Eileen Pagett and Betty O’Brien honored for 50 years of selfless service at Wexford Festival Opera
The hard work, dedication and commitment of two of Wexford Festival Opera’s most loyal volunteers were recognized at the group’s annual barbecue. Held at Clayton Whites, it was the first time since 2019 that this special group of volunteers had met in person and there was a surprise in store for one of the attendees.
ith more than 50 years of service under her belt, Eileen Pagett has been an integral part of the volunteer effort at the festival since the late 1960s and, in a surprise announcement, she was honored at the barbecue by the President of the volunteer liaison, Eleanor Modeller, who presented her with a bouquet of flowers. Eileen’s fellow volunteer, Betty O’Brien, was also due to be honored on the night, but was unable to attend due to a hospital visit.
“The evening went well and we had very good feedback, the volunteers were delighted to meet and there was a very good atmosphere,” said Eleanor. “Being a volunteer at the Festival requires dedication, versatility and an ongoing commitment to the continued development of Wexford Festival Opera. These two ladies have it in spades. Volunteering for them and for all of our volunteers is enjoyable, rewarding and a lot of fun.
Eileen began volunteering at Wexford Festival Opera in 1969 for the operas Louisa Miller and the infidelta Delusa when she was part of the wardrobe team. “I jumped at the chance because I had always had a great love for music and had attended many opera rehearsals as a young teenager,” she recalls. “I also loved clothes and fabrics and I loved making my own clothes, so I was absolutely thrilled when I went to see Dorrie Pettit, the costume designer at the time and she accepted me.
“I loved the job and it was an absolute privilege to help Dorrie, very creative and inspiring. I learned so much from her. I thought I knew everything about sewing until I met Dorrie. We were a very enthusiastic team and often worked long hours, sometimes until midnight and often spent our lunch there if something urgent needed to be done.
In addition to volunteering, Eileen contributed to the festival on stage and eventually joined the choir singing in the infamous La Vestale when the stage was inadvertently washed down because it turned out to be sticky when in fact she was supposed to be so the cast wouldn’t. not fall into the orchestra pit.
“From there I joined the Wexford Festival Singers and spent the better part of 40 years there when we played many beautiful concerts in a crowded church in Rowe Street during the festival,” says Eileen. “One of the highlights of singing with WFS was singing Brahms Requiem at the first cross-border gig with the Belfast Philharmonic Choir and they came back to sing it with us at Rowe Street Church.”
Betty began her long volunteer career in 1968 and her first task, which she never forgot, was to cut and sew the costume crests for one of the directors and dancers. She was also one of Dorrie’s daughters; at that time there were 40 to 50 volunteers working behind the scenes and in the wardrobe
where they were assigned a soloist or chorus member and had to have costume changes ready when needed. The wardrobe volunteers were often used to walk the rooms and on many occasions she was one of the ladies-in-waiting.
She joined the Festival Chorus and sang with them for 14 years, one of the highlights of a trip to London to sing in Wexford’s production of La Staniera in 1987. Unlike most volunteers, Betty worked as an employee of the Wexford Festival Opera as a Friends Coordinator for a period of four years. She also volunteered at the office of the old Theater Royal during busy times.
“I really enjoy volunteering, the friendships I’ve made and the experiences I’ve had, I’m looking forward to the 2022 Festival,” Betty said.