Since its closure due to fire damage in 2007, Irish language theatre An Taibhdhearc has been sorely missed as a city centre arts venue, but it is now embarking on the next phase of its development with new Manager and Artistic Director Freda Nic Giolla Chatháin at the helm.
The daughter of a primary school teacher, Athlone native Freda was not brought up speaking Irish at home but both her parents loved everything about Irish culture, including the language, so they made sure Freda and her siblings got every opportunity to learn Irish and to play Irish music and Gaelic games.
As such, Freda’s parents sent her to an Irish summer course, where she gained confidence speaking the language. “It took the language out of the classroom context and we just spoke it in a more natural environment, on the sports field, in the dining room, at the céilí,” says Freda.
She then went on to study Irish and Music at UCC and got involved in the Irish language society there, while also returning to the West Kerry Gaeltacht during the summer months.
Over the years, Freda worked with various art forms, both professionally and on a voluntary basis, and attended plays in An Taibhdhearc but her first real connection with the theatre was when she moved to Galway in 2007 to work as administrator.
“I hadn’t come from a dominant theatre background, but I had been working in Roscommon County Council as Irish language and traditional arts development officer,” she explains.
She says that the Irish language connection to An Taibhdhearc is really special, given that it is based in Galway, a bilingual city on the doorstep of the largest Gaeltacht in Ireland.
“There is great history attached to the theatre. It was set up in 1928 and opened by Hilton Edwards and Micheál Mac Liammóir, and it was here that the famous Irish actress Siobhán McKenna made her debut. Other great literary figures in Galway who were heavily involved with the Taibhdhearc included Walter Macken and Lady Augusta Gregory.
“Many of the great Irish actors tread the boards of an Taibhdhearc over the years, and it holds a special place in the memories of those who performed here,” she said, adding that the late Mick Lally also started his acting career at the Middle Street theatre.
Since she began as Manager and Artistic Director a few weeks ago, Freda says she has seen an incredible amount of goodwill from people, both in Galway and nationwide, for the theatre. “People are offering support of all kinds, because they have such a ‘grá’ for this theatre, and they are all really looking forward to it re-opening,” she says.
“The venue itself is sorely missed, as, in spite of Galway’s vibrant arts community and activity, there is a lack of venues in the city…our medium-sized venue is definitely a loss, especially during the summer months with all that’s happening in the city, between the Volvo Ocean Race, the Film Fleadh, and of course the Galway Arts Festival.”
An Taibhdhearc’s theatre company has produced several plays since the theatre closed in 2007, but they were forced to find alternative spaces to work in and most often travelled out to Seanscoil Sailearna in Connemara to perform. “Needless to say, we will be delighted to be moving home again!” says Freda, who recently worked with Barna-based Branar Théatar do Pháistí on their version of ‘Clann Lir’.
An Taibhdhearc is “very close to re-opening” but a definite date has yet to be set. “There is still some work going on inside, although the main construction work is completed. We have state-of-the-art equipment installed and brand new seats, but thankfully, although the theatre has been fully refurbished, the atmosphere within the theatre space remains the same,” says Freda.
“We are still trying to raise money to pay the last of the bills. There has been huge efforts made by the Board of Directors to bring the theatre into its new era, but they are still working very hard to raise the money to bring us over the final hurdle. So, if any of your readers have some cash to spare, we’d love to hear from them! People have the chance to buy a seat, or buy a piece of equipment for the theatre, and all donators will be acknowledged on a plaque in the foyer.”