Mayo group celebrate historic victory in All-Ireland drama finals

On their maiden voyage on the One-Act Circuit, the Claremorris-based drama group has taken top honours in the national competition

The Ray Leonard Players from Claremorris are celebrating an historic victory this morning, after taking national glory in the All-Ireland One-Act Drama Finals last night.

The competition took place in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, across the weekend, with the winners announced late.

Performing Carl Nuzum’s powerful play, ‘A Night Without Stars’, The Ray Leonard Players were named overall winners in the Confined section of the competition, with the group’s leading lights, Robert Holden and Vera Kilgallon, named Best Male and Best Female Actors respectively.

This is the first time The Ray Leonard Players stepped onto the One-Act circuit, while also marking a directorial debut for Tim Oates.

Alongside Tim, Mary Esler came on board as Producer, with Billy Freeley on sound and light.

The show starred Robert Holden (Man), Vera Kilgannon (Tara), Marion Walsh-McGuire (Bridie), Bríd Roe (Francie), John Fallon (Mike), and Des Pollard (Priest).

The Ray Leonard Players faced stiff competition on the festival circuit in recent weeks, meeting the best of the best in the national competition over the weekend.

An excellent achievement to qualify for the All-Ireland Finals, the cast and crew were not expecting to take the top spot on Sunday night.

Speaking after the prize-giving ceremony, director Tim Oates said: “We are absolutely delighted with the result and to be honest, it’s still sinking in.

"Our win in Castleblayney comes down to a really fantastic team effort. We had great teamwork from everyone right from the very beginning, and it was a hugely positive experience for all of us.

"We definitely didn’t expect to win, but it’s an amazing feeling and I’m thrilled for the entire cast and crew, and of course for Robert and Vera who also took the Best Male and Female Actor Awards.”

Only in being a few short years, The Ray Leonard Players was established to honour and perpetuate the memory of the late Ray Leonard, who was synonymous with drama across the west of Ireland throughout his life. Ray – who passed away in 2005 – was a director, producer and mentor who made an outstanding contribution to drama, musicals and stagecraft.

He was a great friend and a massive inspiration to the group’s founding members, and to countless other performers around the region.

He was passionate about the stage and was affectionately known as ‘Mr Drama’ in Claremorris and indeed all across the west of Ireland.

Picture caption: The Ray Leonard Players from Claremorris took the top spot in the All-Ireland One-Act Drama Finals. Pictured at the prize-giving ceremony, back row, left-right: Marion Walsh-McGuire (Bridie), John Fallon (Mike), Bríd Roe (Francie), Des Pollard (Priest), Mary Esler (Producer), Billy Freeley (lighting). Front row, left-right: Tim Oates (Director), Robert Holden (Man), Ciaran McCauley (Adjudicator), Rita Connell (Castleblayney Festival Chairperson), Vera Kilgannon (Tara), and Coman Keaveney (Chairman of ADCI).