The Craic so far!
We have been having the best Craic in Coalisland since 1996. That’s all we ever wanted to do, have a bit fun doing what we love doing putting on shows. If we are asked by anyone what is Craic all about, we usually say that we are active in promoting skills and providing opportunities for young people in the fields of performing arts, acting, singing, dancing, set and costume design, lighting design, make-up, etc.
However we do all these things while taking great enjoyment in doing so. It may sound that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Nothing could be further from the truth. We approach every production with a professional attitude that would be the envy of any professional theatre company. Anyone who has been to one of our show would testify to the high standards we set ourselves. But that’s all part of the enjoyment, presenting to the people of Coalisland and beyond top class plays and musicals to the highest standard. Serious fun!
Our first production took to the stage of the Parochial Centre Coalisland in 1996. After many meetings involving a number of interested people it was decided that Willie Russells “Our Day Out” would be an ideal show as it required a large cast of early to mid teenage actors and performers. After a number of years and many productions it became clear that the Parochial Centre was not ideal for the type and scale of production that we wanted to put on. The committee spent several years searching for accommodation that could be made into a custom made Arts Centre.
In 2002 we achieved our goal of opening such a centre. Now the theatre is known all over and has a reputation that we’re proud of.
The following groups and individuals use the theatre as a base:
- Lynda Wright School of Dance
- Craic Players
- Craic Youth Theatre
- Coalisland Community Cinema
- Siobhan Cavanagh O’Neill Singing Academy
- Damian O’Neill School of Irish Dance
- Footlights Theatre Co.
If you would like more information then please contact us.
A dramatic & musical history
Coalisland has had a long proud history of community involvement in the arts and especially in drama and music. There are several accounts about the social life of Coalisland in the late 19th century when it could be argued Coalisland was at the height of it’s industrial prosperity. Below is an extract from a publication, which helps to illustrate this fact.
In his book “Coalisland in the Industrial Revolution 1800-1901″ Austin Stewart describes the “social life” of the town cira 1880’s and 1890’s.
“In addition to religion there were other ways of passing the time in Coalisland. Temperance cafes and “self-improving” public meetings in modern community halls were encouraged. The widely accepted educative principle of a sound mind in a sound body saw a crusade to embrace all forms of outdoor pursuits like cycling, swimming, football playing and spectating. Yet despite all these new leisure ways it appeared that the public house was central to the social life of the population. Coalisland was no different. In it’s own way it mirrored the activities that were central to a more urban population. A coffee house was established in 1885. An amateur concert was held in the Protestant hall in the town to raise funds for its maintenance. In order that the hall would be more user-friendly and help cultivate other pursuits local merchant, John Stevenson, wainscoted, painted, seated, lighted and improved the hall at his own expense. In 1890’s the Catholic community saw the need to erect an extra storey on St. Patrick’s hall in order to facilitate a reading room and accommodate a billiard table. A drama club was set up in 1894.
Touring drama groups like the Warwick Buckland Company were no strangers to the area. The Mexican circus, when it visited, was a huge draw not least because Johnny Patterson, the famous Irish clown, was traveling with it. Reading pursuits were encouraged through the good auspices of the Tyrone Courier newspaper. It had a circulating library and often had surplus novels for sale. These included the works of renowned authors such as George Meredith, Walter Scott, R.L. Stevenson, Anthony Trollope, Mark Twain, Charlotte Yonge and others. Music, particularly band music was very popular. There were bands everywhere; the Coalisland Brass band, the Coalisland Flute band, Ballinderry Brass and Mahon Flute bands. The band received first class tuition from local and amateur musicians.
“In the American Civil War of 1861-1864 the cotton exporting Southern ports blocked by the Northern forces were causing a severe shortage of cotton. A Manchester cotton tycoon named Ledlie Clarke foresaw that a boom in demand for cotton goods would arise after the war. In order to meet this opportunity, he got together with John Stevenson of Stevenson’s yard to whom he was related by marriage; to build a weaving factory in Coalisland.
The choice of site was appropriate. A water supply from the river Torrent by the way of the mill race to the old spade mill already existed, the nearby canal could provide transport and railway connections were already being planned. Most important of all, the area was noted for the skilled hand-loom weavers required to operate the new power looms driven by one of the new steam engines that contributed to the Industrial Revolution.
By 1886 the factory under the name “Stevenson & Clarke” 1 went into production. As time went on both cotton and linen goods were produced including mattress ticking, awnings, damask tablecloths and tea cloths. Unlike many other factories dyed and bleached its own yarn, wove and then “finished” its own fabrics all highly skilled and specialised work.
Around 1886 John Stevenson withdrew from the business which carried on as “L. Clarke & Sons”.
The Clarkes were keen sportsmen not averse to a bit of cock fighting and with a great fondness for thoroughbred horses which were stabled in the factory grounds near where “The Yankee Star Grill” restaurant now stands. One weekend in September 1894 a stable boy whose job was to feed the horses with mash found that he was out of salt. He knew that salt was used in the Dyeing process but the factory was closed for the weekend. He managed to break in to the dye house and took what he thought was salt. Sadly, it was a poisonous chemical also used in the dyeing and all five horses died, their graves still marked by a stone surround in the yard.
In 1901 Mr Christopher Beatty joined the firm as works manager. When the Clarke family died out around 1922, Mr Beatty joined up with Sir Samuel Kelly (of Kelly’s Yard and the coal mines) to carry on as Coalisland Weaving Company. Shortly after, Kelly pulled out of the company and Mr Beatty carried on, joined by his son George and later by his younger son Charles.
Back in the late 1930’s a large new yarn store was built, being always referred to as the “New Building” (but more about that later).
By the 1960’s foreign competition began to herald the end of the Textile Industry in Northern Ireland, and in October 1976 the big engine was turned off for the last time. Some weaving production greatly reduced carried on for a time powered by an electric motor until a serious fire destroyed the production area in 1977 and another fire in 1978 saw the final closure.
At this time a group of local business men and community leaders became concerned with the lack of job opportunies for the young people of the area. These people got together to form Coalisland Development Association, buying the now-derelict factory and setting up a youth training programme. The “New Building” now became training workshops for joinery, engineering, building, craft and electrical subjects.
Then in 1995 the “Craic” theatre company was formed and by 2003 and the “New Building” provided by Coalisland and District Development Association, was being transformed yet again by highly professional and talented hands into the luxurious theatre we see now.”
1 The initials “S & C” (Stevenson & Clarke) and the initials “L C & S” (L. Clarke & Sons) can be seen on the built-up arches in the front courtyard.