A New Digital Exhibition Marking Fifty Years of the Lyric Theatre, Belfast

The Gathering by Edna O’Brien starring a young Liam Neeson, Lyric Theatre, 1977. Photo: Hardiman Library, NUI Galway
Oct 25 2018 Posted: 12:27 IST

Marking fifty years since the opening of the new Lyric Theatre in Belfast in October 1968, a new digital online exhibition from the Hardiman Library at NUI Galway, opens up the archive of the Lyric Theatre this week.

Founded in 1951 as the Lyric Players Theatre, Mary O’Malley worked on growing a theatrical venture, initially for friends and family within her home, that later became the largest and one of the most important theatres in Northern Ireland and internationally. Mary, working with her husband, Dr Pearse O’Malley, created a dynamic and diverse arts centre within Belfast that became synonymous with verse drama of W.B. Yeats and Austin Clarke but which also brought important international works by the likes of Anton Chekhov, August Strindberg, and Henrik Ibsen, to Belfast audiences for the first time.

As the Lyric Theatre expanded its repertoire, it also grew in artistic ambition. The Lyric Theatre included an art gallery, an academy of music and drama, a craft shop, as well as publishing an internationally respected literary journal, Threshold, which included works by the likes of Mary Beckett, Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel, John Hewitt, John Montague, and Mary Lavin, as well as cover art-works by Colin Middleton and Louis Le Brocquy.

The Lyric Theatre maintained a constant presence and operation during the worst years of the Troubles and sectarian conflict. The Lyric Theatre premiered important plays reflecting contemporary experience in the North such as Over the Bridge by Sam Thompson, The Flats by John Boyd, and later works by Stewart Parker and Christina Reid. Actors such as Liam Neeson and Ciaran Hinds got their start at the Lyric Theatre with others such as Stella McCusker having a career-long association with the theatre.

The archive of the Lyric Theatre is housed at the Hardiman Library in NUI Galway. Comprising over eighty boxes of files, the archive contains voluminous correspondence with important literary figures, photographs of productions, annotated prompt-scripts, finance and board records of the Lyric, as well as programmes, posters, and other ephemera from the Lyric’s rich history of over five decades.

Curated by Dr Barry Houlihan and Betty Attwood, the digital exhibition from NUI Galway opens up the history of the Lyric Theatre to a global audience for the first time through hundreds of previously unpublished letters, photographs, scripts, and other archive documents.

NUI Galway Archivist, Dr Barry Houlihan, says: “The digital exhibition mirror’s the Lyric Theatre’s own archive – a record of artistic ambition, success and many challenges through the decades. The digital archive material showcases to the world not just the vision of its founder, Mary O’Malley, but also her craft and vision as a director and producer, and also how the Lyric Theatre earns its place within a proud and rich theatre heritage internationally.”

Professor Lionel Pilkington from NUI Galway, said: “The Lyric Theatre / Pearse and Mary O’Malley archive in the James Hardiman Library at NUI Galway is a powerfully important resource for anyone interested in any aspect of Northern Ireland’s cultural history from the early 1950s to the late 1980s. As well as encompassing an extraordinarily rich correspondence with the leading figures of Ireland’s literary, political and cultural life, the archive includes meticulously documented minute books, annotated scripts and prompt books, photographs and audio tapes. This is an archive that tells the story of a vibrant (and frequently overlooked) all-Ireland cultural initiative operating with verve and enthusiasm within the context of an often suspicious and sometimes hostile political state.”

To view the Exhibition online, visit: https://tinyurl.com/y7v68gtq


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