THE CECILIAN MUSOCAL SOCIETY FOUNDED 1919
In 1919 the then Rector of the Sacred Heart College, Father Laurence Potter SJ, wished to raise funds for the renovation of the church organ and sought advice on how best to achieve this. Various suggestions were made, ranging from a choral group to a troupe of Christy Minstrels. It was eventually decided to stage a musical, and so the Crescent Operatic Society was formed. The first show selected was A Greek Slave which was produced at the Theatre Royal in Cecil Street, and ran to great acclaim. The Society continued to perform for most of the 1920's in venues such as The Lyric Theatre, The Athenaeum, and The Coliseum. Fathers Robert Dillon-Kelly and William Paul O’Reilly were prominent in the Society’s activities in that time and organised many of the shows.
In 1924 the name was change to the Cecilian Operatic Society at the suggestion of M.J. Flood, then District Justice in Limerick. In the 1930's the Society did not perform regularly and, it was not until the early 1940's that its activities were reactivated with a series of con- certs and orchestral productions. The Society was now called The Cecilian Musical Society, and under the guidance of Fathers Vincent Dennehy and William Saul. One of the concerts had a performance of Grieg’s Piano Concerto by Mr. Kerry Brady, a nephew of the Musical Director, Father Dennehy.
The development of new buildings at Crescent College in 1947 spurred a new era for the society with regular performances. Father Redmond Roche incorporated an assembly hall which included a stage and dressing rooms into the new development. This became the home of the Cecilians for the next fifty years. The society produced two shows a year and at times a pantomime at Christmas, and on other occasions a concert. Musical direction came from Fathers Joe Kavanagh and Mortimer Glynn and the producer was Conn Shanahan. The orchestra was drawn from the many musicians in the city as well as from the brass bands, most notably the Boherbuoy.
Television was still over ten years away, and cinema and theatre were the main means of entertainment.
Following the departure of Father Kavanagh, the baton was assumed by Father Tom McMahon, who gave magnificent service to the Cecilians both musically and creatively with set construction and design.
Father McMahon conducted over thirty shows for the Cecilians, and his transfer to Galway in 1962 was a great loss to the society. In later years Paddy O’Flynn, Kieran O’Goman and Paddy McCormack all took on the role of musical director.
As the society approached the 1960's, Father Stephen Bates was now in charge. The style of shows changes with the advent of the new American shows such as Oklahoma, Showboat and The King and I. In 1959, The Merry Widow came to town, and was so successful it had to be extended for an additional three nights.
In 1969 a major development took place with the production of My Fair Lady. This saw the departure from the Society’s amateur tradition. Miss Joyce Bradfield from London came to produce with musical director from the Curragh, Captain Denis Mellerick. The overall result was a new beginning for the Society, and the show ran for two weeks with the ‘house full’ sign on display throughout. The effect Joyce Bradfield had on the society was immense, and she came back to Limerick many times to produce for the Cecilians.
Changes took place at the school in the early 1970s with the establishment of the new Crescent College Comprehensive in Dooradoyle. Father Bates became Superior of the Sacred Heart Church, and at the same time maintained his interest in the Cecilians. It was felt that new structures should be put in place to allow for the smooth running of the Society. A committee, with Father Bates as President and Jim Griffin as Chairman, and with five men and five women, was elected.
With the coming of the 1980s and the retirement of Father Bates as Superior, the Society was fortunate in that his replacement, Father Jack Smyth SJ, was himself a most accomplished musician who assumed the role of accompanist.
In 1979 the Society gave a concert for three nights to celebrate its seventieth anniversary. The death of Fa- ther Bates in 1990 was truly the end of an era; he had been involved with the Cecilians for over forty years, and his dedication and attention to detail established the society on the footing it enjoys today.
In 1994 under the direction of Vincent Prendergast a concert entitled ‘Voices and Brass’ was given jointly with the Boherbuoy Band, with Paddy McCormack as Musical Director, and it proved to be very popular choice with nostalgia being the order of the evening.
Some of the musical directors who took the baton in include Derbhile de Paor, Bryan Meehan, Maura Keary-Scanlon and Martin Lennon.
The structure of the Cecilian committee had as a condition that the Superior of the Jesuit Community in the Crescent would be President. The last member of the community to fill this role was the late Father Dan Dargan. His time in Limerick, unfortunately coincided with the sale of the Hall and effectively the Cecilians were without a home after fifty years. The new owners John and Margaret O’Halloran, kindly accommodated the Society until 2004, with performances moving to the Concert Hall.
The society, now in its hundredth and first year had Aidan Boucher as its first lay president, followed by Phil O’Neill and now Brian Henry. Members who have acted as chairperson include Geraldine Byrnes, Sylvia McCloskey, Phil O’Neill, Joan Looney, Breda Enright, Ann Carey, Ray Burke, Paul Donnellan, Joe Don- nellan, John Ryan, Brian Henry, Tony Daly, Marian McLoughlin, Ann Quinn, Niamh Morrison, Olivia Parkinson, Anne-Maire Mulcahy, Jamie Purcell, Jason Ronan and Glen Carr.
Following the construction of the state of the art Lime Tree Theatre in Mary Immaculate College, the Society feathered a new home in this 510 seater. In recent times the Society has performed more modern shows such as The Producers, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and All Shook Up. These have all reached an exceptionally high standard with Des Henn as director and Barbara Meany as choreographer. The society has won and been nominated for AIMS awards on numerous occasions. Musical directors in recent times have been Noel Lennon, Shane Farrell and now Michael Young.
The society continues to go from strength to strength and increase the professionalism of each show. With numerous events planned to mark the centenary, let’s hope that the next hundred are as fruitful.