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Druid TheatreÕs success at home and abroad among the highlights of 2009

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: {J}

When it comes to success stories in the arts in 2009 the main winner has to be Druid Theatre, which won a slew of awards at home and abroad for its various productions throughout the year.

And if we in Galway can carp about seeing relatively little new work from Druid in 2009, that’s because they’ve been touring these hit productions at home and abroad, with a total of 360 performances in five countries.

Enda Walsh’s The New Electric Ballroom, which received its English language debut at the 2008 Arts Festival, was revived for a tour that included venues in Ireland, as well as New York, Los Angeles London and Perth. It won Best New Play at the Irish Times Theatre awards in 2009, and Mikel Murfi won Best Supporting Actor.

The production recently finished tours in North America and England, Meanwhile, Walsh’s companion piece The Walworth Farce, another Druid hit embarked on an autumn tour of the UK, USA and Canada, finishing in California last month. An Australian and New Zealand tour is scheduled for 2010 The Playboy of the Western World toured the UK, paying a brief visit to Ireland in June, while Martin McDonagh’s black comedy The Cripple of Inishmaan which Druid first staged in 2008, was revived for a visit to New York.

Earlier in the year, the company revived its successful production of Geraldine Aron’s bittersweet comedy, My Brilliant Divorce for a short Irish tour. In a year that was filled with highlights, a major feel-good moment had to be the opening of the refurbished Druid Lane Theatre with a new production of Tom Murphy’s classic, The Gigli Concert.

This marked revival of the creative partnership between Murphy and Druid’s artistic director, Garry Hynes which had been fallow for several years following a rift between the two. The production was superb, all the moreso given that one of the actor’s mothers died just before opening night, something which most of us watching the play didn’t know at the time.

It was a pleasure to be back in the familiar surroundings of Druid theatre, albeit a Druid that will be more comfortable for performers and audiences from now on. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing a lot of action there in the next year.

Other theatrical highlights for this writer during 2009 included Tom Crean, Antarctic Explorer in January on one of its visits to Galway. Aidan Dooley’s one-man show about the Kerryman who accompanied Shackleton on his journey to the South Pole is one of the most, inventive entertaining and enjoyable nights of theatre you could wish for.

And in October, Christian O’Reilly’s Here We Are Again Still, a gentle play about life in the Mervue apartments, commissioned under the City Council’s public art programme, and staged as part of Galway Arts Centre’s fledgling theatre festival, showed that theatre doesn’t have to blow its own trumpet to be effective. It was a wonderful tribute to a community and the role that football plays in Mervue.

On a much bigger scale, the visiting companies at this year’s Arts Festival included Edward Hall’s all-male Propeller group, which staged The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the latter being a particular hit among Galway audiences. But for this reviewer’s money, Palace of the End from Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre was the real gem from the visiting theatre groups.

The play’s premise sounded a bit daunting – essentially, it was three one-person shows exploring the Iraq war from different perspectives. One was Lynndie England, the US army woman convicted of abuse in Abu Ghraib prison, the other was UK scientist David Kelly who who died days after being exposed as the source of a controversial BBC story on the Iraq war.

The third was an Iraqi mother, who knew at first hand the consequences of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Her family were slaughtered by the secret police at a time when the US still supported Saddam’s regime. No barrel of laughs, this play, but one that was beautifully performed and left a lasting impression.

Similarly, among the many visual arts shows at the festival, a definite winner was the joint show by two former Galway residents, Ger Sweeney and Seán Cotter. That was located in the former McDonogh building, owned by Gerry Barrett who had lent it to the festival for a few years while it lay idle. Happily for Gerry Barrett, he has now found tenants for the space.

However, the loss of this art deco building to the broader community highlights the lack of a proper public gallery in Galway.

On a more positive note, the City Council agreed in March to make land available so that work could begin on the long-awaited arthouse cinema. That is now underway, largely due to the work of a group of campaigners including Film Fleadh founder, Lelia Doolan and former Arts Festival manager, Fergal McGrath. McGrath, in his role as temporary manager of the Town Hall Theatre undertook a refurbishment programme at the venue that was finished just in time for the 2009 Film Fleadh, an event which was marked by a well-deserved tribute programme to producer Redmond Morris, the current Lord Killanin.

For most of the year, ticket sales at the Town Hall were healthier than at any time in its 14-year history, defying the downturn in the economy. Musically, while it wasn’t exactly a highlight, one of the most talked-about events of the year was the spat on RTÉ’s Liveline over Frankie Gavin’s decision to name his new traditional group de Dannan.

