One of the highlights of the summer/autumn season was the return of Roscommon Drama Group’s presentation of ‘A Lone Furrow’, a period play written specially for the Group by local man Tommy Murray. It told the story of Aleen Cust, the first female veterinary surgeon in Britain and Ireland, who was based in Athleague some one hundred years ago.
Even though she had successfully completed her studies at Edinburgh Veterinary College, the Royal Council of Veterinary Surgeons would not allow her to sit their professional Diploma, just because she was a woman. In his beautifully written play, Murray exposes the long struggle she had to be recognised and the vital part that local vet William Byrne had in helping her to achieve her goal, by appointing her as his Veterinary Assistant. Murray also recreates the hostile reception she received from the local parish priest, who thought that she would give scandal to the women of the parish by performing her veterinary duties on animals.
With a cast of twenty-three players and a large backstage crew, the play ran for three nights to packed audiences at Roscommon Arts Centre. It was expertly co-directed by two experienced hands, Brigeen Fitzmaurice and Tom Costello, and the audiences witnessed superb performances from the large cast.
Carol Murray as Aleen Cust gave a well-balanced and controlled performance. Bernie Maher as Aleen’s housekeeper, Mary, won the hearts of the audiences from the beginning, and gave a virtuoso performance right through to the final scene. Aidan Flanagan as William Byrne played his role in a good-humoured and emotional style, while Joe Fahey as the parish priest was a forceful presence any time he stepped on stage. Majella Flanagan gave a beautifully judged performance as the aristocratic Lady Cust, and Jimmy Hoban was an apt choice as her short-lived husband, Leopold.
The rest of the cast gave very believable performances in a myriad of supporting roles. The cast members in supporting roles included Jim Conlon, Emma Fitzmaurice, Vincent Pierse, Geraldine Hoban, Steve Gregary, Kevin Woods, Will Keane, John F Hanley, Michael Oates, Gerry Browne, Marie Conroy, Joe Fahey, John Burns, Pat Compton, Tommy Farrell, John McGrath, Tom Costello, Frank Nally and Aideen McConn.
All in all, this was a superb example of community co-operation in action, and it was fitting that it should be brought to us in the context of the centenary celebrations of Aleen Cust finally getting her professional Diploma. The play was staged with support from Roscommon Co. Council and Creative Ireland.