Sir William Tyrone Guthrie and the history of Annaghmakerrig House

Sir William Tyrone Guthrie (1900- 1971), after whom our Centre is named, was an innovative theatre director.

The Tyrone Guthrie Centre was founded as the result of theatre director Sir Tyrone Guthrie's bequest to Ireland. Along with his sister, Margaret (Peggy), Tyrone was raised in Annaghmakerrig House. He moved to England, but returned to the house after his mother, Norah Guthrie (née Power) died 1956.  Tyrone's wife, Judith (Judy) (née Bretherton), was a trained operat singer, so between the couple Annaghmakerrig House became a hub of creative activity, with a constant stream of vistors from the world of theatre, literature, and the visual arts. Tyrone and Judy did not have children. In later years, and on the advice and encouragement of his family, specifically his sister, Susan Margaret (Peggy) Butler, and her daughter, Julia Crampton, Guthrie bequeathed the family home to the State with the proviso that it would be used for the benefit of artists and 'other such people.' In the years since opening in 1981, the Centre purchased the gardens, original parkland, lake and farmyard, together with its buildings and the leasehold of the woodlands. The re-integrated Annaghmakerrig estate was officially handed over to the Irish State in 2007, and its future was assured through the takeover of maintenance of both house and lands by the Office of Public Works.

So, who was Sir William Tyrone Guthrie?

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 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 and his wife, Susan Allibone (née Humphries). The Moorhead's made changes to the main building in the 1860s and by 1873  Annaghmakerrig House was complete.

Tyrone 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 (neé Bretherton, b. 1904) who died the following year. Lady Guthrie, a former opera singer, wrote several plays, the best known of which was “The Bumble Bee.” The couple had no children, and so it was, with the encouragement of his family, specifically his sister, Peggy Butler (known as Susan), and her daughter, Julia Crampton (neé Butler), Tyrone Guthrie bequeathed Annaghmakerrig House to the Irish State for use as a residential workplace for artists. Guthrie’s bequest 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 The Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig opened its doors to its first residents on 10 October 1981.Over time, the Centre purchased the gardens, original parkland, lake and farmyard to enlarge the Centre to what it is today. With the conversion of the farmyard buildings into our five cottages and suite of studios suitable for visual artists, the Tyrone Guthrie Centre has become central to the arts infrastructure in Ireland.

In Sir and Lady Guthrie's time in Annaghmakerrig House the rooms were filled with all sorts of artistic people - actors, theatre designers, and writers. The house was buzzing with creativity. Thus, and in order to maintain the creative energy, Guthrie's bequest stipulated that all artists resident in our Big House would gather for dinner once a day. It was a fortuitous stipulation, and as a result, 7pm dinner at the long table is a distinctive part of the residency experience.