Saturday, June 18, 2005

Memories of Capers

A recent piece on RTE'S Nationwide brought back memories which practically everyone who was in Kilcullen in the 70s will share in some form or other.

The piece was about the 'Tops' annual community shows in Taghmon, Co Wexford. Along with a similar event in Tullow, Co Carlow, they are the only remaining elements of the nationwide John Player Tops of the Towns which, during the 60s and 70s turned many ordinary people around the country into performers of various degrees of polish.

Although Kilcullen was never a direct part of the 'Tops' movement -- I think as a village we were too small at the time -- we did have our very own version, which managed to be at the same time both the most community-building exercise ever undertaken in Kilcullen, and could also have been the most divisive.

So, how many memories of Capers do we have left in Kilcullen? Given the size of the village at the time, it was absolutely amazing how many people got involved in an annual event that finally collapsed into a black hole of envy, paranoia, and sheer competitive consumption of energy.

But before it reached that unfortunate stage, from a one-off week of shows designed to raise money for the Community Council and its projects, it became an annual event which potentially gave every man, woman and child a chance to become a performer on stage, as well as melding the various generations of the community into each other so that there was for a time no age gaps in Kilcullen society.

In addition, it gave a great number of people a chance to be important parts of a number of stage productions, be it back-house designers, painters, prompters, and scenery-shifters, or pre-show scriptwriters and ideas-generators.

I was among those last for a number of shows. And I performed a little too, in shows representing my family's pub.

The first of these was a solo performance, mainly because it was a last minute decision to enter, and I couldn't get a show together. So I brought some of my favourite books, my guitar, and for half an hour I read extracts from Hemingway and others, and sang some of my favourite songs, and got a standing ovation when I finished.

Maybe it was because I was finished?

Anyhow, the next year, also from the Hideout, I produced a recreation of the Donnelly and Cooper bare-knuckle fight on the Curragh, with which the pub has always been associated. And, I promise, I will get back in detail to that particular story another time.

But the stage recreation was a lot of fun, if not a lot of real practice or choreography -- because we only got around to doing it a week before the event. There was plenty of beer-fuelled enthusiasm, though.

And ... we won the pub section that year, possibly because the wild brawl that it became, with the curtain having to be brought down early as everything collapsed in the manner of a rugby scrum which could no longer support itself, attracted a wild audience support.

In a subsequent year I wrote, directed and performed in another Hideout presentation, this time reading poems of my own, about pub characters in a pub setting, which were illustrated live by friends and customers acting out the situations I had penned.

But that's all personal by-the-by. Capers was an awful lot more. I have somewhere -- and I will try and resurrect it and put it on CD -- a taped documentary I did of one of the latter years of the event, which has contributions and soundbites from many organisers, participants, and audience. Some, sadly, are dead. Others still here might have forgotten what they said (and may even wish that I had forgotten about the tape?).

Rather than detail everything that I might remember, or think I remember, what about some Capers contributions from the vast community memory out there?

Give me a call on 086 8267104 if you want to talk about it, or email the Kilcullen Diary.

Brian Byrne.

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