By Tom Dayton
It was back in 2000 when Founding Father of Kilkenny Musical Society , Donal O’Brien was doing his traditional “go raibh mile maith agaibhs” after a captivating presentation of the Charles Strouse (Music) and Martin Chapman’s (Lyrics) Annie.
A young Callan lassie had given a terrific first-time ever presentation Miss Hannigan in that Musical production.
On the night, and for every evening during the six-night run, a sizeable support for the young Callan lass was seated in the auditorium.
They were nervous for the Callan girl.
O’Brien singled out the performance of the young Callan girl, adding, “ Claire Henriques gave a superb performance as Miss Hannigan, and if you have any more like her out in Callan, send them in here to us”; a remark that brought a warm glow, and extra applause from the Callan crowd.
That was the start of the long association with the theatre for Claire.
To earn the acclaim of her peers like the talented Donal O’Brien would have convinced many that Claire had “arrived”. Her subsequent performances in other productions would lead one to believe that she had a special talent.
She was born in London to a Threecastles nurse, Kitty Lennon, and a Galway born father, Barrie who spent half of his young life in Portarlington.
Like many emigrants, Barrie and Kitty returned to Callan, bought a pub and settled to rear their family of two boys (John and David) and two girls (Claire and Julie).
Life was good for the returned emigrants.
Claire went to St.Brigids in Callan. She developed her own carefree, bubbling, and ensnaring sense of humour.
Her Mam and Dad will tell you that she was a very confident child with a delightful sense of showing off in a childish sense whenever the occasion presented. She was first middle and last when it came to performing in the Primary School Nativity shows with Sr. Louise (Phelan).
Her interest in performing flourished as she progressed through the forms of St. Brigids Secondary College.
A CHALLENGING PERIOD OF LIFE
When Claire was only sixteen years of age, her only sister, Julie, passed away at just fourteen years old.
That event precipitated a long and tough road for a young Claire and her wider family.
Four years later her family were rattled when her mother Kitty was struck down with a double whammy of cancer.
Three years further on Claire broke her back from a fall off a horse, which necessitated major surgery, rods down her spine, and the medical fusion of vertebrae, hospital confinement and rehab for over twelve months.
The turn of the Century was marked for Claire when she was diagnosed with cancer of the lymphatic system.
So life for the young Callan girl was a long way removed from being a bed of roses.
But she was a battler. Even in her darkest days, her faith-although often tested- and her reliance on help she received from her sister, Julie, propped her up.
Eventually her life picked up somewhat. It really couldn’t have made anything but an upward curve, and Claire eventually got back on the horse metaphorically speaking.
THEATRE WAS GREAT RESOURCE
She will admit that her involvement with the theatre, and the friendship, and camaraderie she encountered were elements central to her progressive improvement.
Claire played in a band called the River Kings as female vocalist. With her were John Cullen, John Foley, Gerry Delaney, and Steve O’Connor.
She had played Eliza Dolittle in the St.Brigids College Musical, My Fair Lady. Having completed her second level education, she got involved with the Callan Variety Club. Singing, acting , drama. Claire could handle it all.
She had leading roles in the Variety Club’s productions of Louis Dalton’s The Money Doesn’t Matter, and Thomas Coffey’s Anyone Could Rob a Bank.
As a result of the Annie experience, the people who mattered were quick to recognise her talent with appearances in a couple of Pantomimes.
In 2001 she played Stella to Michael Hayes’ Archie Dean in Peter Kennedy’s “God Bless Archie Dean”-one of the best comedic musicals on the circuit. Claire was nominated for an AIMS Award as Best Comedian.
Still involved in the Panto Carousel, she continued to wow her audiences in productions like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, and many others. From the moment she stepped before the footlights, she positively hypnotised her audience into subjection.
She played Katisha in the much acclaimed Hot Mikado in 2005.
In 2009, Watergate Productions, or should I say the Theatre Manager, Gerry Cody, took a huge gamble when playing Claire opposite Mary Cradock in a production of the Martin Mc Donagh play, “The Beauty Queen of Leenane”.
Claire is married to Trevor Kirwan, and they live in Callan. She has seen employment with Radio Kilkenny, KCLR, Tipp FM., Community Radio Kilkenny City, Supervalu, Avondale Nursing Home. Presently she is employed as a Social Care Worker with S.O.S.. She enjoys a very active lifestyle being a reasonable golfer with the Callan GC; a vicious Kilkenny hurling follower; a marathon runner; a Ring of Kerry cyclist.
Claire appears with Lake Productions in the JB Keane play Moll from March 23 Thomastown Concert Hall.
The cast includes Derek Dooley, Gemma Grant, Sean Hackett, Michael Hayes, Claire Henriques and John Whitely. Director is Gerry Cody and stage manager is Delia Lowery assisted by Cliodhna Ryan. Front of house manager is Dee Gibney. Siobhán Hegarty is in charge of set design and decoration while Brendan Maguire is technical manager.
Booking is available on Eventbrite or by phoning Emily on 0879949093.
This production is being supported by ‘Arts Act Grant scheme from Kilkenny County council