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Mechanic throws a spanner in the works at arts centre opening

EQUIPPED with just an angle grinder and an air compressor, a 63-year-old mechanic has single-handedly thrown the theatrical world in Limerick into chaos.

Last week, Mick Daly's noisy resuscitation of a 1998 Ford Fiesta -- the glory days of which are well consigned to the past -- drowned out what was to be the event of the year for Limerick's theatre buffs at the Belltable Arts Centre.

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan, along with the Mayor of Limerick, Jim Long, and Belltable Artistic Director Gerry Barnes were due to address more than 100 invited guests to mark the official re-opening of the new theatre before the mechanic cast himself centre-stage.

As members of the thespian world assembled with prominent city officials and local TDs -- including Willie O'Dea and Kieran O'Donnell -- over a smoked salmon reception, a noisy air compressor from Mr Daly's garage threw the lavish ceremony into disarray.

Treaty Garage is located in Mr Daly's lane at the rear of the theatre with the entrance to the backstage area just a few feet from his workshop.

The din emanating from Mr Daly's garage silenced not just the speeches, but polite conversation as an exasperated member of theatre management raced outside to protest. Just a handful at the front of the theatre were able to strain to hear the speeches from Mr Long and Mr Barnes while the rest of the gathering -- including Jimmy Deenihan -- looked on in bewilderment.

Eventually, Mr Daly downed tools and the Kerry TD was able to address all without having to compete with the mechanic's war of noise. In response, Mr Daly said he was only going about his business and was unaware that Mr Deenihan was next door at the time.

"I didn't know the minister was here. I can't say anything about any of that. I'm working away as usual here. It is business as usual at my garage. I'm not here to disrupt anything -- just doing my job," Mr Daly said.

Complete with a new auditorium, the Belltable has a capacity for 220 people with the bill for the renovations coming to €1.3m. However, Mr Daly claims his business was greatly inconvenienced during the lengthy theatre redevelopment. Last Monday's incident is the latest in the long-running dispute -- a saga which has all the trappings of a future successful play.

Last month, the opening night of Love, Peace and Robbery was disrupted by Mr Daly's trusted angle-grinder and a car engine revving shortly after the actors took to stage. Well known actor and spectator on the night Liam O'Brien, of Emmerdale fame, sought a refund from the Belltable claiming the production was completely spoiled. "Personally I would have walked off stage and advised the audience to request a refund," Mr O'Brien said.

On the opening night of the theatre last November, 200 guests heard the mechanic dismantle a chassis of a car with the angle grinder, rather than the actors and actresses starring in the night's play Anything But Love.

Mr Daly said he would carry on his work as he has done for the past 40 years.

Now the quarrel has reached the Government, with Mr Deenihan intervening. He said he would ensure that the issue was resolved as soon as possible. "I wouldn't like to have it (the theatre) renamed as The Garage," he said.

"When people are performing, they like peace and quiet and the proper environment."

Sunday Independent