"The Portable Theatre," a portrait of the McCormick players, one of the last travelling theatre groups in Ireland in the late 1960s, is now available to stream via the Irish Film Institute's Archive Player.

In his short film, Terence McDonald captures the players' variety show of songs, sketches, and puppetry, along with interviews with the family members, most of whom were born into the business and have been on stage from as young as three years old.

The audiences are diminishing due to the rise in television and showbands, but the family’s passion for the stage still burns brightly.

RTÉ had scheduled this documentary for broadcast in 1967 but postponed transmission after the Apollo 1 explosion due to the unintended new context of one of Bert’s songs "You’ll Never Reach the Moon."

The film concludes with a song wishing the family goodbye with a final curtain call, with the family credited as Colm McCormick, Betty, Bert Patterson, Coral Patterson, Queenie White, and Joe. 

"This Portable Theatre" is part of the IFI's Terence McDonald Collection

The Irish Film Institute's Terence McDonald Collection

Terence McDonald was a teacher, film historian, film collector, and pioneering amateur filmmaker. Born in the city of Derry in 1926, the films he made during his lifetime are diverse in genre and subject. They range from short comedies and experimental films to expository documentaries covering topics such as traveling and cross-community theatre, mental health services, and films that promoted Derry as a developing city looking hopefully to the future. His work includes personal projects and films commissioned or supported by a range of public bodies.

McDonald produced his films under the ‘Fairview Films’ banner, a title derived from the name of the family home in Rosemount Avenue, and somewhat intentionally misleading as he alone undertook all aspects of the work.

With a deep understanding of all aspects of production – his credits include cinematographer, editor, sound recordist, producer, and director – along with a wide knowledge of cinema, McDonald created visually sophisticated and culturally rich work.

His films, shot primarily on 16mm film, feature a variety of references and influences, from Battleship Potemkin to Peyton Place, Alfred Hitchcock and Jacques Tati to Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. They also received widespread recognition with awards from the British Film Institute, the Munich Film Festival, and the National Film Institute (now IFI) Annual Film Competition.

McDonald’s work has a notable sense of place. It not only represents the natural beauty of Northern Ireland but captures the various sides of his hometown of Derry through filmic portraits of the city, from the Georgian architecture and thrice–sieged city walls to the growing facilities and industries of the ‘60s.

His two homages to the silent comedy era, "The Fugitive" and "The Man from A.U.N.T.," offered local audiences the opportunity to see their home on the big screen (perhaps for the first time) as the backdrop to slapstick capers making full use of the city’s walls and hilly streets.

McDonald had several frequent collaborators. Fellow Derry native and former schoolteacher, future Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume worked with McDonald on several projects promoting the region to potential donors and international tourists, starting with "A City Solitary" in 1963 and the subsequent "The City of Londonderry" and "Two Hours from London," which all depict an optimism about the prospects for the divided city.

Fr Cyril Farrell, prior of the Benburb monastery, was involved in several of McDonald’s more spiritual pieces, writing Christ-like fable The Secret as well as the cross-community play The Story of Man captured in the documentary "Benburb." Another writer who penned several scripts for McDonald was Gerry Wills, who wrote McDonald’s internationally successful "Nebelung," as well as lending his voice to narrate documentaries Ballinascreen and The Portable Theatre. Northern Irish folk singer Gemma Hasson features in the scores of "The Stones Will Speak," "Long Hard Road," "The Secret," and "Requiem for Sally."

The Terence McDonald Collection is held and preserved by the IFI Irish Film Archive and these films are made available by the kind permission of Peter McDonald and Northern Ireland Screen.

"The Portable Theatre" is published here thanks to the Irish Film Institute (IFI), who IrishCentral has partnered up with throughout 2023 to bring you a taste of what their remarkable collection entails. You can find all IrishCentral articles and videos from the IFI here.

To watch more historic Irish footage, visit the IFI Archive Player, the Irish Film Institute’s virtual viewing room that provides audiences around the globe free, instant access to Irish heritage preserved in the IFI Irish Film Archive. Irish Culture from the last century is reflected through documentaries, animation, adverts, amateur footage, feature films, and much more. You can also download the IFI Archive Player App for free on iPhone, Android, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku.

IrishCentral has partnered up with the IFI throughout 2023 to bring you a taste of what their remarkable collections entail. You can find all IrishCentral articles and videos from the IFI here.