Jim Rhatigan reminisces with former theatre boss, Ger Cody
A SCENE in a city church that could well have come from a playwright’s pen, but didn’t, goes some way to giving an insight into the life of the general manager of a community theatre.
Ger Cody who has just retired as GM of our Watergate Theatre was at Sunday Mass.
He joined the Communion queue and recognised the Minister for the Eucharist as a member of a rural group that regularly bought tickets for Watergate shows.
Body of Christ, said the good woman as she dispensed sacramental bread.
Then came the punch line.
Will you put me down for 20 for Thursday, she uttered in a semi whisper.
Amen, said Ger.
But the woman wasn’t finished.
The tickets will be concessions, won’t they, she asked?
A bit like a garda or a journalist, theatre bosses, it would appear, are never off duty.
That certainly was the case for our larger than life son of Newpark.
Ger fell head, neck and heels in love with our theatre and all who worked, volunteered, acted or attended shows.
He was the friendly face of the Watergate.
According to his eldest daughter, Bridget, he lived in the Watergate.
Innocence abounded as the then five year old answered the door of the family’s James’s Green home to a member of the Irish Arts Council.
I am looking for Ger Cody, the gentleman said.
No, he doesn’t live here, he lives in the Watergate, she replied.
And the irony is that the Watergate did become a second home to the entire Cody family.
Ger was followed into the theatre by daughters Bridget and Siobhán, both of whom have been involved in shows, musicals and stage offerings by Watergate Productions.
The girls’ mother, Ger’s wife, Joann was bitten by the bug too. For years she has been tending to in-house costuming along with Clare Gibbs.
That followed Trojan work for years in the same department by Theresa O’Reilly and Judy Rhatigan.
But the Watergate was not confined to the Cody clan. It included hosts of families from our city and county whose Herculean work ensured that the good ship Watergate stayed in safe waters.
Our task is akin to trying to write a 10,000-word thesis on the back of a postage stamp.
Ger’s stories are legendary, usually wacky and wonderful too, his busy life absolutely extraordinary.
His roots are on the Pill Road in Lower Kilmacow, South Kilkenny, home place of his grandparents on his mother Kathleen Dunphy’s side, and one time summer holiday home to the Cody gang.
As nippers, Ger and brothers, Joe, Frank and Podge holidayed with granny Anastatia and granddad John.
Ger’s dad Tom’s parents, John and Margaret, were Newparkites who lived in a Johnswell Road house, not far from the then Coogan’s Shop that sold tobacco, acid drops and bread.
In the early ‘50s, No 1 in a new Newpark housing scheme became home and birthplace of the Cody children, including the boys’ only sister, Marguerite.
Ger’s infant years were at the Lake School, Michael Street where he started aged three and, we were told, was a grand little lad. Teachers were Mrs Lawlor, Mrs McEvoy and Mrs Andrews.
Primary learning was at St John’s De La Salle where Brothers Finbarr, Macarius, Michael and teacher Dan Kennedy ran a great seat of education and hurling school.
“Myself and my brothers Frank and Podge were the half backs on the U12 hurling team. We won county medals together at U14,” Ger put on the record.
It was then time to discard his short britches for a long trousers as he moved to Kilkenny CBS Secondary School where he teamed up with pals Joe Hennessy, yes, the hurler, the late Ger Devane and Newpark neighbour Paddy Cantwell.
Ger sat for the Leaving Certificate in 1974 and ‘somehow passed’, Ger’s own words.
The Kilkenny People newspaper beckoned. Aged 16, he was interviewed for a job as a trainee compositor and hit the jackpot. His work title was later changed to a lithographic paste up artist, or so Ger would have us believe.
He had already worked part-time in Hennessy’s Sawmill, Tilbury Crescent as a delivery van helper in Crotty’s with ‘Bridge hurler, Paddy Moran and as a Tayto van helper with Tom Lahart ‘to make a few bob to help cover the family budget’.
“My years in the ‘People turned out to be great preparation for my theatre job,” he recalled.
“The craic was mighty, I worked with super characters, we had great fun but deadlines were always met. It was to be the same in the Watergate. We had super fun too, but the shows had to go on.
“In the ‘People we worked for John Kerry Keane who was a top class employer, a man for whom I always had great respect. My butties included Milo Hennessy, Seán Dooley, Ralph Kavanagh, Billy O’Sullivan and Seán Kerwick.
“There was an admirable work ethic as reporters, printers, compositors and advertising sales people worked as a team. That they did with great success.
“Eventually I decided it was time to move on. I was involved in local drama with the New Theatre Group which I was asked to join by Tony Patterson who had seen myself and John Joe Cullen in a Tops of the Town show in the Friary Hall.
“From my Tops exploits in my early 20s, doing dUnbelievable-like sketches such as taking off Fr Trendy, with brilliant scripts written by Pat Griffen, still doing magic work for our Watergate, I didn’t realise it, but I was developing a real love for the stage.
2The Watergate job was advertised and my 13 years as a member of the New Theatre Group probably helped when I was interviewed in City Hall by Jerome Hynes RIP, Donal O’Brien and Phelim Donlon of the Arts Council.
“I got the nod, I started work in 1992, shortly before the old Savoy Cinema became the Watergate in ‘93. There was no training, it was trial and error, suck it and see and with huge support from Donal O’Brien the show was on the road.
“I loved every second of my years. People continuously said that it was great to be in a job that was also a hobby but there were long hours too.
“We had a fantastic hard core of people doing their bit, on stage, off stage and in the background. Without volunteers we would not have succeeded and, thankfully, people still rally round.
The theatre became home to Watergate Productions which did an average of four shows a year, along with a panto to boost theatre funds.
Ger was general manager, thespian, producer, director, front and back stage at various times and ticket and programme seller.
“It was a bit like a circus where the trapeze artist may also have been one of the clowns and a candy floss seller. It was a case of needs must.”
In mid-2017, Ger decided he had come to the end of the lane. He needed a new field to dig. He is looking forward to ploughing another furrow.
“I have no regrets. A great love affair has come to an end and I know its the right thing to do, to hand over the baton.”
Just as he had progressed from taking off Ian Paisley and other characters such as Frankie Byrne of Dear Frankie fame, along with John Joe Cullen, aka Frank Spencer and Eamonn Moore, he knew it was time to up camp.
Oddly, it was his brothers Joe and Podge, both deceased, who showed the way in drama as they, as CBS students, acted in several shows at St Kieran’s College and Enniscorthy respectively.
Ger is happy that his template worked at the Watergate. “Passion and honesty were key across the board and thankfully that helped to get our wonderful local theatre to where it is at today.”
“I’m at nothing for the time being but hopefully, like the Manorfarm Chicken, I will be back, in what guise I am not certain yet.
“I will continue to work with the Hope Foundation which does such great work for the Street Children of Calcutta.”
He will also carry on with a labour of love where volunteers record The Kilkenny Reporter and Kilkenny People Newspapers which are put on tapes for the blind of our community to enjoy.
Ger was happy to continue to talk.
But we were running out of paper.
Some day, he just might put his exploits in book form.
Any publication may not out-sell the bible but, knowing Ger, he would believe that it just might.
And will we meet Ger in the Watergate in the future?
“Wild horses wouldn’t keep me away from what I believe is a brilliant home of entertainment. Yes, I will be happy to be a proud member of the audience, please God.”
One gets the impression that there are many more chapters to be written before The Life and Times of Ger Cody can be pencilled.