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