1987 saw the dawn of a new era in the history of drama in Carrigallen. There was no show that year as the back wall of St Patrick's Hall had been demolished to accommodate the Corn Mill Theatre which was built on parochial grounds behind the hall. With the increasing demand in the hall for other community activities, its availability to the Community Players became more limited. That, coupled with the realisation that theatre patrons expected a level of comfort that could not be provided in the hall, prompted the company to embark on the project of providing a purpose-built theatre and arts centre. Cathal Farrelly was chairman of the Community Players then. There were lots of dissenting voices when the idea was first mooted. After many meetings and much discussion as to whether a store for sets and props was required or a theatre, the latter was opted for. At a meeting in St Patrick's Hall, the decision was taken to provide a home for drama. Present at that meeting were Cathal Farrelly, the newly arrived parish priest, Fr John A Young, Lyndon Johnston, Gus Ward, Maura McGuinness and Eileen Ward. Fr Young had been discussing the issue with Fr Patsy Young and he certainly helped to convince the meeting that it was all or nothing. The money will come', he said.
The project got a great boost when the parish priest gave a site in the parochial property at the rear of the hall. A request for grant aid was unsuccessful but, not to be deterred, the company set about raising funds. A draw was organised, £40 per ticket, and the people from the parish and surrounding parishes and towns were generous in their response. Further monies were raised by the Community Players themselves from their own local productions. The dream became a reality and work commenced on the site in 1987 as the subject of a FÁS Training Scheme, ably supervised by the very experienced Pat Corr, Gulladoo. By 1989 the building was completed. Francie Smyth kindly donated the mill wheel, which is decoratively erected in front of the theatre and from which the name Corn Mill Theatre is derived. Then came the furnishing of the building. James Creed of An Grianán was helpful in securing seating from a cinema in Drogheda which had closed down. Cathal Farrelly got the seats at a bargain price and Tommy Reilly, O'Reilly Wood Products, provided a van to get them to Carrigallen. Frank Corrigan, the haulier, gave his lorry to collect the front-of-house velvet curtain and other fittings from a vacant cinema in Sligo. In this way, the thrifty committee pieced together the fixtures and fittings of the Corn Mill Theatre.
By 1989 the theatre was functional. It consisted of a foyer, a 160-seater raked auditorium, dressing room, box office, toilets, store room, kitchen and wardrobe. There was a catwalk and limited lighting installed since money was scarce by this time. The draw mentioned above raised upwards to £20,000. A very kind gesture was made by Pat Keane of Keane Holdings, who, having won the £1,000 prize, gave it back to the theatre committee. A memorable fund-raising event was the show A Slice of Leitrim & a Drop of Kavanagh staged in the National Concert Hall. This was co-ordinated between North and South Leitrim and the finances were divided accordingly.
God's Gentry, directed by Gus Ward, was the first production to take the stage at the Corn Mill Theatre when the doors opened in 1989. By this time the Community Players had fittingly become the Corn Mill Theatre Company. Whilst not a great success on the festival circuit, God's Gentry was a huge box office success. The play required a large cast and a lot of new talent was unearthed. Involved were Seamus O'Rourke, Kevin Doonon, Brona O'Brien, Charlotte Rosmond, Raymond Hackett, Michael Reilly, Cathriona O'Reilly, Jim Williamson, Maura McGuinness, Peter McNamee, Cathal Farrelly, Seán Ledwith, Margaret Mimna, Brian O'Reilly, Kevin Lynch, Killian McGuinness, Anne Doonan, Lil Fleming, Colette McCabe, Martina McCabe, Patricia McCabe, Geraldine Lane, Mary Dowling, Kathleen McCabe, Eamonn Daly, Thomas Lockhart, Seán Reilly, Vincent Murray, John Donnelly, Paddy McDermott, Rita Martin, Brian Caffrey, Tom Morrow, John Morrow. The back-stage crew were: Lyndon Johnston, Jonathan Finnegan, Pat McCann, Noel McGarahan, Dermot Harte, Philip McIntyre, Finbar Jackson, Ronan Ward, Elizabeth McGlynn, Una Ward, Seán Creamer, a total of 45 people including the director, Gus Ward.
