William Tyrone Guthrie
Sir William Tyrone Guthrie, founder of the centre, was an innovative theatre director.
Brian Friel said of Tyrone Guthrie "He’s a marvellous, marvellous man. He’s the greatest. A great man in every way. Not a great man of the theatre but a great man without qualification".
Sir William Tyrone Guthrie 1900-1971 was a celebrated Tony Award-winning theatrical director who was instrumental in founding the Stratford Festival of Canada and the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Guthrie was a great-grandson of the 19th century Irish actor Tyrone Power, and was a also cousin of the Hollywood actor by the same name; Tyrone Power. Guthrie’s grandmother Martha was daughter of Dr. John Moorhead.
Guthrie received a degree in history at Oxford in 1923, where he was active in student theatre. Upon leaving college he worked for a season at the newly-established Oxford Playhouse and then joined the BBC where he began to produce plays for radio, becoming one of the first writers to create plays designed for radio performance.
From 1936–1945 he was director of the Shakespeare Repertory Company and in the 1940s he began to direct operas to critical acclaim. Intrigued with the idea of starting a Shakespeare theatre in a remote Canadian location, in Stratford, Ontario he enlisted Alec Guinness to star in the inaugural production of Richard III. He remained as Artistic Director for three seasons, and his work at Stratford had a strong influence in the development of Canadian theatre. In 1963, he founded the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis Minnesota.
Fellow Theatre Director Peter Hall wrote of Guthrie that "Among the great originators in British Theatre...Guthrie was a towering figure in every sense. He blazed a trail for the subsidised theatre of the sixties. He showed how to run a company and administer a theatre and he was a brilliant and at times great director..."
Guthrie was an honorary Doctor of Literature of St. Andrew’s, and also, a distinction he greatly prized, Chancellor of The Queen’s University, Belfast. He was knighted in 1961 but never used the salutation of “Sir”. Guthrie died at home at Annaghmakerrig in 1971, aged 70. He was survived by his wife Judith who died the following year. In his will, with the encouragement of his family, Tyrone Guthrie left the house to the Irish State for use as a residential workplace for artists, and thus we see the genesis of the Tyrone Guthrie Centre as we know it today. It was also the sole stipulation of Tyrone Guthrie’s Will that all artists would gather for a meal once a day, and mealtimes at the centre are now a distinctive part of the residency experience.
Guthrie’s dream was pursued by visionary and dedicated people through both Arts Councils in Ireland at a time of deep political division. The old house was skilfully converted and Annaghmakerrig opened its doors to its first residents on 10 October 1981.
Over time, the Centre purchased the gardens, original parkland, lake and farmyard, together with its buildings and the leasehold of the woodlands.