Nóra Relihan has been chosen by the Kerry Association in Dublin as the 2023 recipient of the Kerry Association in Dublin Arts Award in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the Arts.
Nóra was an actor with Listowel Drama Group and Listowel Players, a Director, Adjudicator, Entertainer, Broadcaster, Writer, Nurse, Social Worker, Co-founder of the Listowel Players in 1959, Writers Week in 1971 and St John’s Theatre and Arts Centre in 1987. Member of the Arts Council and was accorded a Civic Reception in Listowel in 2008 in recognition of her prestigious contribution to the Arts.
Born in Abbeyfeale in 1929, Nóra Ryle, as she was then known, was educated at Killorglin National School, Presentation Convent Milltown and Presentation Convent, Hospital, Co. Limerick. Nóra was nurtured and encouraged by her exposure to theatre while a student nurse in Guy’s Hospital in London. While there she seized every opportunity to attend and watch plays, operas and musicals. She settled in Listowel in 1952 and there later married Michael Relihan.
It was the late Eamon Kelly who was a woodwork teacher in Listowel, and very involved with Listowel Drama Group with his late friend Bryan MacMahon, who first put Nóra on stage. Nóra became friends with John B. Keane when she returned from London. In 1958 John B saw Nóra’s prize-winning production of Joseph Tomelty’s play “All Souls Night”. According to Nóra, he was not greatly impressed, and he told her he was going to write a play himself. John Bs first play – SIVE – emerged. Nóra was cast as Mena Galvin, in her first character part, and Mena was part of her life until the early 1980’s. The play opened in February 1958 at Walsh’s Ballroom in Listowel. Drama festival after drama festival brought major awards, ending triumphantly with All Ireland honours in Athlone, and the highest recognition of all from the Abbey Theatre. Listowel Drama Group were invited to present SIVE in the Abbey Theatre in May 1959, an invitation that was extended before the All-Ireland final. In late 1959 Nóra joined a professional company, which included the late Eamon Keane and J.G. Devlin, for a short season in the Grand Opera House, Belfast. Very shortly after that Nóra, with John B. Keane, founded the Listowel Players and chose SIVE as their first production. A great many of the original cast played their original parts plus John B. himself and his late brother, Eamon.
Ernest Blythe then expressed an interest in Nóra joining the Abbey Theatre Players, but a very small girl in Listowel won that contest and they finished their season at the Wexford Opera Festival. For years afterwards Nóra applied herself to many acting roles with Listowel Players, as well as being producer and stage manager at various times. It is interesting to note that in 1966 when she was involved in O’Casey’s “The Plough and the Stars”, commemorating the 1916 Rising she contacted Gerry Fitt, of the SDLP, from West Belfast, who acceded to her request that his own flag “The Plough and the Stars” be on stage each night in the Sluagh Hall in Listowel during her performances of the play there.
Nóra herself delighted in location drama. Two of these location dramas are particularly memorable – one depicting the work of Maurice Walsh and the other “The Colleen Bawn” in Glin in 1973, with Nóra playing the role of Ellen Walsh.
The existence of St John’s Theatre and Arts Centre, and its outstanding contribution to the Arts in Listowel for over thirty years is due in no small measure to the vision, courage and single-mindedness of Nóra. A meeting of Listowel Urban District Council was convened by the Chairman, Robert Pierce, who proposed that an ad-hoc Committee be set up to decide what would be done with St John’s and that Nóra be Chairman of the Committee. St John’s Founding Committee was established in 1987 under Nóra’s Chairmanship.
At this stage Nóra was recognised throughout Ireland and further afield as a woman of extraordinary ability, immense creativity, single minded vision and great courage. These artistic and personal qualities resulted in her being invited to become a member of the Arts Council. She used this position with discretion and wisdom to further her ambitions for St John’s.
The book “North Kerry, the Magic and Legend”, co-written by Nóra and Padraig O Concubhair, and illustrated with Olive Stacks unique original paintings was published in 2006. It gives the reader a unique perspective into the many facets of the landscape and environs of North Kerry.
Nóra had a varied career throughout her lifetime with solo tours, drama, TV, and film appearances, including “Fair City” and TG4 film “Limbo”. Her one woman show “Cúirt an Mhéan Óiche” was first produced by Stephen Holland and Barry Cassin later produced it in 1991 for Writers Week in Listowel.
Many tributes have been paid to Nóra over the years. One that is especially dear to her was a civic reception accorded to her on 31st August 2008 in Listowel. On that night a lifetime of acting excellence bringing great renown to drama in Listowel was celebrated in her honour. To top it all Nóra also worked as a social worker for the blind for 30 years.
In accepting the award Nóra Relihan said:
“I am delighted and honoured to receive this award from the Kerry Association; it is a really lovely tribute to my interest and work in the arts over many decades:.
Photo By: Domnick Walsh – Eye Focus LTD – 087 2672033