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Seamus Heaney Nobel letter featured in online exhibition on Belfast's Lyric Theatre

The Lyric's 1977 production of The Gathering by Edna O’Brien. Back row left to right: Pat Leavy, Liam Neeson, Zelda Golden and Stella McCusker. Front row left to right: Lucie Jameson, Maureen Dow and Jack McQuoid. Picture by Hardiman Library, NUI Galway

A LETTER from poet Seamus Heaney following his Nobel prize win and photos of a young Liam Neeson feature in a new online exhibition to mark 50 years since the opening of the new Lyric Theatre in Belfast.

The theatre, founded in 1951 as the Lyric Players Theatre, opened the doors to its Ridgeway Street site in south Belfast in October 1968.

The exhibition of artefacts from the early 1950s to the late 1980s, hosted by NUI Galway, features annotated scripts, prompt books and letters including a signed note from former American first lady Jacqueline Kennedy to founder Mary O'Malley and her husband Pearse.

A letter from Seamus Heaney to Mary and Pearse O'Malley about his Nobel prize in 1996. Picture by Hardiman Library, NUI Galway

Other exhibits include a handwritten prop list from playwright Sam Thompson's landmark play Over the Bridge.

The Lyric theatre fostered stars including Neeson, Ciaran Hinds and Stella McCusker and playwrights including John Boyd, Stewart Parker and Christina Reid.

Its literary journal, Threshold, included works by Heaney, Brian Friel, John Hewitt, John Montague, and Mary Lavin.

A signed letter from Jacqueline Kennedy to Mary and Pearse O'Malley in 1968. Picture by Hardiman Library, NUI Galway

NUI Galway houses the theatre's archive.

Archivist Dr Barry Houlihan said the exhibition showed the theatre's successes and challenges over several decades.

"The digital archive material showcases to the world not just the vision of its founder, Mary O’Malley, but also her craft and vision as a director and producer, and also how the Lyric Theatre earns its place within a proud and rich theatre heritage internationally," he said.

Mary O'Malley, founder of the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. Picture by Hardiman Library, NUI Galway

Professor Lionel Pilkington said the archive includes the theatre's minute books and some audio tapes.

"This is an archive that tells the story of a vibrant (and frequently overlooked) all-Ireland cultural initiative operating with verve and enthusiasm within the context of an often suspicious and sometimes hostile political state," he said.

The archive can be viewed online at digital.library.nuigalway.ie

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