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

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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

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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

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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