Kerry’s Amateur Dramatic Heritage

Sive-at-the-Abbey1-scaledRaising the Curtain on Kerry’s Amateur Drama Heritage is a new exciting and innovative research project being developed by Kerry Writers’ Museum.

For the greater part of the 20th century, theatre audiences throughout rural Ireland were almost solely reliant on the amateur dramatic movement. In the aftermath of the Civil War in 1923, communities in the newly formed Free State turned to amateur drama, attempting to develop some semblance of social re-invigoration.

As the Irish population became obsessed by cinema and Hollywood ‘talkies’ and dancing to the sounds of the quickstep and foxtrot, such entertainment was deemed by the Roman Catholic Church as immoral and, subsequently, religious leaders enforced a Lenten ban on these activities. Determined to find another means of social interaction, communities took to the stage. The rise in amateur dramatic activity was phenomenal and, with the advent of regional competitive festivals during the 1940s, it remained second only to the GAA in popularity, until the 1970s or so.

Despite the fact that the amateur dramatic tradition played a vital role in Irish society, it is an unjustly neglected aspect of our cultural heritage. Raising the Curtain on Kerry’s Amateur Drama Heritage is aimed at researching and documenting this history.

Believed to be the first community project of its kind, it has received the support of The Heritage Council under the Community Heritage Grant Scheme, to complete work on cataloguing the extensive archival material held in the Museum’s repository. Crucially, its Community Outreach and Oral History Project is central to the work.

Amateur drama was at the very heart of hundreds of communities nationwide, throughout the 40s, 50s and 60s. The project is reliant on the assistance of communities and encourages people to come forward with their stories of drama in their localities, as well as photographs, programmes, scripts, and other memorabilia. As Fiona maintains, based on her experience, there are treasure troves in attics, garages and the like nationwide, that are invaluable to this project.

To facilitate people interested in contributing material to the project Fiona will be available in Kerry Writers’ Museum in Listowel on Saturday September 4th from 11 am to appraise any material people would like to bring along. Fiona is also willing to travel to meet with people to get their stories.

An online lecture on Amateur Drama and the Community will be delivered by Fiona on Thursday September 2nd at 7.30pm. For a free registration link email For more information on the project contact us on 068 22212 or email Fiona at


Dr. Fiona Brennan

A native of Killorglin, Fiona completed a PhD in Drama and Theatre Studies in 2011 and has lectured on many topics including Kerry’s amateur dramatic movement and the Abbey Playwright, George Fitzmaurice. Her lecture: Chasing the Dream: Killarney and the Kerry Drama Festival was part of the OPW Series of Lectures in 2013. She is author of George Fitzmaurice “Wild in His Own Way”: Biography of an Abbey Playwright (Carysfort Press, 2005).

Awards include the Stephen Joseph Award (UK Society for Theatre Research) for her work on private theatricals in Kerry’s Great Houses and an award by Killarney Arts for research on Killarney’s amateur drama movement during the 1940s.

Fiona has undertaken extensive research on neglected women playwrights, including Máirín Cregan and Abbey playwright Pauline Maguire. She recently completed cataloguing and archival work on the extensive Terence MacSwiney Collection in Cork Public Museum, a Decade of Centenaries commission in conjunction with Cork City Council. She is currently completing a critical edition of Terence MacSwiney’s Theatre, due for publication in the coming months.

Theatre-goers will know Fiona from her long association with the Scartaglin based, Sliabh Luachra Drama Group.

“My work as a historian lends itself to creative, imaginative and investigative research and development within the cultural, heritage, and education sectors.”