The 'Old Pro' to be man of the hour at Writers' Week 2019

Dónal Nolan

Lifetime achievement awards in the arts rarely come as well deserved as that about to be handed down by Writers' Week to one of its very own.

Listowel's one and only Danny Hannon is to be honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award, established in memory of his late, great friend John B Keane, on opening night of Writers' Week 2019 - Wednesday, May 29. 

It will likely come as a very moving moment for a man who was programme director of the very first Writers' Week ever, back in 1971; just a year before he founded the now famous Lartigue Theatre Company. 

The Lartigue was a theatre that delivered a new kind of experience for the North Kerry audience, producing plays that might never otherwise have been given an airing in rural Kerry, on a stage in what was one of the first purpose-built theatres in the entire county.

"Not only did he bring great theatre to Listowel, he fostered local talent and nurtured audiences near and far. For this he is affectionately known to his friends and colleagues as 'The Old Pro'," writes his pal and St John's Theatre manager Joe Murphy in his overview of the Danny Hannon story in this year's Writers' Week programme.

Speaking to The Kerryman, Joe described Danny as a 'powerhouse' of amateur drama in North Kerry. "I remember going to St Michael's College where our big focus was not exactly on the college itself, but on the Presentation Secondary - where the girls went. 

"I remember meeting some of the girls one day and they were telling me about this fellow who gave them a lift when they were thumbing to Tralee.

"They said he was talking about drama, quoting Shakespeare away and giving them the lines they were actually studying at the time. They assumed he must have been a teacher and were amazed to find out that he was not. That was the first I heard of Danny Hannon," Joe said. 

Returned from a decade working in London, where he frequented the West End, Danny had lost little time in striking out on his own in drama. The foundation of the Lartigue - both the company and the venue - was a pivotal moment in a town already renowned for its theatrical output.

Using his construction expertise, Danny had the Lartigue Theatre built in the old stables adjoining Listowel Castle in an intimate venue that involved cast and crew having to climb a special ladder to get up onto the stage.

"Through the Lartigue, Danny gave parts to many people who might not otherwise have been given the opportunity, he made drama in Listowel very inclusive, giving everyone their '15 minutes of fame' as Andy Warhol put it. And he ploughed his own furrow.

"With the Lartigue he brought lesser-known plays to the stage, opening the theatre with Moliere's A Doctor In Spite of Himself," Joe explained.

"He was passionate about playwrights across the board, recognising and championing great local talent and giving them the chance to see their work performed. For instance, the Lartigue premiered Tony Guerin's first play Cuckoo Blue back in 1998 and he also brought that great work by Paddy Fitzgibbon, Estuary, to the stage," Joe Murphy said.

For these reasons and so many more, there will be a very warm glow when Writers' Week doffs its cap to the Old Pro.