The Honey Spike
In 1990 The Honeyspike showed its head again but was not as successful on the circuit as the previous production. John Donnelly, who played the part of Mickie, had by then a long-acting career which took him from the Gaelic Hall to St Patrick's Hall and now the Corn Mill Theatre. Paul Williams, presently a journalist with the Sunday World, interviewed John back in 1984. He quotes John as saying: 'In the time of the old Gaelic Hall, which was frequently visited by travelling professional drama groups, I was a young boy remember trying to get a look in the door, but gaining admission to these shows was no easy task. One night they were there. I was outside looking in but hadn't a bob to my name. A well-known character at the time, Tom the Post, was on the door and beckoned to me to come in, but I was too scared. The next thing was he came out, grabbed me by the hair and put me sitting in a seat when no one was looking. John's natural talent earned him numerous best actor awards at drama festivals, culminating in his winning best-actor award for his fabulous performance as Michael Sherlock, a tinker in The Honeyspike in the All-Ireland confined finals in 1975.
Two awards scooped soon after the theatre opened helped to boost the morale of those who worked so hard to make it a reality. Top of that team will have to be Cathal Farrelly, chairman, who did trojan work at that time. The two awards were the Bank of Ireland/Farmer's Journal Community Award of £1,000 in 1989 and the AIB Better Ireland Award for Culture in 1990. These awards brought the Corn Mill national acclaim. In the same year, 1990, the development company, after many submissions, got a response when a fact-finding team arrived from the Arts Council. The team included Larry McCluskey, CEO in Co Monaghan, who had a keen interest in amateur drama. In March the Committee was notified that an award of £30,000 was forthcoming. In July Ulster Bank, Arva granted £300 sponsorship towards Gormanstown summer school. Pete Ward, Cootehill, drew the plans for the theatre and gave expert advice throughout its building.
A Crucial Week in the Life of a Grocer's Assistant
In 1991 A Crucial Week in the Life of a Grocer's Assistant was directed by Cathal Farrelly. It was a box office success at home but the festival circuit didn't bring the success many felt it deserved. Kathleen Watkins and Gay Byrne visited the theatre in November 1991 and were pleasantly surprised to find such a wonderful theatre in a village in Leitrim.
The Communication Cord
The Communication Cord was staged in 1992 under the direction of Gus Ward. This Irish farce proved to be a tremendous success both on the festival circuit and at the theatre box office, where over 5,000 spectators passed through. After four open festival wins, hopes were high going to Athlone. A wonderful performance on the night was reflected on the final night when the company was awarded third place. Best Actress went to Eileen Ward for her memorable performance as Nóra Dan. The adjudicator, Scott Marshall, remarked on the performance: 'This was one of the finest pieces of acting I have seen in an Irish comedy for a long time'. Desmond Rushe, the drama critic with the Irish Independent, wrote: 'Eileen Ward gave a superb performance as Nóra Dan. In dress, appearance, gesture, voice and poise her naturalistic acting was totally credible and achingly funny'. In total, the Communication Cord was staged 35 times.
The Gentle Island
In 1992 Cathal Farrelly relinquished his position as chairman, a position he had held for ten years, to Eileen Ward. Another Brian Friel play The Gentle Island was the 1993 choice, again under the direction of Gus Ward. This play pleased sufficient adjudicators to qualify for the All-Ireland finals. The play was another success story when it came fifth, and Hugh Reilly and Seán Donnelly were awarded Best Lighting of the festival. Resulting from a win for the company in the Mid-Ulster festival in Carrickmore, Co Tyrone, the Corn Mill Theatre Company were invited to contest the Ulster Finals in the Grand Opera House in Belfast. This regretfully never came to fruition as the opera house was bombed two nights before the Carrigallen Company were due to perform there. The contest took place at an alternative venue. A hurried exodus from Belfast was enforced due to a bomb scare in the festival club after the show.
A Matter of Practice
Another visitor to the theatre in September 1993 was Anne Walshe of RTE who was doing research for the Arts Show on RTE Radio. The Corn Mill featured in one of the arts shows later in the year. After the highs of the previous years, the company was brought back to earth when at first nobody could be found to direct a play for the 1994 season. Into the breach stepped Killian McGuinness with his production of Dr Cyril Daly's A Matter of Practice in which Geraldine Cosgrove played an apothecary. Killian decided to forego the festival circuit, a decision he may have regretted later since his production was a resounding success.
Conversations on a Homecoming
New ground was broken in October 1994 when, under the banner of Co-operation North, an amateur drama group, Tongue in Cheek from the Ardoyne, Belfast, performed plays written by their own Kate Muldoon in the Corn Mill Theatre. This project was grant-aided and so it was possible to accommodate the visitors overnight. In reciprocation, the Corn Mill Theatre Company were invited north in January 1995 with two one-act plays, The Zoo Story and Family Matters. The following year, 1995, Conversations on a Homecoming, a difficult play to perform, was directed by Gus. It was handled superbly and achieved fifth place in the All-Ireland finals.
