Lyric Theatre, Belfast

Welcome to the digital exhibition from the archive of the Lyric Theatre, Belfast. Marking fifty years since the Lyric Theatre opened on 28th October 1968, the Lyric Theatre has fulfilled a central role in the cultural life of Northern Ireland. 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 Christine 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 1980s also saw a number of important premiéres at the Lyric, including Stewart Parker's "Northern Star" in November 1984 and Christina Reid's "The Belle of the Belfast City" in May 1989.

The archive of the Lyric Theatre is housed at the Hardiman Library 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. This exhibition explores the rich archive of the Lyric Theatre which is located at the Hardiman Library, NUI Galway. The archive includes over one hundred and twenty boxes of manuscripts, typescripts, photographs, letters, ephemera, posters, and other records that document the history of the Lyric Theatre, from 1951 through to the 1990s.

As the Lyric marks five decades since it moved to its new home at Ridgeway Street, this exhibition traces the growth of the theatre, from its roots as a studio space 1951, in the home of Mary and Pearse O'Malley, to becoming an important arts centre and theatre, from where it grew in its new home in 1968 and where it is still based today.

Exhibition Credits:
Curator: Dr. Barry Houlihan
Co-Curator and Digitisation: Betty Attwood
Digital Repository Support: Aisling Keane


Construction of Ridgeway Street Theatre
Construction of Ridgeway Street Theatre
File of black and white images taken during the construction of the new Lyric Theatre
Lyric Theatre Correspondence
Lyric Theatre Correspondence
Assorted letters and correspondence between the Lyric Theatre (its artistic director, Mary O'Malley) and a range of actors, writers, directors, writers, and artists associated with the Lyric Theatre. The letters relate to discussions between Mary O'Malley and figures such as Brian Friel, Mary Manning, Denis Johnston, John B. Keane, Alice Berger-Hammerschlag, John Hewitt, and many other figures of Irish literature, drama, and the arts.
Opening of new Lyric Theatre, October 1968.
Opening of new Lyric Theatre, October 1968.
A collection of black and white and colour photographs of the newly completed Lyric Players' Theatre located at Ridgeway Street. Also includes a series of images from its official opening event.
Productions - 1950s
Productions - 1950s
Material relating amateur productions produced and directed by Mary O'Malley, mainly relating to and by the Lyric Players and which were produced in the home of Mary and Pearse O'Malley at Derryvolgie Avenue, Belfast.
Productions 1960s
Productions 1960s
Production files including photographs, programmes, posters and correspondence from productions by the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, during the 1960s.
Productions 1970s
Productions 1970s
Material such as photographs, posters, and programmes from productions at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, during the 1970s.
Studio Theatre
Studio Theatre
Black and white images of studio theatre located at the home of Mary O'Malley, Belfast.
Threshold Literary Journal
Threshold Literary Journal
Material relating to the literary journal, Threshold, published by the Lyric Theatre, Belfast. First published in 1957, the journal was first edited by Mary O'Malley before being guest-edited by a variety of writers. The journal had subscriptions and readership around the work, as well as in Ireland and the United Kingdom. The famous bookshop located in Oxford, Blackwells, for instance, distributed the magazine to various American-based libraries. The journal featured prose, poetry, fiction, and reviews from leading Irish and international writers as well as emerging writers. Threshold was edited on occasion by Brian Friel, John Hewitt, John Montague, among other leading names of literature. The cover art of Threshold also produced great artworks by the likes of Colin Middleton and Louis Le Brocquy. The journal ceased publication in 1990 leaving its legacy as one of the most important literary periodicals of the later twentieth century. The archive of the Lyric Theatre includes detailed working files of the journal and its editorship, subscription, and distribution. Detailed correspondence to Mary and Pearse O'Malley from contributors to the journal reveal the labour and processes of editing such a journal, and the role of the editor in shaping work-in-development from writers. Also present are financial and subscription notebooks which document the challenges of financing the production of a journal and building an international audience and distribution.

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