Galway’s new theatrical space

Pictured at the opening of the O’Donoghue Centre at NUI Galway are President of Ireland Michael D Higgins with benefactor Dr Donagh O’Donoghue.

Pictured at the opening of the O’Donoghue Centre at NUI Galway are President of Ireland Michael D Higgins with benefactor Dr Donagh O’Donoghue.

This week, NUI Galway found itself the recipient of a brand new theatrical space — one that arrives in a timely fashion and adds considerably to the city’s cultural capital. So what’s the story about the O’Donoghue Centre and how did it come about?

The Ordnance Survey map of 1838 shows Belmont House and grounds where the University’s Quadrangle and adjacent buildings are now located. To the east the map shows a small building, a Bleach Mill, occupying part of the site of the new O’Donoghue Centre. Shortly after 1850 the mill was sold and a much larger building constructed, shown in a map from the 1890s as a bag factory.

The early twentieth century saw multiple uses for the building. A period as a bonded warehouse was followed by its use as a factory for cannon shells at the time of World War 1, after which it housed British army personnel during the War of Independence.

In 1935 it became Irish Metal Industries, where three factories made cartridges, copper tubing, and soda crystals. When IMI closed in 1987, the area was acquired by the University and used mainly for engineering activities such as soils labs.

The design for the conversion of this nineteenth century industrial structure was by Taylor Architects (Castlebar ) and Richard Murphy Architects (Edinburgh ), with the work carried out by Purcell Construction.

In the centre is a 120-seat theatre space; the seats are in contracting tiers, allowing the available area to be broadened to allow more space for other activities. There are also rehearsal rooms, seminar rooms, and the range of facilities necessary to support the Centre’s many activities.

The incorporation of the latest technology in the theatre space and elsewhere contrasts attractively with the solid stone walls which remind us of the building’s origins.

This pioneering centre is a 120-seat theatre space with retractable tiered seating allowing for multifunctional use and accessibility. It comprises of studio spaces, a classroom, and a workshop and rehearsal room that will have a transformative effect not only on the University’s students but on the vibrant cultural hinterland that surrounds the campus.

Dr Donagh O’Donoghue

The Centre recognises the generous philanthropic support of Galway businessman, Dr Donagh O’Donoghue who began his association with the University after he completed both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Commerce degrees in the 1960s. He combined his academic work with an active involvement in extra-curricular activities. He was a member of Comhairle Teachta na Mac-Léinn (the Students’ Representative Council, predecessor of the Students’ Union ), where fellow members included President Michael D. Higgins.

Donagh O’Donoghue began his association with what was then University College Galway when he completed both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Commerce degrees in the 1960s. Donagh combined his academic work with an active involvement in extra-curricular activities. He was a member of Comhairle Teachta na Mac-Léinn (the Students’ Representative Council, predecessor of the Students’ Union ), where fellow members included Michael D. Higgins and Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh;

Mr O’Donoghue made active use of all strands of his university education. The commercial strand has been, perhaps, the most prominent. Shortly after completing his MBA degree, he was appointed group managing director of Thomas McDonagh & Sons Ltd. He transformed the company in many ways, not least through significant growth in both turnover and profitability. His external contributions included chairmanship of Bord na Móna and, for a lengthy period, of Galway Airport. He has been active in the Galway Chamber of Commerce and in IBEC, for which he served two terms as regional chair. He has served on the Governing Authority of NUI Galway for 30 years.

Despite the importance of these directorships to business in the west of Ireland, it is arguable that Donagh O’Donoghue’s greatest contribution to world-wide recognition of Galway arose from the interest in theatre which began in his student days. At a crucial time in its development, he was able to arrange a premises for Druid Theatre Company. The guaranteed availability of this physical space, as well as his guidance as chairman for twenty years, provided the vital commercial support for the artistic talent of Garry Hynes and the talented group of actors that emerged from University College Galway in the 1970s.

Professor Patrick Lonergan, Director of the O’Donoghue Centre for Drama and Theatre Studies at NUI Galway, said: “This Centre is opening at a time when governments are beginning to understand the essential role of creativity in the wellbeing of their nations – and not only in the cultural sphere. There is growing evidence that creative arts contribute to our communities’ wellbeing, including our mental and physical health. And we’re also seeing evidence that business leaders recognise the importance of creativity as a key skill.

As a long-standing advocate for the arts and innovation, the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, when opening the Centre on Monday, paid tribute to the O’Donoghue Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance, praising what he called its “key role in establishing Galway’s reputation as Ireland’s cultural capital and an international centre for innovative drama, theatre and performance.”

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