In 1996, having consulted with the company, Gus Ward was requested by John McDwyer to direct his newly written play Lovely Leitrim, which was subsequently premiered in the Corn Mill Theatre in February 1996, where the cast took a bow to tumultuous applause from the audience. The play was a resounding box office success. On the festival circuit, Lovely Leitrim was also a winner. The cast, crew, playwright and producer felt a great sense of pride when the company performed in the 41st All-Ireland final in Athlone where they finished in fourth position, with Seán McIntyre winning All-Ireland Best Supporting Actor for his brilliant performance as Clocker Lynch. The adjudicator, Irene Rostrow, on making her selection, said: 'Who else can it be but Clocker Lynch?' Lovely Leitrim was the Corn Mill Theatre's fourth appearance in five years in the Athlone finals. The following were involved in the year's production: Cathal Farrelly, Pat Fitzpatrick, Niall Brady, Seán McIntyre, Jim Williamson, Killian McGuinness, Thomas Lockhart, Eileen Ward, Brona O'Brien, Peter McNamee, Brian O'Reilly, Raymond Hackett, Gus Ward, Eugene Finnegan, Eamonn Daly, Hugh Reilly, Ronan Ward, Seán Donnelly, Seamus Mulligan, Mervyn Rice, Fr Patsy Young, Elizabeth McGlynn, Una Ward, Declan Donohoe, Shane Flynn, Enda Lyons, Martin Fullen.
In 2010 Gus Ward directed Shining City by Conor McPherson with the following cast; Ronan Ward, Seamus O'Rourke, Patricia Ledwith and Tommy Sharkey. Seamus O'Rourke went on to win the All-Ireland Best Actor Award in Athlone for his portrayal of John.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane
In 2011 Killian McGuinness directed The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh with the following cast; Deirdre O'Reilly, Maura Farrelly McGuinness, Charles McGuinness and Seamus O'Rourke. Seamus O'Rourke went on to win the All-Ireland Best Supporting Actor Award in Athlone for his portrayal of Pato Dooley.
In 2012 Sean McIntyre directed The Seafarer by Conor McPherson with the following cast; Raymond Hackett, Brian O'Reilly, Ronan Ward, Stephen Gray and Killian McGuinness. An RTE film crew; Power Pictures followed the group on the festival circuit as part of a six-part documentary called Simply Am Dram which was screened in April 2013.
Brothers of the Brush
In 2013 Sean McIntyre directed Brothers of the Brush by Jimmy Murphy with the following cast; Raymond Hackett, Ronan Ward, Stephen Gray and Charles McGuinness.
The Devil's Ceili - RTÉ All-Ireland Winners
In 2014 we won our third All-Ireland drama title when Ronan Ward directed The Devil's Ceili by Philip Doherty & Kevin McGahern. Loui Finnegan won the Best Stage Management Award while the group were nominated for Best Lighting - Philip McIntyre, Barry Nash & Nevel Patterson, Best Setting - Jonathan Finnegan and Best Supporting Actors Gus Ward & Killian McGuinness. We also won the Abbey Theatre Award which saw the group perform in the Peacock, Dublin for three nights in mid-May.
The Dead School
In 2015 Ronan Ward directed The Dead School by Pat McCabe with a cast of 26 actors playing over 50 different roles. The group got five-second placings on the regional festival circuit but unfortunately failed to reach the RTE All-Ireland Finals in Athlone.
One Act Circuit
over the years
Numerous one-act plays have been undertaken by the company. It was the standard policy to introduce new blood to the boards through this medium. Some of the plays were Spring, Spreading the News(2), The Travelling Man, On the Outside, Dream Jobs, The Coiner, Pound on Demand, Thirst(2), Dopey Dan, Backwater, Riders to the Sea, Drinkin Companions, Blackjacks (written by its cast), Kernaghan's Law, Zoo Story, Family Matters and the All-Ireland winning show The Workhouse Ward in 1981, directed by Gus Ward. Starring in that show were Gus Ward, Killian McGuinness, Cathal Farrelly and Mary Newman (a teacher in the Vocational School).
In 2009 after a break from the One Act circuit we again participated with the Seamus O'Rourke play Wagging Finger starring Tommy Sharkey and Charles McGuinness. It reached the All-Ireland Finals held in the Backstage Theatre, Longford later that year. In 2010 the group produced Victor's Dung written by Seamus O'Rourke which came 2nd in the All-Ireland One Act Finals in the Mill Theatre, Dundrum featuring a cast of Seamus O'Rourke, Tommy Sharkey & Charles McGuinness. In 2013 the group performed Shoebox and Whiskey written by Charles McGuinness, directed by Maura Farrelly McGuinness and featuring a cast of Killian McGuinness & Dara Finn. It reached the All-Ireland One Act Finals in Roscommon and was placed fourth.