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Wexford Opera House

Published: 13 January 2020
From: Office of Public Works

This project began in 2003 when the OPW was asked to review options for the redevelopment of the Theatre Royal, home of the world-famous Wexford Opera Festival. The existing theatre’s condition was deteriorating, and its facilities were cramped for both audiences and performers. It had been operating at full capacity for the nine previous festivals, and a major increase in capacity was required for the Festival to continue and develop. Early OPW feasibility studies indicated that the best option was to construct a new building, on a budget of €30 million.

The project timetable was extremely tight, so that the organisers of Wexford Opera Festival did not have to produce more than two annual festivals without a premises of their own. A design was developed over the next seven months, and the contract was put to tender in April 2006.

Signalling the end of an era, the final performance of the Opera Festival in the old Theatre Royal took place on 6th November 2005, and the building was cleared for demolition the following week. Three days after the archaeologist’s team vacated the site, it was handed over to the building contractor, Cleary Doyle Contracting, in July 2006. The building was completed on schedule within two years and handed over on 1st August 2008. The OPW continued to be involved, mainly through its Mechanical & Electrical (M&E) section of Engineering Services, in commissioning the complex installations over the next few months. In early September 2008, Wexford Festival Opera’s performers, directors, designers and technical teams arrived to begin rehearsals for the 2008 Festival.

The new Wexford Opera House was opened by former Taoiseach Brian Cowan, TD, on 5th September 2008, and the occasion was marked with a broadcast of RTE’s The Late Late Show, bringing this publicly funded, unique cultural asset to the attention of the nation.

The building is the first purpose-built opera house in Ireland in modern times. It features an auditorium for 780 people, a multi-purpose “black-box” performing space for 170 and several rehearsal spaces. The main auditorium contains two double-decker orchestra pit lifts, allowing for different configurations of performances. Traditional horseshoe-shaped balconies bring the audiences in the upper tiers into closer contact with the stage, and cover the side walls at three levels.

Uniquely in a music venue, the auditorium surfaces are clad in walnut and lighting bridges hang from the ceiling – the combination resembling the materials and craftsmanship of a stringed musical instrument.

Externally, most of the building is concealed behind the facade of a traditional high street, and the fly tower over the stage is the only element visible from distant viewpoints. This is the landmark which indicates the presence of a unique building. It is clad in copper, a material long associated with civic buildings in Irish towns and cities and its shape, opening outwards and upwards to the sky, evokes the aspirations of the artistic activities within.

Design Team


OPW Architectural Services in association with Keith Williams Architects after planning permission stage.

Acoustic Consultant:
  • Arup Acoustics
Theatre Consultant:
  • Carr and Angier
M and E Engineers:
  • OPW M and E Engineering Services
  • Nolan Ryan QS

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