An Taibhdhearc, ninety years a’growing

On December 3, 1927, a group of people met with the idea of setting up an Irish language theatre in Galway. The committee elected were Dr Séamus Ó Beirn, president; Seán Mac Giollarnáith, treasurer; Liam Ó Briain and Séamus Luibhéid, secretaries; An tAthair Pádraic Ó hEidhin, Liam Ó Buachalla, Síle Ní Chinnéide, Tomás Ó Raghallaigh, Mícheál Ó Droighneáin, Donal Ó Riordáin, and Tomás Ó Máille.

They managed to get £600 from the minister Ernest Blythe and they collected some money locally toward the project. They selected a parish hall (built in 1912 ) which belonged to the Augustinians in Middle Street as a venue and they brought Mícheál Mac Liammóir and Hilton Edwards from Dublin to advise on alterations to the building. The hall became a 211 seater theatre and it opened 90 years ago on August 27, 1928, with a production of Diarmuid and Gráinne written by Mac Liammóir and directed by Edwards. Mac Liammóir played the lead and the cast included Máire Ní Scolaí, Liam Ó Briain, Mícheal Ó Droighneáin, and Máirtín Ó Direáin. They played to packed houses until September 2.

Frank Dermody became the artistic director after Mac Liammóir and Edwards left to found the Gate Theatre in Dublin. In 1935, An Taibhdhearc took part in the first live radio broadcast from Galway and in many subsequent broadcasts. Walter Macken took over the reins as director in 1939 and he produced, directed, and acted in 47 subsequent productions.

In 1950, the opening of a landmark production of San Siobhán starring Siobhán McKenna was attended by President De Valera. Bishop Browne refused an invitation because “it was unbecoming of a bishop to attend a play by George Bernard Shaw.”

In 1956, Traolach Ó hAonghusa took over as artistic director, and later a number of locals, who were by now experienced theatre people, were invited to direct plays... Seán Stafford, Dicky Byrne, Paddy Boyle, Mick Lally, Pat Heaney, etc.

For many years this company was the only regular source of theatre in Galway. All of the productions were in the Irish language and included drama festivals, siamsaí, concerts, feiseanna ceoil, visiting productions, etc. In more recent times, English speaking groups have featured here, they have hosted countless premieres, operas, ballets, etc. A great many actors’ careers began here and many many famous thespians have graced the boards.

The survival of this small theatre is a major success story in itself, to have made it to a 90th anniversary is remarkable. There have been many highs but there have also been many lows — financial troubles, a major refurbishment, an actors revolt, a bad fire, etc, so enjoy the celebrations Taibhdhearcóirs and continued success to you. May you have many more memorable moments. Bail ó Dhia ar an obair.

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