Pupils' pride at letters from famed playwright
Willy Russell's Blood Brothers, the story of star-crossed twins separated at birth, remains one of the outstanding success stories of British musical theatre in the last few decades.
It helped make the Liverpool-born writer a household name and for youngsters especially the play has a powerful resonance.
Russell originally wrote and presented Blood Brothers as a school play in 1982 in conjunction with Merseyside Young People's Theatre.
When the first-year pupils of Portlaoise College studied the play last term, their teacher, Siobhan Holland, suggested the boys and girls write to Russell with their own views about Blood Brothers and with questions about the play.
The letters were sent to the playwright's publisher by Ms Holland.
"We thought no more about it. I was expecting some kind of acknowledgement of receipt from the publishers and that was it," she told the Sunday Independent.
But last week, Portlaoise College received a heavy postbag containing handwritten cards from Russell addressed to each of the boys and girls who had written to him.
"We really were not expecting that response, the children were delighted to receive about 20 individual handwritten cards," she said.
Russell, who also penned Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine, left school with just one 'O level' in English and became a hairdresser for some years before he began writing. His first commercial success was John, Paul, George Ringo ... and Bert.
The semi-autobiographical Educating Rita became a smash hit movie starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters with much of the filming completed in Trinity College.