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The Patrician Hall - a diamond in the heart of Carrickmore

It is a diamond of a year for the Patrician Hall in Carrickmore, Co Tyrone which is marking its milestone 60th birthday. Gail Bell finds out more about the special building which lies at the heart of village life

Gail Bell

THEY have all taken a bow on its polished stage – Roy Orbison, Sandie Shaw, Seamus Heaney, Liam Neeson and Stephen Rea to name a few – but this year the spotlight has turned back on the Patrician Hall itself as Co Tyrone's enduring theatre marks its milestone 60th birthday.

With a rich history in hosting everything from plays to pantomimes, concerts to discos, weddings to funerals, bingo to yoga, memories run deep for residents of the village of Carrickmore.

"Our lives revolve around that place in some way," observes chairperson, Eilish Gormley. "It's a space for celebrations and commemorations, for public entertainment, sports fundraisers and also important family events like weddings and christenings – it is the centre of village life, really."

To mark the milestone, a special show - Carmen: The First 60 Years - was staged in April with legendary singer Philomena Begley - herself marking 60 years in show business this year - appearing on stage to rapturous applause on the final night.

Written by local man, Declan Forde, Carmen tells the story of one girl's dreams to become a famous singer, while charting the history of the Patrician in song.

"It allowed the audience to see everything through Carmen's eyes as she watched the big stars of the day perform on the Patrician stage," explains Eilish, a long-time supporter of the theatre who served on the committee before moving into the 'chair' post two years ago.

"The talent on stage really showed what the Patrician is all about and then when Philomena appeared, it was a fabulous way to end the celebration.

"Philomena would have cut her performing teeth in our hall which was a big showband hall back in the day, so we were delighted when she said she would take part. She came out and brought the house down."

Next up, as part of the anniversary celebrations, is a concert by folk singer Dan McCabe this Saturday, followed by a Ciaran Houlihan's Elvis tribute spectacular at the beginning of October.

"And the popular rock discos have restarted after being closed because of Covid and they run the second Friday of every month for Year 10 and upwards," enthuses Eilish.

"The Patrician is a real community hub - it was the place for bingo and even Mass was held here when the chapel [St Colmcille's Church] was being renovated. There have also been a few legitimate weddings and even a mock one as well – a while back we did 'Elvis and Priscilla's wedding' as a fundraiser for our local football club.

"Different clubs and societies use the venue which today is run by volunteers under the stewardship of voluntary charitable group, MUCAP (Mid Ulster Community and Arts Trust). It has been home to the Mid Ulster Drama Festival for over 50 years as well as hosting top theatrical events."

The Patrician's journey first began in 1960 when curate, Fr James Donnelly, along with parish priest, Fr Charles Vallely, drew up a programme of building works for the entire parish of Termonmaguirc, to include the construction of new primary schools and a secondary school.

"Following on from the success of the showbands in the Gap Ballroom in nearby Mullaslin, the local clergymen had the idea that a brand new community hall in Carrickmore village should also host showbands, as well as drama productions and other activities to raise money for the building works," says Eilish.

"And so, in May 1961, two old buildings in Main Street, Carrickmore, were demolished and the site cleared to make way for the new venue.

"The foundation stone was laid in July of that year and teams of voluntary workmen from throughout the parish gave their time, expertise and machinery to complete the building within nine months."

On February 25 1962, the new "state-of-the-art" Patrician Hall officially opened with a variety concert headlined by Irish tenor, Brendan O'Dowda. A full programme of events followed, led by an enthusiastic committee whose members volunteered their time for box office duties and hospitality – with dedicated caretaker, Mickey Coyle, the 'main man' about the hall for decades.

Reconfigured for the new millennium, the building underwent major renovation works, with MUCAP transforming the space from parish hall to modern theatre, reopening in 2005 with retractable tiered seating and bringing a "real theatre experience" to audiences in Carrickmore.

"There is a lot of nostalgia surrounding the Patrician and nearly everyone in the village will have their own memories of some special occasion or event," says Eilish, who recalls with fondness visiting the pantomimes as a child.

"We won't always have big theatre productions and we won't always have big nights out, but activities like yoga, birthday parties and the afternoon club for older members of our community are equally important. The Patrician is a venue for everyone and for everything.

"Here's to the next 60 years - we are just the custodians. You have to hand the baton on to the next generation who have been enjoying uncovering the history of this building and recognising the important role it played in people's lives – and continues to do so today."

:: Dan McCabe plays the Patrician Hall this Saturday, May 28. Tickets via ticketmaster.co.uk. Tickets for Ciaran Houlihan's Elvis tribute show in October are available from the Patrician box office, by telephoning 077 6926 6002 or emailing info@thepatrician.ie.

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