There was no advance notice; none that I heard of at any rate. It just arrived – and with it a greater excitement than birthdays, first day of school holidays, or maybe even Christmas itself. From the moment the first brightly coloured wagon pulled in at the crossroads, or the first peg was driven to erect a tent, (before they became marquees) the word would spread rapidly.
No posters needed, no glossy advertisements – and of course no social media. Paddy Reilly might shout the news from his yard, or one of my brothers arriving home from the shop, would almost explode while breathlessly announcing, ‘the show is after coming to Drumcree!’
A travelling show might come to the village once or twice a year. The type of entertainment varied immensely, but to us children it didn’t matter: Whether it be Pictures, Plays, Drama and Variety, or Clowns with Trapeze Artists, Swinging Boats, Dancing Ponies and Puppets … it didn’t matter a hoot. It all came under the heading of ‘the show’, and all that mattered was that ‘there is a show in Drumcree.’
‘The Show’ could be sited on any one of three locations; the ball-alley, Harry Reilly’s field, or the Protestant School. The show in the Protestant School always consisted of drama and variety. Plays, singing, comedy and the night usually concluded with a ‘sketch.’ As a young boy I didn’t understand many of the plays, other than the funny sketches.
Two clips from such performances are firmly embedded in my mind. One is taken from the play. ‘Murder in the Red Barn’. After the villain of the play had killed the very beautiful Maria Martin, he remorsefully kneeled by her body, wailing at the roof; “what’ll I do ….what’ll I do …” You could hear a pin drop and that is why the outrageously improper advice muttered by a lad who came in late and all the worse for drink, was overheard by everybody present!
I had never laughed as much in my previous thirteen summers, as I did one night at the final act of a sketch. Tom Grimes was a local character. An eccentric old bachelor, he resembled a scarecrow – with no intended offence to scarecrows. The sketch consisted of two suitors vying for the hand of the most beautiful maiden.
In the finish up, they fought a dual over her, but both were fatally wounded. With this, the lovely lady announced how happy she was because now she could marry her one true love. Enter stage left … Tom Grimes – as the place went wild!
In Harry Reilly’s field there were swinging boats, a tent showing off dancing ponies, trapeze artists and tight-rope walkers: A dwarf, introduced as ‘the smallest man on earth’ and a male fortune teller, who claimed to be the only one ever approved by Maynooth!
The tent in the ball-alley once ran a whole week of George Formby films. I just loved them and all I dreamed of becoming was a ukulele player. I cried during one film, where a ‘nag’ of a horse turned out to be a champion racer and the young owner/jockey was blackguarded in the finish up.
The travelling show always stayed a week, and one week only. Money was tight in our house, but Willie, Sean and myself would always be promised, and given the money for ‘one show – and you can pick your night.’ We picked the first night, in the hope that ‘he who feedith the birds’ … etc., might come up trumps later in the week.
It never failed and either parent would stump up one more time. Then there might be an aunt visiting, or a little job to be done for a neighbour. Looking back, I know I averaged four out of the seven nights … by hook or by crook!’
The show I remember most of all was one particular closing show on a Saturday night. There was no money to be had that morning – and we had used up our quota of begging, borrowing and blackmailing.
Then around lunchtime I found my younger brother, Willie, rummaging at the butts of the bushes at the back of the house. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Look at these bottles”, was his reply. “Briody’s Shop will give tuppence refund on every bottle brought in. We need to wash these in the river.”
Mrs Briody was a kindly woman. She knew well that not all of the 18 bottles had come from her shop, but she also appreciated what these two bags of bottles meant to the young Comaskeys, on the day that was in it. The only ones rejected were a castor oil bottle and two thirty year old corked porter bottles.
What a night it turned out to be! And what a feed of bulls-eyes were sucked at that show; ‘the greatest show on earth!!’
Don’t Forget – Appreciate what you have before you haven’t.