Report by: Kevin Walsh.
If all the world’s a stage according to Shakespeare, then we in Fermoy Toastmasters bring the insights and experience of the theatre of life to illuminate and enrich all the meetings of our club. So it was most apt therefore that on the evening of October 23rd that for our Humorous Speech and Topics Contest we should have left our regular meeting room in the Youth Centre to go down the hall to what was once known as the Palace Theatre for a tremendous evening of pleasure and good cheer.
For so long this venue has been at the centre of the cultural and recreational life of the whole community and holds so many great and happy memories of brilliant musical productions of the Choral Society with its heyday under the baton of the late Edward Carroll, a time so fondly recalled by Mairead Barry for the glamour and entertainment that was given in what were otherwise markedly drab times. Of course the Palace also doubled up as a cinema so delightfully evoked by John Kelly who told of being there with his wife Marie watching the classic movie Wuthering Heights and walking home afterwards on a bitterly cold winter’s night with the heart so warm with youthful promise and hope, a warmth that John continues so joyfully to share with all of us in his very special kindness and friendship. Music, comedy, films, magical images of so many wonderful local performers who graced that stage across the decades who gave of all of their talents, enthusiasm and commitment to bring happiness and gaiety into the lives of so many generations. And that vibrant local tradition lives on in this place with the young stars who continue to celebrate the glory of live entertainment here.
The top table party of Club President Eilish Ui Bhriain, Contest Chairman David Walsh and Topicsmaster Kevin O’Neil sat on the elevated stage with the audience scattered through the auditorium. Eilish introduced the proceedings with words of warm welcome and well-chosen quotes from that great humorist Spike Milligan who after a lifetime of making people laugh, left this world as he lived: the undaunted eternal jester having inscribed on his headstone the legend, ‘I told you I was sick’.
Then control of the meeting was passed to David Walsh who evoked the memory of his dear late parents, John and Margaret Anne Walsh, who met on this very stage while taking part in a production of Lilac Time, a much-loved musical comedy loosely based on the life of composer Franz Schubert. Each night the performance ended with their getting married; afterwards they would do it for real. To them indeed music truly was the food of love and the story goes on all the way down across the years to this very recent October evening we were here to celebrate the joy of life once again at this special gathering of Toastmasters.
Kevin O’Neill offered us a selection of well-chosen topics that got everyone – both our own members and very welcome visiting judges from Mallow – into the swing of things, rising to their feet and sharing their thoughts and views readily and spontaneously in unscripted brief contributions that swiftly built up a refreshing and bubbly atmosphere that had everyone in a good and eagerly receptive mood for the speeches to follow.
In the normal run of things a regular speech is of no more than five to seven minutes’ duration, with a green light showing at five minutes, the amber at six and the red at seven. In competition this time limit is all the more emphatic for after the timekeeper puts on the red light at seven minutes, just thirty seconds’ grace is allowed before the speaker incurs automatic disqualification even though needless to say no sign of this is given. And all the more pleasant it is to say that on this very special evening all speakers utilised their time to the full without exceeding it. We were treated to four absolutely delightful comic speeches from some of our best and most dedicated members who in this temple of entertainment, presented themselves to the listeners with that winning spirit of giving of their very best purely for the joy and the love of it all.
Jerry Hennessy told the story of an eccentric but lovable couple named Con and Mag and of their hilarious adventures in their remote mountainous farm. Like the stormy night when a visitor arrived and conditions precluding his travelling on any further, obliging the odd couple and their guest to share the same bed for the night. Now it transpired that Mag had baked a delicious apple tart that day and when in the middle of the night as the wind and rain howled and poor old Con was obliged to venture out for his necessities, Mag whispered excitedly to the visitor: ‘Now’s Your Chance’. Whereupon the happy gentleman helped himself to a share of the pastry! These and other amusing episodes vividly portrayed these engaging characters that embodied a way of rural life which has now disappeared forever.
Michael Sheehan then ascended the stage to take us on a light-hearted and whimsical tour of Ireland, a gentle seven minute whirlwind of exploration and adventure that carried us to the four corners of this island, from the banks of the Shannon to the rugged western coast with its thunderous waters, stopping off at all the principal cities with many wry comments and droll quips along the way, making our dear ancient land fully present and real to us in the gift of imagination through the painting of so many appealing word pictures and clever puns as for instance with the town of Mallow conjuring an image of irresistible festive Halloween chocolate mallows of which Michael brought a large box to share with one for everybody in the audience and then some!
Kevin Walsh remembered some of the great local characters that his late Mother often spoke of and fondly remembered in her native Cappoquin and also those whom he came to know himself in Fermoy, extraordinary people like Jack Devine, Sheila Dermody and Tommy Condon the housepainter. They have all long since glimmered off into the things of yesterday but in Kevin’s words something of them returned again with all of their humour and goodness of heart, drawing also on their originality, their gifts and ability just to be themselves that sends a still very relevant message to all of us today.
Mary Whelan presented a beautifully well-crafted speech woven around her various attempts to declutter; quoting a noted Japanese author on the subject that to get rid of anything sparks joy. Mary deftly explored this theme balancing the desirable objective of attaining neatness and order with the importance of holding on to that richness of memorabilia that connects us to who we are. And sometimes by not throwing out what may seem worthless and superfluous as when Mary told of having acquired a folding seat to be used at the recent open air Papal Mass in the Phoenix Park Dublin, only to discover that it was of a type not allowed by the organisers leaving her having to face the dreary prospect of a very long and exhausting stand. Until she remembered the light folding seat lying in the attic ever since the visit of Pope John Paul in 1979 which provided comfort and rest in the waiting hours and throughout the beautiful ritual celebrated by Pope Francis that August Sunday afternoon on the doorstep of the nation’s capital.
A short tea break was then observed inside the room just off the main theatre all filled with the sounds of conversation and laughter, followed by a quick resumption for the Topics Contest. Our four contestants except the first drawn left the theatre and were then recalled in turn to each speak for two minutes on the likely impact of the increased VAT rate on the hotel sector announced in the recent Budget. Kevin Walsh spoke passionately of his belief that the extra revenue thus raised would help to combat such issues as homelessness and hospital overcrowding, with the other speakers – John Kelly, Michael Sheehan and Tim Fitzgerald – broadly taking the view that the hotel and catering sector can carry this burden for the sake of those most in need of help. Then once again the judges’ ballots were marked, gathered and counted. After a further brief topics session, Chairman David Walsh then announced the results of the two contests, beginning with the Topics where Kevin Walsh and John Kelly emerged as First and Second. In the Humorous Speeches, Mary Whelan and Kevin Walsh were accorded First and Second places. All of the aforementioned will go on to take part again in the Area Contest which will be held in Fermoy Youth Centre on Tuesday evening next, November 6th at 8.15 pm, where speakers from the Mallow and Charleville Clubs will also participate.
We all greatly enjoyed our evening of fun at the theatre. However our more usual intimate setting is far more congenial and appropriate for our group and we look forward to returning there on that night and on the many other nights to come throughout the current season. We hope you will join us for a great evening of entertainment and pleasure. For further information, please contact Mary Whelan at 087 7971006 or Kevin Walsh at 058 60100 or log on to our mobile-friendly website toastmastersfermoy.com.