Late Simon Ryan’s daughter urges support for theatre named after her father

Bernie Commins

Bernie Commins

The daughter of the late Simon Ryan is calling on people of Tipperary to continue their support for the Tipperary Excel, and its state-of-the art theatre which was named after her father in 2001. Simon Ryan whose family were originally from Thurles, was born at Limerick Junction, and was a brother of the late Dr. Tony Ryan, co-founder of Ryanair.

Kerry Ryan, who assumed her father’s role as board member of the Excel last year following her father’s unexpected death in February 2011, said that it was very important to support a facility which ‘makes Tipperary the envy of many other towns’.

Ms. Ryan who is based in Naas, spoke to The Nationalist last week following reports arising from a meeting of South Tipperary County Council that an independent consultant had been commissioned to review the Excel and its financial situation. The consultant is expected back before the Council in June with a report that could decide the future of the Excel. The Excel faces annual running costs in the region of €500,000 and is repaying a capital loan that is currently €1.2m, down from €2.5m.

But management and staff are doing everything they can to ensure that the facility is meeting its day-to-day costs and last year, with the assistance of South Tipperary County Council, and other funding streams and grants, the facility broke even and hopes to achieve the same this year.

While an essential amenity for Tipperary people, in the promotion of the arts, heritage and culture, the Tipperary Excel and in particular its 400-seat Simon Ryan Theatre is something that is very close to Ms. Ryan’s heart and which has deep connections to her family.

It all started in 2001 when the Tipperary Excel Heritage Company was established. Located on Mitchell Street in Tipperary Town, the community arts centre aimed to provide local people with an array of cultural offerings in a number of media such as theatre, cinema, music and art exhibitions. It was generously supported by the late Dr. Tony Ryan who requested the theatre to be named after his brother Simon, an avid theatre-goer and co-founder of the Stacumny Players theatre group with his nephew Cathal Ryan, Tony’s son.

“My father [Simon] learned how to read a script when he was very young,” said Ms. Ryan.

“He had a great love of theatre, co-founded the Stacumny Players with Cathal Ryan, my uncle Tony’s son, and they staged a play in a converted barn on the grounds of Stacumny House in Celbridge from 1995 until 2007 when Cathal passed away,” she recalled. They raised in excess of one million Euro for charity in that time.

When her father passed away last year, Ms. Ryan was asked to take his position on the board of the Tipperary Excel, something that meant a great deal to her.

“It was a great honour to assume Dad’s position and we are very committed as a family to keeping the theatre going,” she said adding that it is important to get the message out there that the Tipperary Excel is very much open for business. “Like every business we are struggling and if there is a tightening of belts, it is the arts and entertainment that will be the first to suffer. So the Excel is not alone in that regard and is not the only arts and cultural centre in the country to experience this,” she said. “Financial problems are always there, it is just a matter of keeping it going, trying to attract decent plays and good shows.” “It is a great achievement for the Simon Ryan Theatre to be able to attract Gay Byrne to perform there, he is Ireland’s most respected broadcaster, he is a living legend and has world recognition. So I would ask people to be supportive of the Excel, if you see a play or music that you like, go and see it. I am sure that we are the envy of many towns having this venue and it must be well supported. She paid tribute to the staff and management of the Excel, including general manager Mary Sarsfield, who does a difficult job very well.

According to Ms. Ryan, fundraising endeavours will continue to raise funds for the Tipperary Excel, and a special Simon Ryan Theatre-sponsored race will take place at the Tipperary Racecourse on June 7 to encourage those who attend the races to attend the theatre also.