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A history of Birr Theatre & Arts Centre (part 3)

After last week's poetic and eventful opening night (we can only imagine what it is like to have 150 ticket-less people storming our doors 🤣) Patt Grogan continues her history of Oxmatown Hall. today we learn more about the up's and the down of running a local theatre in the last century.

Third installment "The up and downs of rural theatre"

After it's joyful opening night, the Hall quickly became a vital part of the social and cultural life of the town and was in every way multi denominational which was unusual in Birr, as the different religious groups stayed separate except for the arts.

It was used to raise funds for various societies within the town. Between 1915-1916, we see posters for events to fund the Catholic Young Mens Society, to defray expenses in renovating their premises, the performance of a play to raise funds for the Birr Jubilee Nurse Fund and a dramatic entertainment to aid The Comforts Fund for the Leinster Regiment.

This was the birthing period of the theatre, however, from 1920’s attendance at the theatre was in decline, as its receipts couldn’t maintain its repairs and expenditure, thus the theatre experiences large debts the Irish Times informs us (2/2/1934). This decline climaxed, according to the Irish Times (ibid) when the Earl of Rosse and others were brought before the courts by the Attorney General to determine if the theatre had charitable status. At the hearing, Dr. W.A Morton of Brandon House, Birr, one of the plaintiffs stated in the course of the affidavit that, by the indenture referred to the Earl of Rosse demised to the trustees a plot of ground bounded on the North by Oxmantown Mall for the purpose of erecting buildings and premises to be called Oxmantown Hall and to be used for religious, charitable, literary or political purposes and for the holding of meetings and assemblies, for the giving of lectures, concerts, dramatic entertainment and other purposes, provided that such purposes or objects should not in any degree be opposed “to the interests and welfare of the Church of Ireland or loyal subjects of the Crown”.

The Irish Times(ibid) informs us that during the hearing reference was made to the improvements that were made to the theatre and an overdraft was obtained in the bank, which was secured by the personal guarantee of the trustees for the time being. This amounted to £550.

Owing to changed conditions, there seemed to be no prospect of paying off the overdraft, and the trustees were anxious to sell off the property and discharge their liability to the bank. The Earl of Rosse, according to the Irish Times (ibid) was willing to join the other plaintiffs in applying the sale of the premises, in paying off the liability to the bank. The court’s decision was that the hall was not a charitable trust and its debts had to be paid.

The Kings County Chronicle on March 15" 1934 under the heading ‘Birr Brevities’, “The Oxmantown Hall Birr, has been purchased by Mr. J.J. Murphy, proprietor of the Rialto Cinema, Emmet Square, for the sum of £1,000.

See you soon for the fourth installment of our story...

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