Unveiled portrait of PJ Lenihan a welcome addition to the Dean Crowe Theatre

As the All Ireland Drama Festival reaches its conclusion, local councillor Aengus O’Rourke has paid due tribute to artist Ruth Ryan whose recent portrait of PJ Lenihan now adorns the wall of the Dean Crowe Theatre.

Speaking to the Athlone Advertiser, Cllr O’Rourke stated that his late grandfather was one of the main innovators of the inaugural All Ireland Drama Festival in 1953.

“A new portrait of my late grandfather PJ Lenihan, expertly painted by artist Ruth Ryan, is now hanging in the Dean Crowe Theatre & Arts Centre,” Cllr O’Rourke said. “PJ needs to be remembered not only as a politician who ably represented Athlone, but also as one of the main innovators behind the very first All Ireland Drama Festival.

“Gearóid O’Brien’s all encompassing book [All Ireland Drama Festival Athlone, 1953-2002] details the festival showing its history from the very beginning. Great credit goes to Gearóid for his careful archiving. It was Gearóid’s father Brendan O’Brien who was the first director of the All Ireland Drama Festival [1953], and who, along with PJ Lenihan, was instrumental in putting Athlone forward as the ideal location in which to stage an annual festival such as this.

“This is the fifth such portrait that Ruth has painted with a ‘theatrical’ link. Her first was that of Cecil Sheridan, which was hung in the Olympia Theatre in Dublin,” Cllr O’Rourke added.

“Growing up in Athlone, Ruth was always on the periphery of drama. Her father PG O’Dea, a teacher at the Tech, was also a prolific playwright, who gave voice to the people of rural Ireland through his many comedies, loved throughout the country. His best loved play Johnnie’s Britches was stated by The Wexford Press to be ‘the play that has thrilled the entire country!’

“Culture Night’s first event in Athlone [2010] saw a reading of the play at Passionfruit Theatre. The enthusiasm shown by Passionfruit founder, Joe Ducke, to open a third Athlone theatre prompted Ruth to present her portrait of him to his daughter Fiona, who ably took up the mantle on his behalf. After the reading on Culture Night, Passionfruit brought the full three-act comedy to the stage. This saw a new run of PG’s plays, the last three being staged in the USA.

“While visiting the Dean Crowe Theatre during that time, Ruth noticed an absence of a portrait of the first director Brendan O’Brien [1953]. She thought this amiss, and decided to rectify the omission by painting his portrait and submitting it, along with her father’s, to the Dean Crowe Theatre.

“PJ Lenihan’s portrait emerged in a similar manner and it was while reading up on the beginnings of the festival that Ruth saw another omission and realised how important PJ had been in its formation.

“All contemporaries, PJ Lenihan, Brendan O’Brien and playwright PG O’Dea are now proudly displayed in the Dean Crowe Theatre and what better time to bring these three stalwarts together, as the RTE All Ireland Drama Festival 2024 graces this renowned Athlone stage,” Cllr O’Rourke concluded.


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