What better way to celebrate Portlaoise than focusing on two proud Town women who give a unique snapshot of their birthplace in a new documentary.
Pauline Sythes and Catherine Quigley played an instrumental part in radio presenter Ann Marie Kelly’s video documentary, ‘Walking Back To My Heart’.
The two women were in the Presentation Convent Band over 50 years ago, which marched on Main Street.
The band held a reunion in Mount Saint Anne’s, Killenard, which was a monumental part of the documentary.
We sat down in Pauline’s home on the Green Road, where she has lived all of her life.
Pauline and Catherine were in their pre-teens and early teenage years when they joined the marching band and spoke about the happy memories they had from those times, along with changes they’ve seen go through Portlaoise.
“Stewart called to me looking for a photograph of the band and as it happens I did have one buried in the attic. He went on from there to gather up women in the band,” said Catherine.
“It was after-school practice. Sister Finbarr took it on after school and Saturdays. She gave up her time for us but we were children, we didn’t realise that. We thought it was for school,” said Catherine.
Catherine and Pauline both come from musical families, and took up the marching band positions with ease. Pauline played the side drum in the band and kept time while Catherine the piano accordion.
Both women were taught how to march by another well-known face in the Town, Dick Sydes.
Catherine’s love of music has carried on through the years, as she went on to teach the girls choir herself as well as leading the church choir.
Both women spoke about the changes over 50 years in the main street, from the hustle and bustle of their schooldays, to a lack of attraction to the centre of the town.
“There’s very little there anymore. When you go around by the convent it’s very sad altogether,”
“When the school used to used to be there, there was kids and parents and older children used to be coming out at dinner time and in that end of the town there would be a buzz,” said Pauline.
“When you think about back when we were younger and the sessions going up to the shrine and we’d be singing hymns and the life of it,” she added.
“But in those days the nuns weren’t allowed out of the Convent,” injected Catherine.
“If we were sent out to march on St Patrick’s Day or whenever Sister Finbarr couldn’t come. There was no-one there to supervise you but daren’t you breathe the wrong way! Only for Dick Sydes we were lost!” said Catherine.
However strict the rules might have been, both Pauline and Catherine praised Sister Finbarr for her work with the band.
“She put in great time with us, you wouldn’t see it nowadays. She said on the day of the reunion that it was a whole new lease of life for her” said Catherine.
“That was probably an outlet for her too,” Pauline agreed.
Ann Duggan later took over the marching band which has been disbanded since, much to the dismay of Catherine and Pauline.
Speaking about the new documentary, both women gave huge approval towards Ann Marie’s work.
“To go back on it, and see yourself in a clip at 12 or 13, I never thought I’d see it,” added Pauline.
“It was brilliant, I really enjoyed it. It was sad, very sad, but brilliant. Sad in the fact that it was very sad to see the convent the way it was.
“To us it seems like only a few years ago but really it’s 50 years ago. A lifetime ago,” said Catherine.
Looking at the documentary also brings both happiness and sadness to the two, as their friend Jennifer Lanham passed away since the reunion was filmed.
“She was beautiful. Beautiful and very funny. When we went to the reunion she was very glamourous applying her lipstick – and there was no one there only Sister Finbarr!” laughed Catherine.
‘Walking Back To My Heart’ premieres in the Dunamaise Arts Centre, Portlaoise on Monday, December 17, at 7pm.
Shot over the course of three years, the film focuses on stories from the past and looks to re-imagine the future of Portlaoise through the eyes of a group of 12 children led on a walk around the heart of the town by renowned local poet and author Pat Boran.
Containing previously unseen archive footage of the town and its people, Pat revisits his childhood classroom in the Convent, and in the course of his journey with the children, finds hidden amidst the decayed areas surrounding the Main Street the possibility of new life.
The film is currently being submitted for consideration on the international film festival circuit and is supported by Creative Ireland funding.
Tickets for the event are priced at €7 with all proceeds being donated to the special needs classes of Holy Family Junior School. There will also be a Q&A with the production team after the screening.