This was despite the fact that he was the only member of the original group in the new line up. There were protests from fellow founders, Alec Finn and Johnny McDonagh, during which former broadcaster and accordion player Tony McMahon hurled a series of extraordinary insults at Alec Finn. Eventually, Frankie Gavin agreed to call his group ‘The New de Dannan and matters calmed down.

Far away from all that controversy, former members of the old De Dannan including Finn, McDonagh, Colm Murphy, Jackie Daly, Mick Conneely, Derek Hickey, Brian McGrath, John Carty Eleanor Shanley, Andrew Murray and Aidan Coffey joined forces for a gig earlier this month in aid of local charity Changing Minds.

That was held in the Radisson Hotel and there was no fuss or fanfare, but it served to remind, just what a musical force De Dannan had been throughout its various incarnations.

It was a night of nostalgia, one which attracted musicians of all generations, and one which also showed that individually and collectively, these are among the finest musicians in the country. A definite highlight.


Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

Judy Murphy



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Rory takes on fresh challenge as lauded DruidMurphy returns

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: 03-Apr-2013


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Archive News

After twenty years Sarah lands dream role in Druid

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: 04-Apr-2013

 Sarah Lynch has been living and breathing Druid Theatre since she wangled a job as a runner fresh out of college two decades ago at age 20. After holding down just about every role imaginable there – from company manager to director to stage manager – her appointment as general manager to one of the country’s most prestigious theatre companies last October seemed almost inevitable.

Because once she had tasted the fruit of Druid she was going nowhere . . . and going everywhere. Sarah’s tenure at Druid since 1998 has brought her on a journey that has reached just about every corner of the globe and almost all the islands off Ireland in between.

After graduating from Limerick with a degree in French and English Sarah spent a stint teaching in a secondary school. But it immediately became clear that wasn’t the road for her.

“One thing I was always certain of was I’d be involved in the performing arts, whether on stage or off stage or behind it. The immediate reaction of the audience is such a buzz,” she grins.

Her earliest memory was of her grandfather, Bud Clancy, on stage with his trumpet and dance band. “I must have been three or four because he died shortly after that. But it never left me. I got bitten by the bug. I started playing the trumpet. A friend of my grandfather taught me how to play and I was with the Limerick brass and reed orchestra known as the Boherbuoy Band, I was just a kid with all these adults.”

She learned to play other brass instruments such as the French horn and cornet before turning her hand to the guitar and song-writing. “I taught myself guitar. Sometime I tinker on the piano and I think that’s my next instrument. I love percussion. You can’t get me off a drum kit for love or money. Many is the night I’ve made a fool of myself on one of those,” she laughs.

In 2010, Sarah released her debut album, Letter to Friends, which was launched by playwright Enda Walsh, whose short play, Lynndie’s Gotta Gun, she had directed as part of the 2008 Galway Arts Festival.

The collection of songs was produced by Wayne Sheehy, a musician she had met when opening for Juliet Turner on Turner’s Burn the Black Suit tour.

“I could probably have done it ten years ago but for the manic schedule with Druid and touring so much,” she reflects. “I haven’t done much with it since. I used to play gigs in the Róisín Dubh. The bigger twin is theatre at the moment. The bigger twin bullies the other twin. You don’t get much time to do music.”

After fleeing the classroom, Sarah knocked on the door of a former college mate, Andrew Flynn, now with the Galway Youth Theatre, who kindly offered up his couch. He also managed to get her a job as a runner – the person who does everything from making tea to helping with props – on a Druid production of As You Like It.

“I remember working with Mark O’Halloran, I had great fun with him. There was Helen Norton, it was Maeliosa Stafford directing. He’s coming back to the Druid after ten years to star in Tom Murphy’s A Whistle in the Dark. He left me as a runner, now I’m general manager.”

Much of Sarah’s time behind the scenes at Druid has been spent on the road. In 2009 alone, Druid toured to Australia, Canada, the UK and the USA presenting 364 performances in 26 venues.

Indeed so much of life has been out spent living of a suitcase that she gave up her base in Galway to move back in with her family in Caherdavin, on the Galway side of Limerick city.

The tour of the Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh was so long the crew were instructed to pack two suitcases, one with summer clothes, the other winter gear, as they would be spanning the seasons. Her job now entails a lot of commuting, but driving is where she gets a lot of thinking done.

Sarah’s decision to apply for the more home-based job of general manager was one she made discreetly while on the Druid Murphy tour around the US. She had to undergo her interview in between shows at the Lincoln Center in New York. It was the most nerve wrecking experience of her life, she admits.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

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