Galway's Early Association with the Theatre

This article was written by C. Townley and was published in the 'Galway Reader' in the 1950s. The 'Galway Reader' is available from Galway Public Library.

Strolling Players

While theatrical performances, as we understand the term today, were given in Ireland from as early as the beginning of the 15th century, it is not until about the middle of the 18th century that Galway appears to come up for notice. Licensed companies began to fan out from Dublin to places like Kilkenny, Wexford and Youghal and other eastern and southern towns. By all accounts those early players were a reckless and irresponsible lot and not over-given to the virtue of civic spirit. In the records books of the Corporation of Youghall there is an entry on the 16 February, 1619-20:

"William Durant, glazier, was admitted to his freedom, on condition of his glazing the Tholsel, fitting the windows with iron bars, newly painting the King's Arms, washing the walls of the court with Spanish white. Except at such times when the Mayor may give permission to the Players to Occupy the House and they break the battered windows."In 1635 this same Corporation ruled that"... no Mayor or Bayliffes shall give license to stage players or any other of that kind to make use of the Town Hall and ..."

These strolling players came to be regarded as an essential feature of all festive gatherings. Their presence was usually sponsored by some local Lord or important official; all performances of course, being directed at the time to the intellectuality of the classical vintage. The early Classical tragedy of Gorboduc was done at the Castle in Dublin in 1601, the charge for admission being "one and twenty shillings and two Groats." Nevertheless, the works of Shakespeare were not performed within the country during the poet's lifetime, or in fact, until many years after his death.

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