Limerick man is toast of New York theatre

Alan Owens

Reporter:

Alan Owens

A NEW York based festival which celebrates Irish theatre and was founded four years ago by Limerick man, George C Heslin, has received praise from Bill Clinton and welcomed Gabriel Byrne as a special guest at a recent awards ceremony.

A NEW York based festival which celebrates Irish theatre and was founded four years ago by Limerick man, George C Heslin, has received praise from Bill Clinton and welcomed Gabriel Byrne as a special guest at a recent awards ceremony.

The 1st Irish Theatre Festival finished last week after its fourth outing and was “the most successful one to date with record attending audiences”, according to Raheen’s Heslin, who runs the festival through Origin Theatre Company, which he founded in 2002, two years after he moved to the city.

The festival finale took place in Manhattan last week with an awards ceremony that was attended by Irish Cultural Ambassador, Gabriel Byrne, with four productions from Ireland receiving awards, delighting Heslin, who founded the festival to showcase Irish theatre in New York.

“I’m absolutely delighted that overseas companies have benefited so much from both performing and networking at 1st Irish,” said George. “This year is yet another amazing example of how the festival continues to be a gateway to North America for contemporary Irish playwrights.”

Heslin founded Origin to offer American audiences the chance to see work by new and emerging European playwrights and the idea for 1st Irish grew from this, as he told this newspaper at the time.

“I think it was born out of Origin and the truth is that I hadn’t planned on a theatre festival, it grew very organically, shockingly organically,” he laughed.

The festival has subsequently drawn huge audiences to see emerging Irish productions and has been showered with praise by Bill Clinton, among others. It is funded by the Department of the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Culture Ireland, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and several other public and private bodies.

“The idea is that we expose a contemporary version of Ireland. It is so important that we present our culture, we have to show the new Ireland. We have to show that we are incredibly talented, sophisticated people,” George said.