentiful young people working together and immune to the hardship of continuous physical work.  We took it in our stride.


As the stagnation and misery of World War Two faded from the memory, rural youth turned their attention to farming education and progress.  Young Farmers Clubs adopting the Gaelic name Macra na Feirme became a feature of rural parishes throughout the country, their object to further the social, cultural and educational needs of the rural youth.  In Castleisland, we developed one of the leading branches, entertaining ourselves and the local populace with plays, song, dance and recitation through the long winter evenings – and to a very high standard.  So without money, we could be highly entertained while substituting our lack of formal schooling with the promotion of relevant education and cultural skills.


It was at this time that a Jacob’s sponsored programme on Radio Éireann gave us the great Harry Brogan reciting a beautiful monologue at lunch time every Wednesday.  While my brother Michael and I were ‘behind the door’ when they handed out singing voices, we loved poems and immediately fell for Harry Brogan’s recitations.  The programme very generously made the monologues available for the princely sum of one shilling.  So we posted one shilling (s1) postal orders on occasions and duly received copies of the prized monologue.


The monologues were both unique and beautiful to listen to, and became my party pieces for decades afterwards.  My one regret through the years was that we didn’t send for more, but as already stated, shillings were a scarce commodity in our pockets at the time.


To me the late Harry Brogan was always unique – and still is.


A particular favourite always well received that drew many a tear was ‘The Man at the Back of the Hall’:


They were choosing the candidates down at the hall and all the brass was there,
There was Paddy the Butcher, and Tim from the pub, expellin’ a lot o’ hot air;
The doctor was there, the solicitor too, an’ o’ course, the outgoing T.D.’s,
And I list’ to them all, as I sat in the hall, with the wind blowing round me ould knees.

They were talking o’ this: they were talking o’ that.  And what did the bould Gladstone say,
And what such would do with this country of ours, if he could just have his way.
Yes! Plenty o’ speeches, all riddled with clichés, and people just started to yawn,
They yearned to be told what tomorrow would hold – and not about yesterday’s dawn.

Then the Chairman stood up “Any questions” said he “We’ll answer them all, if we can,”
An’ a wee chap stood up at the back of the hall, an ordinary type of a man.
“I’d just like to say a few words if I may.  I wouldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings.
An’ I’ll not say a word about Paddy or Tim – I’ve found them quite fair in their dealings.

I’m only a fellow who works in an office – I’ve worked there for twenty-five years,
Supportin’ the wife, and four kids that we’ve got, and often ignoring her tears,
When sometimes she wanted a thing for the house – and seldom – a thing for herself,
And I’d have to say, “No, look at all that we owe” an’ her wishes would go on the shelf.

There was often a night with me shoes letting- in, an’ I missin’ out the last bus,
An’ the pennies I saved on the bus and my shoes ... well, I thought not of me but of us.
Yes, I thought of the missus back home at the house, with a hot supper there on the hob,
With the kids tucked in bed and she there by the fire, just glad that her man had a job.

The kitchen’d be cosy, the supper’d be hot.  And we’d talk o’ the struggle we made,
“How’s the job goin”, Tom?’ “Oh! tis great girl” I’d answer, “In no time our bills will be paid.”
An’ then I would see her proud face clouding o’er.  No woman likes being in debt;
An’ I’d see the great tears in the blue eyes I loved – a sight I would rather forget.

An’ she’d say, “There’s young Billy! He needs a new suit.  An’ Aggie there needs a new dress.
An’ there’s you with your shoes lettin’ in all the wet.”  An’ I’d say, “Let’s get out of this mess.
Let’s emigrate now.  Let us go to the States.  To New Zealand, Australia ... who cares?”
And she’d say, “There were those who made history here.  But far more, they made us their heirs.

They left us this country to do as ye will.  To work for it ... till it, and plant it.
I don’t think it fair, when these people have died, that we should just take it for granted.
I think we should stay in this country of ours.  For ’tis here we were born and were bred,
And when we are both gone, ’twould be nice to live on, in the living and not in the dead.”

Then we’d go to our bed and I’d think of my wife an’ the struggles she daily must make.
Give and take?  Yes, I know.  But most women just give.  And should men in their wisdom just take?’

The wee man sat down in the back o’ the hall, an’ the Chairman took our nominations,
The doctor, solicitor, Paddy and Tim – supported by all their relations.
But the candidate chosen, by women and men – Aye, he got the vote of them all,
Was that wee little chap just like you and like me – Yes, the man at the back o’ the hall.


A second monologue, ‘The Old Parish Clerk,’ from Harry Brogan’s radio programme is also held in the collection.[2]


[1] Collection Reference IE CDH 17.  ‘The Man at the Back of the Hall’ copied for the collection from an original courtesy John Roche. 

Harry Brogan (c1904-1977), native of Holywood, County Down, was active in Irish theatre, stage, radio and later television and film.

[2] Collection Reference IE CDH C17.  Typed copy courtesy John Roche.  The first line of the monologue runs: ‘The evening devotions were over once more, the church it was silent and still.’