Thursday, January 12, 2012
That word might not mean a great lot to many people.
Tops of the Parish
An alien term to many.
But for me – its personal!
Allow me to share my “Tops” story. Because it’s a story of volunteering and a story of “fitting in” and a story of sharing talent and a story of belonging.
Tops of the parish was the name of a variety show competition held in my native hometown of Rathmore County Kerry Ireland. It was an event ran by the local Gaelic Athletic Association (The GAA) most famous for Gaelic football and hurling. It helped raise money for the Rathmore GAA.
Tops of the Parish or “Tops” had a great impact on the life of this man.
Huge in fact.
Gaelic football is huge in the county I was born in. County Kerry is to Gaelic football what Manchester United is to “soccer” . Many Kerry men have the gift of the footballer. Alas this writer did not. What made the predicament worse for this writer is the fact that he was endowed with two of his three brothers who were quite talented at football. Two lads who made the Kerry Minor football team! Two lads who went to the same primary school as yours truly. Yet I was hopeless. I couldn’t catch a ball if you paid me. A teacher once informed me that “I was as lazy on the football field as I was in the classroom”. That does a lot for the confidence of an 11 year old!
By the age of 16 I had given up the pretence of liking to play football. Don’t get me wrong – I wished I could play! I followed the Kerry team with just as much devotion as any GAA fan. But I didn’t have the talent of my brothers before me. That made it a little difficult. And then I discovered acting…or as it was known then in my parish..Tops Of The Parish!
My parish was broken into four segments – The Village, Shinnagh, The Bower and my own locality – Shrone!
Each of us on a yearly basis produced a variety show that involved volunteers from their respective communities. The part of County Kerry where I hailed from was already enriched by the glorious talents of singers, writers and musicians. “Tops” encapsulated a local desire to share their talent. It was community theatre at its best and strongest.
And it was magic!
Local youth was heavily involved. My first time on stage was when I was 13 singing a line from a song that was totally in the Irish language. I still remember the director’s name – Daniel Vincent! Shrone won Tops that year! I was never to be part of a winning entry again!
Every year, hundreds of volunteers met in 4 different locations to plot their victory in this comp. And I loved every minute of it. It shaped our youth. We had to be disciplined but we had fun. We respected those who had treaded the boards for years.
It encouraged singers, actors, musicians and comedians. There would be two semi finals and a final. The local community hall in Rathmore would always be packed with hundreds cheering on their own team yet enjoying the efforts of the opposition. It gave birth to so much creativity.
It gave me my interest in acting. Since Tops I have acted with groups for the last 30 years. As an amateur of course. However I once acted in an amateur theatre company with Michael Fassbender in Killarney and sometimes wonder what life could have been like had things turned out differently. I mean he could have turned out to be a happy bloke with a great family in a great country like Australia!!
I write this little piece now because TOPS is dead. It’s been dead for many years. It’s been replaced by fundraisers such as local lotto’s and other methods of raising revenue.
There is a local pantomime group in my old parish and they do a great job. Their volunteers harness local talent and there will always be a place for groups such as this. But TOPS had a difference. A competitive edge. And it made people like me, who didn’t have the prowess in football, proud to support my local GAA through my other talents.
In a world that is so becoming social media there is a longing for old fashioned local interaction.
Tops of the Parish needs to return to give our youth another avenue of interaction. It needs to be there for the artistic side of our community and it needs to be there to carry on tradition which it does so well in so many other areas!
So says the expat in Australia. And if you need a judge for the final all I will charge is the Return trip!
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