This collaboration is a unique occasion for the student actors from Galway and Belfast to meet and work together on a project whose central character was full of determination and belief in the power of theatre to bring individuals together and turn them into a group whose power is greater than the sum of its parts. By exploring the Lyric Theatre archive of the James Hardiman Library, the story of Mary O’Malley’s journey and the history of Yeats’ work in Northern Ireland will reach new audiences in this the 150th anniversary of the birth of W.B. Yeats.
The Lyric Theatre archive is a detailed record of the growth and development of the theatre and its founding director, Mary O’Malley. This event will mine and explore that archive, share new material and present a live event that will draw the audience into the Yeats-inspired Belfast and world of Mary O’Malley and the birth of a new theatre across a time of immense social, political and artistic change.
Mary O’Malley (Hickey), was born in Mallow, Co. Cork in 1918 and would develop from her childhood a life-long passion and enthusiasm for the theatre. O’Malley describes her “first big adventure” to the theatre being at age six and seeing Dion Boucicault’s Colleen Bawn at the local town hall in Mallow, and was “wildly excited by it”. O’Malley’s first visit to the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, aged thirteen, accompanied by her older brother, Gerard, allowed O’Malley to see W.B. Yeats in the flesh and experience being at the National Theatre. This would be the beginning of a continuous connection between O’Malley and the artistic and theatrical spirit of Yeats.Following a move to Dublin, Mary would meet Pearce O’Malley, a doctor and graduate of Queen’s University, Belfast and they married in September 1947 and moved to Belfast.
It is in the O’Malley family home in Belfast that Mary established the Lyric Players. Along with a group of friends and family, O’Malley directed, designed and produced an extraordinary volume of work, beginning in 1951, notably the plays of W.B. Yeats and leading European playwrights which were not often staged in Ireland at the time. The first season in 1951 consisted of three plays, including At the Hawk’s Well by W.B. Yeats. Yeats was a foundational, constant presence and influence on O’Malley and the endeavours of the Lyric Players and the Lyric Theatre, from their journey of amateur to professional and forging ahead to become a ‘National’ theatre for Northern Ireland.
The tension and fragility of peace and life in Northern Ireland was a further influence on the Lyric Theatre as it developed in the backdrop to the emerging Civil Rights movement and later throughout the Troubles. O’Malley would recount how at the point of breakdown of the Sunningdale talks in 1974, “In my bones, and for the first time, I felt a certain despair.” The political position of Northern Ireland and the ongoing conflict would resonate through O’Malley’s formidable personality and incidents such as controversy regarding the playing of the British National Anthem at the theatre, which would see O’Malley step-down from the Lyric Theatre Board for a period of time.
The growth of the Lyric Players group to the Lyric Theatre as we know it today, from amateur to professional, is an incredible journey and which is dominated by the tireless work and vision of Mary O’Malley. The presence of Yeats is embodied in the Lyric Theatre. The growth of the theatre was a cultural revolution for Northern Ireland as much as the Abbey Theatre was in the South.
|Mary O'Malley at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast|
Venue: The Cube
Date: 19th November