Druid, forty years in the lane

Druid Theatre Company was founded in May 1975 with the initial aim of providing theatre entertainment for tourists in Galway. It opened with three full length plays on successive nights in the Jesuit Hall. The season was a success so they made the very brave decision to operate the company on a full-time basis. Their productions were presented on a fit-up basis, as were a number of lunchtime shows in the Fo’Castle in Dominick Street. They converted this latter venue into a fully equipped pocket theatre seating 47 people. It was a popular venue, well supported, but there were problems with regard to backstage, storage, and office space.

In spring 1978, they began a long and arduous search for a suitable premises. They has started a fund to which people could subscribe £10 to pay for a seat in a building in Pump Lane, but that project fell through. Eventually, they found a disused warehouse in Courthouse Lane, a former grocery warehouse belonging to McDonogh Milling and Trading Company. At one time it was used by MGM as its headquarters when it was making the film Alfred the Great. After persistent negotiations with McDonogh’s joint MD Donagh O’Donoghue, agreement was reached to lease the building.

As they had no money, the members of the company themselves began to work on converting the warehouse into a theatre – holes in the roof had to be repaired, rubbish accumulated over the years had to be disposed of, all during the freezing December/January of 1978/79. Garry Hynes and Seán McGinley worked out the design of the theatre, Maeliosa Stafford did the wiring under the supervision of an electrical engineer, Marie Mullen and Paul O’Neill did all the painting, while Padraic Breathnach, Tom Roche, Donal Hynes, and Caoimhín Ó Maicín helped.

A fundraising campaign was organised by Paul O’Neill, and £3,000 was raised from private individuals and £2,000 from businesses. The Taibhdhearc ran a benefit night, and a jazz concert was organised in the Great Southern Hotel. And all through the mayhem of building, block laying, plumbing, painting, and wiring, they had to rehearse in very much less than ideal conditions.

Finally on May 19, 1979 (40 years ago this week ), the theatre was opened by the then Minister for Defence, Robert Molloy. It was hard to believe the transformation of the building and all for the low cost of £8,000. The Druids proudly showed their guests around the results of their hard physical labour.

The opening production was of Threepenny Opera by Bertholt Brecht, an exuberant and striking staging which reflected the group’s new found freedom of movement and space. It was memorable, a significant new chapter in Galway’s theatre history. By restoring a derelict building and filling it with creativity, they ignited a spark that would have far reaching repercussions.

Our photograph shows some of the cast of that show. They are, from the left, Diarmuid Burke, Seán McGinley, Colette Lardner, Maelíosa Stafford, Marie Mullen, Ray McBride, and Adrian Taheny.

Go maire sibh an chéad, Druid!

The ink was scarcely dry on the Advertiser last week when a number of readers called to say that the Famine Road, Bóthar na Mine (the road of the Indian meal ) was completely funded by the Bank of England in Threadneedle Street in London, and that was why it was decided to call it Threadneedle Road.

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