Lyric Theatre/O'Malley Archive
IDENTITY STATEMENT
Reference code: T4
Title: Lyric Theatre/O'Malley Archive
Date(s): 1903-2003
Extent: 73 boxes
Location: Strong room
CONTEXT
Biographical History

Mary O'Malley was born Mary Hickey in Mallow, county Cork in 1918. Her first experience of theatre was at the age of six when she saw Dion Boucicault's The Colleen Bawn in the town, followed by a trip to the Abbey Theatre in Dublin at thirteen. Her love of theatre was encouraged by her older brother Gerard, himself a successful set designer. After attending the Loreto Convent in Navan, county Meath, Mary and her mother moved to Dublin to be closer to Gerard. During this time Mary immersed herself in the cultural life of the city, becoming involved with the Irish Film Society and the New Theatre Group. In 1943 she met Pearse O'Malley, a doctor and graduate of Queen's University, Belfast. After he spent a short period working in Bristol, he returned to Ireland and they married in September 1947.

Pearse had been invited to establish the Department of Neurology and Psychiatry in the Mater Hospital, Belfast, which necessitated a move north for the young couple. Belfast was very different from Dublin, where Mary had enjoyed her involvement in various cultural organisations. By this time though she was pregnant, and their first child Kieran Darragh O'Malley was born in November 1948, followed by Donal Lysaght O'Malley in August 1950 and Conor Plunkett O'Malley in July 1954. Pearse also became President of the Newman Society of Queen's University after the couple's move. Part of this role was to organise lectures and host the Society's annual dance, and he sought his wife's help. Mary sought advice from her friend Lily Reid, and eventually made contact with several actors who would go on to become the earliest Lyric Players: Paddy Coyle, Frances McShane, Maureen Cremin, Nan McGuigan, Lucy Young, and Bob Haldane. She organised an evening's entertainment in Aquinas Hall, Belfast in December 1950, which included one act plays by Lady Augusta Gregory and Andrew Ganly.

The success of the evening encouraged Mary to pursue the possibility of producing more plays in the O'Malley family home on Lisburn Road. The first season in 1951 consisted of three plays: Lost Light by Robert Farren, The Kiss by Austin Clarke and At the Hawk's Well by W.B. Yeats. Yeats was integral to Mary's approach to theatre, and his plays would be central to the theatre's productions for many years to come. The group christened themselves the Lyric Players Theatre, an acknowledgment of Austin Clarke's Lyric Theatre in Dublin which shared its ethos with this new namesake. In November 1952 the O'Malleys moved to a new home, Beechbank, on Derryvolgie Avenue. The Lyric Players' Theatre duly moved into the back room of the house, which was modified to create a stage, and the first production was Lauro de Bosis' Icaro. The theatre flourished in its new home.

At this time Mary O'Malley became publicly involved in politics, winning election as a Labour Party councillor on Belfast Corporation for Smithfield ward. She served until 1955 and did not seek re-election. In 1953 Pearse and Mary also became involved in the Clan O'Malley, with Pearse serving as Chieftain in 1957. They would continue this involvement over the decades. In order to increase the public visibility of the theatre, the literary magazine Threshold was established in 1957 and published quarterly. The next few years saw a flurry of other allied activities established: the New Gallery and the Belfast Academy of Music and Dramatic Art joined Irish Handcrafts (a shop selling Irish made products) in a property on Grosvenor Road.

The success of the Lyric Players by this stage meant that the studio in Derryvolgie Avenue was woefully inadequate for the theatre's ambitions, despite an extension being specially constructed in 1957. A massive fundraising project began in order to purpose build a home for the Lyric Players' Theatre. Productions were staged at two other locations in Belfast, the Grove Theatre and the King George VI Hall, but these proved to be unsatisfactory. After major fundraising work was carried out by the Lyric Development Trust, the foundation stone for the new theatre at Ridgeway Street was laid by Austin Clarke in 1965. Construction was completed in 1968, and in October of that year the theatre was officially opened.

Following the theatre's opening, Mary and Pearse O'Malley resigned from the Board of Trustees after a disagreement over the playing of the British national anthem before performances. Pearse was persuaded to return by the Board after an agreement was reached. Mary however took a year away from involvement with the Lyric at this time. During this year the decision was taken to close the Grosvenor Road premises and with it Irish Handcrafts and the New Gallery.

The political climate of Northern Ireland in the late 1960s was to be echoed in the administration of the Lyric Players' Theatre. Internal differences between Board members over a fundraising issue almost led to the closure of the theatre, and did lead to the resignation of four Board members. Mary O'Malley returned to the Board and secured consistent Arts Council funding, which ensured the Lyric's continued existence throughout the 1970s and beyond. Despite the difficulties of operating the theatre throughout the Troubles, the Lyric remained open.

In 1980 Pearse resigned as secretary of the Lyric's board of trustees and he and Mary mostly withdrew from theatre activities with their move to Delgany, county Wicklow, while remaining board members. Pearse continued to commute to Belfast to carry on his consulting work until his retirement. Mary wrote her memoirs, eventually published as Never Shake Hands with the Devil (Dublin, 1990) and spent time with her ten grandchildren.

Pearse O'Malley passed away in 2004, followed by Mary in 2006. The Lyric Players Theatre though continues to thrive as a testament to their dedication and devotion to the arts in Northern Ireland.

Immediate Source of Acquisition or Transfer

Acquired from Pearse and Mary O'Malley by the James Hardiman Library in 2003. Complementary correspondence was also acquired from Dr Lionel Pilkington in 2010.

CONTENT AND STRUCTURE
Scope and Content

Material relating to productions by the Lyric Players Theatre (also referred to within the catalogue as 'the Lyric' and 'the Lyric Theatre'), consisting of such material as production notes, programmes, photographs, posters and scripts.

Administrative material of the Lyric Players Theatre including correspondence, financial and legal documents, minutes of meetings, press cuttings, printed material, and documents relating to the planning and construction of the theatre building at Ridgeway Street.

Material relating to ancillary activities of the Lyric Players Theatre such as the Belfast Academy of Music and Drama, the New Gallery and Irish Handcrafts.

Archive of the literary periodical Threshold, including bound issues, correspondence and submissions.

Archive of the O'Malley family, including the political papers of Mary O'Malley, material relating to her activities with the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, the family's involvement with the Clan O'Malley organisation, and Pearse O'Malley's medical career.

System of arrangement

For the purposes of arrangement the material has been divided into three main series: the Lyric Players Theatre, Threshold, and the O'Malley family papers. The Lyric Players Theatre series consists of subseries of Productions, Administration, Correspondence, the Belfast Academy of Music and Drama, the New Gallery, Irish Handcrafts, and A Needle's Eye. Threshold consists of subseries on Issues, Submissions, Correspondence, and Other Material. Finally, the O'Malley family papers are divided into subseries by member, and then subdivided into thematic sections. It must be borne in mind when consulting this collection that the level of the O'Malley family's involvement with the Lyric was such that overlap between the different series is unavoidable, particularly in terms of correspondence.

CONDITIONS OF ACCESS AND USE AREA
Conditions governing access

This collection is available to all bona fide researchers, and subject to the conditions of access governing consultation of archival material at the James Hardiman Library. For a full statement of these conditions see:http://www.library.nuigalway.ie/collections/archives/conditionsofaccess No material may be reproduced from this collection without the written permission of the archivist, and all reproductions are subject to conditions of access. The most appropriate form of reference is Title of item; date of item: Reference Number (T4/xx), James Hardiman Library Archives, NUI Galway.

Finding aids
Descriptive list, prepared by Sarah Poutch in 2011.
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