The history of theatre in Ireland goes back to the start of the 17th century. The beginning of the 20th century saw the emergence of plays written in Irish and that movement was given a significant boost with the opening of An Taibhdhearc on August 27, 1928. It is the oldest operational theatre in Galway and is Ireland’s National Irish Language Theatre. The title is made up of two Irish words, taibh meaning ‘spectacle or ghost’ and dearc meaning ‘behold’.
It was Séamus ó Beirn’s idea. He began working on it in 1918, and in 1927 managed to get a grant from the government. He formed a committee, Seán Mac Giollarnáith, Liam Ó Briain, Séamus Luibhéid, An t-Athair Ó hEidhin, Liam Ó Buachalla, Sile Ní Chinnéide, Tomás Ó Raghallaigh, Mícheál Ó Droighneáin, Donal Ó Ríordáin, and Tomás Ó Máille. They looked at the Columban Hall first but could not get a lease from the Jesuits, so they opted for Fr Crotty’s Hall, a social club that had been set up in Middle Street by the Augustinians but which had now become defunct. A lot of work went into converting it into a theatre.
The first production was Diarmuid agus Grainne by Mícheál Mac Liammóir. He was the first artistic director of the theatre but as he was also involved with the Gate Theatre in Dublin, the arrangement was unsatisfactory. His replacement was Frank Dermody, who stayed until 1938. Walter Macken then took over for 10 years. When he left, a number of directors stood in, Ian Priestley Mitchell, Seán Mac Cathbhard, Ria Mooney, Professor Ó Murchú, Jackie McGoran, and Johnny Horan. Traolach Ó hAonghusa held the post from 1956 to 1969, and since then a variety of directors, local and visiting, have worked there.
Many famous actors, writers, and directors started their careers there, people like Sean McGlory, Seán Mac Réamonn, Peadar Lamb, Mick Lally, Maelíosa Stafford, Treasa Davidson, and the pair we see in our photograph today, Siobhán McKenna and Walter Macken, who played the lead parts in a production of Macbeth in the late 1940s. It must have been very exciting seeing those two powerful actors on stage together.
The real heroes in An Taibhdhearc were the loyal supporters who kept it going, people like Cyril Mahony, Seán and Máire Stafford, Máiréad Ní Coinceannain, Dick Byrne, Tommy King, Seán Ó Carra, Colette and Pat Heaney, Una Dooley, Dorothy Fox, Róisín Duignan, Patsy Clancy, Johnny Lillis, and many more.
The building has undergone changes, in 1977 the balcony was removed and a tiered seating arrangement put in. Some years ago a fire caused serious structural damage and there followed a lot of discussion with planners and various authorities and councils, but the directors held their nerve, started their own fundraising (which is still ongoing, if you would like to support them, they would love to hear from you ), and the building has been completely revamped. The result is a beautiful intimate comfortable 148-seat theatre.
Next Tuesday, November 13, is an important day in the history of An Taibhdhearc as they stage their first ‘home’ production in several years. It is a play written by Padraic Breathnach titled Scorach, about the myth of a hero in Conamara during the Famine and is a celebration of various techniques of storytelling through music, dance, puppets, and drama. Do not miss this opportunity to see a fascinating production as well as the improvements to the theatre.
This evening at 8.30pm in the Mercy Convent, Newtownsmith, the Old Galway Society hosts an illustrated lecture by Sean Ashe on the subject of ‘The Connacht Rangers and the Galway Girls’. All are welcome.
On Monday next, November 12, at 8pm, the Galway Archaeological and Historical lecture will be given by Reverend Anthony Previté on ‘The Early Monastic Heritage of Conamara’, and again all are welcome.
On Tuesday next in Jordan’s Bar, Clarinbridge, at 7.30pm, Paul Gosling and Brendan McMahon will give an illustrated talk on ‘Clais, Púcán, Mallmhúir; Glimpses of Maritime Life on Island Eddy’, and — you guessed it — all are welcome.