The death of Joe Cleere has left hearts in smithereens

‘The Roaring Banshees’ production by Devious theatre took Smock Alley theatre by storm. (photo Ross Costigan)

In a week that saw the passing of local actor Joe Cleere, former Watergate manager Ger Cody remembers the fun-loving Joe

– He brought a unique, joyous presence to everything he was involved with –

When former head honcho of Dreamstuff theatre group and Young Irish Film makers, Mike Kelly phones and says “let’s do coffee”, you know there’s something in the offing.

And so it was, when he phoned the Watergate in and around 1993.

The hour long coffee was by way of sussing out The Watergate about having his ‘Dreamstuff family’ perform some Shakespeare and ‘suchlike’ at the recently opened municipal theatre.

‘Suchlike’, should have sounded warning bells.

In an ordinary negotiation, having Shakespeare performed in the 328 seat venue would appear to be a reasonable proposition.

It would be a few weeks later when the affable Mike would explain that the show would be slightly different than the normal and that certain license would be taken on the Bards work.

That, we would discover, was putting in mildly!

‘Though the exact details of the production don’t come to mind, it was akin to the young lad of the Montague family arriving on stage riding a Honda 50 with Mrs. Capulet’s daughter in tattered jeans and using a mobile phone.

As I say, not exactly that, but you get the picture.



When the cast and crew arrived for their first rehearsal it was difficult to make out what was going on.

If memory serves correctly, most were young teenagers, and the green room served as a spot where homework was completed, rehearsals were planned, loud music tested the sound barrier and where tubes of Pringles and cheap pizzas were devoured. Indeed the theatres decibel level was tested on more than one occasion.

They were loud, excitable, energetic, unscripted, and lived their lives as if improvisation was par for the theatrical course.

Oh, yes. And mannerly, obliging, and very, very decent young men and women.

The theatrical seed sown by Kelly and his team was possibly one of the most important artistic things to happen in the 90’s. Apart from the opening of the theatre, the formation of this aforementioned group was to prove massive.

This band of merry men and women were to become an annual fixture, and much cherished cog in the Watergate calendar.

When one looks at today’s theatre and film work, both nationally and internationally, many of those raucous youngsters who ran riot at the ‘Savoy’ are now to the forefront of film and theatre, both on and offstage.

Names like Morton, McGuire, Doheny, Moyles, Moroney, Dunne, Doran, Mooney, Costigan, Fleck-Byrne, Slattery and Thompson.

The list is endless.



Another name that needs to be included is Tullaroan man Joe Cleere.

Joe epitomised the very ethos of the Dreamstuff team.

Commitment, dedication, respect and a fair dollop of ensuring that laughter and enjoyment was part and parcel of every rehearsal and performance, went hand in hand with Joes work.

Joe would be the first to tell you that the fact his baptismal cert came from the same village that christened hurling legend Lory Meagher, meant he had a head start on others.

There was no doubting that Joe was proud of his native Tullaroan.

“The high altitude on the hills of Tullaroan meant we had an extra charisma that separates us from town folk”, Joe would quip.

“Club before county” was his mantra. “Club before county”

Last week, the sad news of Joe Cleeres death broke in Kilkenny.

To say many hearts are broken would be an understatement.

That hearts are in smithereens would be closer to the mark.

The theatre fraternity in particular, but Kilkenny people in general were deeply saddened to hear of the death of this talented and fun loving man.



Speaking to The Kilkenny Observer, founding member of Young Irish Film Makers Mike Kelly said he was shocked to hear of Joes death.

“Joe will be deeply missed by all his friends in YIFM and Dreamstuff Youth Theatre.

He brought a unique, joyous presence to everything he was involved in”, said Mike.

The atmosphere in the rehearsal room was always brighter when Joe was in attendance”, added Mike.



Niamh Moroney, one of the founding members of Devious theatre said that Joes death brought enormous grief to the city.

He was always up for our crazy ideas. He was such a positive beam of light. He was always on board with the plan, and was a deeply caring soul who just wanted the best for everyone. He cared about us all so much and in turn was so loved by every group he was a part of including Dreamstuff, the Gaiety, the gang from Thomastown, the Zoo and the Chili Pengiun.

Niamh went on to say that everything that Joe did, he did with style.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that he was adored in the community and his going is a massive loss to the Kilkenny community”, continued Niamh.

According to Niamh, Joe was a piece of the puzzle of their identity as a community and things will genuinely not be the same without him.



Kilkenny writer and actor John Morton, had this to say about Joe:

“Joe Cleere was a kind, warm, funny man and a brilliant performer who shared his immense talents with us in Dreamstuff Youth Theatre for many years. Joe worked regularly in panto, TV and film in the years that followed and he shared his talents with audiences all over Ireland. He performed in the famous Gaiety panto for years and had a strong presence on the panto scene. Everyone loved working with Joe. He was a great friend and he’ll be sorely missed.”

Joe is survived by parents Brenda and Milo and brothers and sisters Marieann, Jamie, Jenny, Milo, Peggy, and many friends.

Following requiem mass at St John’s church, a guard of honour was formed by theatre colleagues and accompanied by a round of applause as the hearse left the church ground for St Kieran’s cemetery


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