Birr Theatre & Arts Centre Celebrates its 10th Birthday

Neil Hannon who will perform with the Divine Comedy in Birr Theatre & Arts Centre on Friday 8 October

Birr Theatre & Arts Centre is thrilled to be celebrating its 10th Birthday this coming weekend (July 30 & 31) with a great line-up of entertainment to celebrate this momentous occasion.

This dedicated purpose built Theatre nestled in tree lined Oxmantown Mall which originally dates from 1888 fell into disrepair over the past few decades but has now been restored to its original glory.  It is now a high quality facility providing a base for the development of the Arts in Birr town and the County of Offaly since its grand re-opening in July 2000.
The origins of Birr Theatre & Arts Centre date back to 1887 when a group of people decided that Birr needed a ‘large structure that would suit multifarious requirements for the benefit and entertainment of the inhabitants at large ….a Hall that would serve a variety of purposes from a Sunday school down to a social tea party.’ (King’s County Chronicle, 17 January 1889.)
A Grand Opening Night was held on 15 January 1889 with a play, continued with ‘theatricals’, a vocal and piano concert and ended with another play.  The opening night was an undoubted success and set the tone for the next century.  The Oxmantown Hall became an integral part of the social and cultural life of Birr until the 1980s.  Unfortunately, this momentum failed and the Hall lay idle for most of the 1980s.  In the early 1990’s, many locals felt that the Hall should be restored.  Fortunately, Birr was declared a Heritage Town in 1993 and a group of local people undertook to purchase the building. Over €25,000 of public funds was guaranteed whilst the remaining €27,500 (£22,000) was donated locally.

The first performance in the renovated Theatre and Arts Centre was in July 2000 by Liz Carroll, international fiddle player.  Since then over 100,000 people have been through it’s doors, which not only caters for theatre and music events, but also contemporary dance and ballet classes, Birr Film Club and rehearsal and workshop space for Birr Stage Guild and Offaly Drama Project.  It gives the opportunity to rural drama groups to present their productions in a professional theatre with its lighting and stage equipment and is also widely used for visual arts exhibitions in the dedicated exhibition area; Suas an Staighre.  These run throughout the year and artists are selected by way of an application and selection process.  In addition Birr Theatre & Arts Centre provides rehearsal/studio space for Legitimate Bodies Dance Company – resident dance company since October 2007 who run year round classes for all ages and abilities along with performances and displays.  Birr Theatre & Arts Centre has truly become the centre for entertainment and culture in both Birr and the surrounding locale.
To date musicians who have performed at this venue include Aiker Bilk, Luka Bloom, Mundy, Jack L, Don Baker, Roesy, Frances Black, The Fureys & Davy Arthur, Ronnie Drew, Johnny McEvoy Cathy Davey, Brian Kennedy, Jimmy MacCarthy, Tommy Fleming, The High Kings, Mick Flannery, Paddy Casey, Declan O’Rourke and Mary Coughlan.  Amongst the comedians who have graced this stage are Pat Short, Neil Delamere, Colin Murphy, Jon Kenny, Des Bishop, Maeve Higgins and Brendan Grace along with classical performances by Opera Ireland, Co-Opera, and Opera UK and traditional Irish artistes.  Some well known national and international actors have also graced the stage: Honor Blackman, Tom Hickey, Mick Lally, Mary McEvoy, Des Keogh and Donal O’Kelly.
Dance continues to increase its profile with Legitimate Bodies Dance Company holding classes for all ages and fitness levels, along with a number of performances.  Pinocchio – The Dance of a Long Nose; was an incredible joint venture between the dance company and 25 boys from St. Brendan’s Boys Primary School, Birr as was Romeo & Juliet a collaboration between the dance company and the TY students of Gallen CS Ferbane which proved to be another huge success.
Birr Film Club continues to go from strength to strength, its wide genre of films showcasing presentations from around the world.
In the dedicated exhibition space “Suas an Staighre” over 20 solo visual arts exhibitions and group exhibitions showcasing the work of over 100 artists have taken place to great public acclaim.  And now, with the larger foyer space there is even more space to expand the visual arts programme.
Hullabaloo! – Offaly’s Children’s Arts Festival has taken place for the past 3 years engaging numerous children with sessions in dance, art, crafts, circus skills, storytelling, photography, story writing, and puppet workshops along with a number of live performances.  This Festival is kindly supported by the Arts Council, Offaly County Council, Birr Theatre & Arts Centre and the and it also acknowledges the assistance of Birr Town Council, Birr Lions Club and Access Cinema.
As always, Birr Stage Guild makes a huge contribution to Birr Theatre & Arts Centre.  Its Irish première of The Likes of Us in March 2009, along with a multitude of pantomimes, plays and musicals, not to mention their lunchtime plays during Birr Vintage Week & Arts Festival and their hosting of the One Act Drama Festival for the past number of years confirms the importance of this venue as a hub for the arts in the Midlands.  Many local and national Theatre groups have all received a warm welcome in this wonderfully intimate venue.
Children and younger people are extremely well catered for with a range of activities consistently provided for their entertainment and education.  Camps such as the Youth Theatre Week, The Reel World – Filmmaking for Young People, the School of Rock and the Children’s Theatre Summer Camp have proved to be in great demand
The huge numbers who have attended the wide and varied programme of events hosted at the Theatre are a testament to the importance of this venue and its firmly established position in the community and its environs.  These increased numbers necessitated the renovation of the original foyer space which can now offer patrons a more enjoyable and comfortable theatre experience with more space before performances and during the intervals.  This space can also facilitate much needed visual arts space to realise their artistic ambitions and gives the local community the opportunity to extend their experiences of the Arts.  Employing a full-time Manager and six part-time staff, the additional space is very welcome indeed.
With this beautiful building now refurbished and extended and the stage cleared for action, we can look forward to another hundred years of artistic and creative endeavour at Birr Theatre and Arts Centre.
This weekend as part of the Theatre’s birthday celebrations, on Friday 30th July, and having consistently played to full houses since his first gig at Birr Theatre & Arts Centre back in 2001, the Theatre is delighted that Mundy is joining in this special occasion – be sure to get your tickets early for what is sure to be a great night!  The following day, Saturday 31st, a Street Festival is planned on Oxmantown Mall from 2- 5pm as part of the celebrations.  There will be live music, street theatre, dance performances, stilt walkers, jugglers, visual arts are lots more this is an event for all the family to enjoy!  Why not come along and join in the fun and help us celebrate 10 vibrant years of the Arts in Birr and toast to the future of this very special venue.

Rebecca Storm

Forthcoming events include Rebecca Storm – Greatest Hits in Concert on Friday 17th September and The Divine Comedy – an Evening with Neil Hannon which takes place on Friday 8th October.
Full details on all upcoming events can be found on or from the box office: (057) 9122911 Mon-Fri 1-5.30pm.  Purchases can also be made online – all tickets must be paid for at time of booking (credit cards accepted)-tickets non-refundable.
Don’t miss a date – join our mail list – Today!

Birr Theatre & Arts Centre acknowledges support from The Arts Council.

Comments are closed.