Druid Theatre Company, the early years

For many years theatre in Galway was represented by regular productions from An Taibhdhearc and occasional productions by the Dramatic Society in UCG. Occasionally, other groups appeared but they never seemed to survive for very long — The Lamplighters, The D And I, The Galway Little Theatre Company, etc. Most of these were enthusiastic amateurs who often put on memorable shows. In 1969 an attempt was made to introduce semi-professional theatre to the city with the formation of The Galway Repertory Theatre, and two years later Frank Bailey founded the Celtic Arts Theatre, but sadly, both of these companies were short lived.

So it is fair to say that when a group of young UCG graduates decided to set up a new company, the first professional Irish theatre company outside Dublin, a lot of people thought they were mad. They called the company Druid because of a clue in a crossword puzzle about the cartoon character Asterix the Gaul and his colleague the Druid, whose name in its Celtic meaning meant ‘a weaver of dreams and spells’.

Most of those involved had been associated with Dramsoc in college, Garry Hynes, Marie Mullen, Máiréad Ní Nuadháin who designed the logo and the poster, and Mick Lally who had acted in An Taibhdhearc. They wanted to provide summer theatre in Galway and so they began to rehearse three plays, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and the third in the evening.

Their first performance was The Playboy of the Western World by John Millington Synge and it opened on Thursday July 3, 1975. The following night saw It’s A Two Foot Six Inches Above The Ground World by Kevin Laffan and on the third night they opened The Loves of Cass Maguire by Brian Friel. Cast members boosted the box office sales by selling tickets on the streets. The hall was being used during the day by other groups, so they had to arrange the seating before every performance, and put it away afterwards. Within a few months, they came up with the novel idea for Galway of lunchtime theatre which they put on in the Fo’castle at the back of the Coachman Hotel in Dominick Street. They had to carry the lights and props from the Jesuit Hall before and after each performance.

Their next production in the Jesuit Hall was The Glass Menagerie which meant they had to rehearse at night between 11pm and 6am because of the unavailability of the space during the day. In 1976, they leased the Fo’Castle and converted it into a 47-seat theatre. A site in Pump Lane was earmarked and they signed a contract to take it over, but unforeseen circumstances put an end to that plan. In spite of these and other seemingly insurmountable difficulties, they did not want to disband, and continued to put on plays.

Eventually, they negotiated the lease of a derelict building in Courthouse Lane from the McDonogh Group at a peppercorn rent, and they opened their first production there, The Threepenny Opera on May 19 1979. Since then, Druid has provided us with many theatrical highlights, and won accolades and awards all over the world. You can experience some of these highlights in an exhibition it is currently running in Druid’s Courthouse Lane premises every Monday to Friday from 10am to 2pm. It is an eclectic collection of memorabilia, photographs, posters, props, original artworks, videos, etc. A wonderful trip down memory lane, and very highly recommended.

Our photograph is among the exhibits, the cast of Thirst, a lunchtime play from 1980. They are, from the left, Séamus Mac Aindriú, Ray McBride, Maelíosa Stafford (who directed the play and is holding the company’s pet cat Druideen ), Seán McGinley, and Padraic Breathnach.

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