Irene Malone and Helen Hahessy performing ‘I Know Him So Well’ during the official re-opening concert held at the Strand Theatre on Friday last.   |Photos: Dennis Barry

Irene Malone and Helen Hahessy performing ‘I Know Him So Well’ during the official re-opening concert held at the Strand Theatre on Friday last. |Photos: Dennis Barry

The events of last Friday night at Carrick-on-Suir’s Strand Theatre were a long time in the planning. And what a night it was.

For the members of Carrick-on-Suir Musical Society and its hard-working committee, there has scarcely been a prouder night in its distinguished history.

And what a home they now boast in a theatre whose transformation is proof that Carrick is a town full of driven, motivated, proud people who truly wish to see the place they live up in lights.

Minister Martin Mansergh was on hand to unveil a plaque onstage before a packed auditorium of invited friends and patrons of the Society.

He was joined by Bishop of Waterford William Lee and the Reverend George Cliffe, who performed a blessing during the formal element of last Friday’s reopening event.

Also present for the opening was Winston Johnson, President of the Amateur Musical Societies of Ireland (AIMS), who congratulated Society President Pádraig Sheehan for spearheading the redevelopment project.

Dick Meany, one of the great luminaries of Irish musical theatre, was a proud man last Friday night – and rightly so. His ceaseless dedication to the Carrick cause is known the country over and last Friday was an occasion that he revelled in.

Dick spoke about the late Christy Butler, who saw the original theatre spring from blueprinted dream to brick-and-mortar reality.

Since the late 1970s, the Strand has housed tens of thousands of singers, actors, dancers, musicians and theatre-goers. Be it musical, pantomime, concert, variety show, bingo, even wrestling – the Strand has proven a wonderful facility for over three decades.

And now, thanks to the efforts of Pádraig Sheehan, Dick Meany, the late Catherine Nolan and dozens more, the Strand will cater for the best of local and national talent for decades to come.

So what’s new in the Strand?
The main foyer: Completely new, this new meet and greet area comes complete with a shop and ticket collection point, along with a lift which ferries partons to the top foyer. The top foyer: Also all new, the top foyer also features an entrance off Dillon Bridge which provides wheelchair access into the Strand and will provide the location for the theatre’s new box office. The sound and lighting box is just off this area, while a props store beneath is accessible from the exterior. The winebar: On the top level, to the front of the development’s third phase, the wine bar was in full use last Friday, where guests mingled ahead of the official opening. This is an area where patrons can enjoy a drink before curtain up, at the interval and after the show. The Society hopes to have a full bar licence for the facility soon. Upstairs rehearsal area: Also designed to double up as a dressing room and make-up area, this new section also includes toilets and showers for performers, along with a costume room. The staircase: Connecting the main and top foyer, the staircase is a source of particular pride to the Society committee. This leads into the auditorium, where the Society’s memorabilia is now on view. Toilets in this section have also been refurbished.
 Auditorium: The complete foundation of the original auditorium has been underpinned, with the work in this section forming the first part of the theatre’s redevelopment. Special acoustic plaster board has been installed to provide better sound, while a new orchestra pit under the stairs also provides front seat patrons with a better view. The orchestra and pit singers appreciate the additional room as well, one might add! The auditorium was completely re-wired, while a new fire evacuation system, public address, heating and air extraction systems have also been installed. All lighting, seats, curtains and lighting in the auditorium are also new.
Backstage: The downstairs workshop and entrance hallway, just behind the shop are also new. The old dressing room, a scene of organised chaos for many years, has been divided into two areas – one being part of the stage and the other now being used as a ‘Green Room’. The main stage has been cleared of all old items which restricted space previously, while a hydraulic trap door has also been fitted.

The night concluded with a hour-long concert, with RTE Lyric FM’s Niall Carroll performing presenting duties on the night, while brother Fergal directed musical proceedings from the pit.

And at the end of it all, and not for the first time, an audience at the Strand Theatre stood to applaud the performers and musicians.

But they were standing for a few other reasons too – recognising Christy Butler, Michael Ingoldsby, Catherine Nolan and the hundreds of men and women who have contributed to the telling of the Strand Theatre story.

From those who paint backdrops to those who riveted seats into the floor here, to those who get us clapping on the stage and those who’ve conjured so many wonderful performances out of actors, all were recognised last Friday.

For the new Strand Theatre is a facility which truly lies at the heart of the Carrick-on-Suir community – and long may that remain the case.