'Tops' was the X-factor of its day
WHEN Tops of the Town was at its height in Tralee it was often said it was easier to get a an All- Ireland final ticket than secure a seat at The Ashe Hall for one of the eagerly awaited community talent shows.
Tops of the Town had its beginnings in Waterford in 1962 when a number of local dramatic groups and businesses decided to hold a competition among themselves to see who could put on the best show.
By 1964 the competition had gone national and by 1975 it was one of the tentpole shows on RTE with the national finals of the John Player Tops of the Town attracting huge TV audiences every June.
There will be few people who can recall Irish TV in the seventies and eighties that won't have tuned into the Tops finals at the Olympia at some stage.
Tops of the Town was arguably the X-Factor of its day and Tralee and Kerry were right at the heart of the competition right through from its earliest days until the late 1980's.
Tralee with its long history of musical theatre and amateur drama embraced Tops of Town with a huge number of community groups, businesses and factories literally getting in on the act.
Groups were also formed across Kerry arriving in Tralee from Killarney, Rathmore, Killorglin and Listowel among many other towns to take part in the always much anticipated competition.
In the county capital there was fierce but friendly rivalry between Tops groups from Strand Road, Boherbee, Rock Street and St Brendans Park who year after year tried to outdo each other on stage at the KDYS and in the Ashe Memorial Hall. The Tralee gardaí and nurses created their own group who scooped many an award, while a combined Tops group from Tralee's banks were also a force to be reckoned with.
Many of the town's bigger factories, most notably Burlington and Borg Warner also got involved and it was not uncommon to see Tralee factory floors turning into improvised rehearsal rooms for the companies' Tops teams once the day's work was done.
Kerry became something of a centre for the national Tops competition and as well as hosting local events, the Ashe Memorial Hall regularly hosted the quarter-finals of the national contest with tops teams from across the country descending on Tralee in bid to earn a coveted spot on the Olympia stage for the final.