Tag Archives: Abbey Theatre

Declan Kiberd at the Theatre of Memory Symposium

Declan Kiberd giving a rather brilliant talk on the state of Ireland, memory and its relationship to culture. Great readings of Yeats, Joyce and the revolutionary generation abound, albeit greenwashed slightly. Also has a dig at the revisionist historians, which I would make more of if it wasn’t for his great idea for a new, radical arts policy.


RTÉ Lady Gregory Documentary

Good RTÉ Documentary about how Lady Gregory became one of the central figures in the literati of early twentieth-century Dublin.


Political Context to the Queen’s Theatre Visualisation Project

Here’s another blog post I did in which I try to sum up some one hundred years of Irish history in 500 words. I mostly fail, I think the most telling part is when I stop to admit what I’ve been saying has little pertinence to the overall project, which can be found here. I also have a few inaccuracies and incorrectly used words, but I do slam de Valera, which is fun.

This blog post provides a historical context for the Queen’s Theatre by outlining Ireland’s political and economic situation in the first half of the twentieth century.Events such as the 1916 Rising and the ensuing Civil War cast a long shadow over Irish political discourse even today, as can be seen by the ongoing controversy as to how best to celebrate the 1916 Rising, or whether such an event should even be celebrated.

In 1914, the failures of constitutional parliamentarians such as John Redmond to both secure a definite deal on Home Rule with the British government and assuage the anxieties of Unionists in the North of Ireland led to a situation that more fringe minorities could take advantage of, as is demonstrated by the formation of both the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Irish Volunteer Force. In this environment, the Irish Republican Brotherhood became increasingly radicalised, as exemplified by Patrick Pearse’s inflammatory rhetoric at Fenian leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral in 1915: “Life springs from death, and from the graves of patriotic men and women spring living nations.” A minority were determined to take advantage of the timing of the Great War. Others within the IRB, such as IRB’s chief-of-staff Eoin MacNeill, were reluctant to adopt violence as a means to independence : “To my mind, those who feel impelled towards military action on any of the grounds that I have stated are really impelled by a sense of feebleness or dependency or fatalism, or byan instinct of satisfying their own emotions or escaping from a difficult…situation.”

Reactions to the Rising were multiple and varied. Many urban dwellers seized the opportunity in the immediate aftermath to loot a number of shops in the surrounding area. For some members of a younger generation, such as then-medical student and later IRA officer Ernie O’Malley, the occasion was stirring and brought about an increase in Volunteers. It was not until subsequent events relating to the Rising that public opinion began to soften with regards to the actions of the Volunteers. Among these events were J.C. Power-Colthurst’s shooting of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington  during the events of the Rising, the excessive measures of the British government against those responsible (fifteen executions) and Dublin Castle’s attempts to pin responsibility for the outbreak of violence on moderate parliamentarians.

In the Irish Free State created in the aftermath of the civil war, the maintenance of income from agriculture was regarded as crucial to further prosperity. An economic policy of protectionism was adopted, albeit an incoherent one. Tariffs on imported goods were established but with no attempt made to create a domestic industry of production. This policy, combined with a lack of funding for the development of  employment schemes, led to widespread emigration. De Valera’s vision for rural Ireland as being made up of self-sustaining, frugal and anti-materialist family units ignored the metropolitan and anglicised lifestyle in urban centres such as Dublin, where 21.1% were employed in finance, 12% in administration, 13.7% personal services and 32.2% in agricultural production. Economic growth remained sluggish throughout ‘the Emergency,’ for the obvious reasons.

How the Queen’s theatre fits into a survey of Irish history of this kind can be difficult to quantify. Pearse’s uncompromising vision of an independent Ireland and ideologically driven economic mismanagement can seem to have little bearing on the function of the Queen’s Theatre as a venue for light entertainment. However, what is important to recall is that the Queen’s remained a site of cultural practice throughout many generations, and during one of the most tumultuous periods in Irish history until it closed in 1966. It furthermore remained a Dublin landmark until 1969. When The Plough and the Stars (1926)  was staged in the Queen’s, its political contentiousness perhaps did not match that of the earlier productions in the Abbey when widows of victims of the Rising, including Hannah Sheehy Skeffington,  disrupted the performance, but it was in a city that within living memory had been the site of a divisive conflict. When the Abbey Theatre Company took up residence in the Queen’s, the Irish Free State was only twenty-nine years old. For projects like this Queen’s Theatre Visualisation Project, it is important that the space inhabited by the theatre-whether that space is physical or social-be reconstructed also.

Information on the history of the Abbey Theatre Company at the Queen’s can be found here.

Further Reading

Brown, Terence. Ireland: A Social and Cultural History 1922-2002. London: Harper Perennial, 2004. Print.

Foster, R.F. Modern Ireland 1600-1970.London: Penguin Books, 1989. Print.

Kiberd, Declan. Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation. England: Vintage, 1994. Print.

Morash, Christopher. A History of Irish Theatre 1601-2000. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.

Literary Context to the Queen’s Theatre Visualisation Project

The following is a blog post intended to establish the literary context to the Queen’s Theatre visualisation project, which I undertook as part of my MPhil in Digital Humanities and Culture. The project itself can be found here. I make an argument about a strong literary tradition being in some way a bad thing. I’m not sure what I was thinking. Very little.

The intention of this blog post is to provide a literary context for the Queen’s Theatre Project. This post deals with the Irish literary and cultural scene in the early twentieth century which can seem to have a somewhat tangential relationship to the Queen’s Theatre itself. Nevertheless, it is hoped that this brief survey will prove illuminating to those who are unfamiliar with the development of Irish cultural nationalism. Furthermore, the range of this cultural watershed is not limited to the years in which they could be said to have taken place. Critics such as Anthony Cronin have argued that the movement set in motion by Lady Gregory, William Butler Yeats and others had a stultifying influence on the literary generations that followed. From the biographies and works produced by authors such as Flann O’Brien, Brendan Behan and Patrick Kavanagh, one can see the negative effects of a powerful literary tradition resonate into the 1950’s.

In September 1897, Yeats, folklorist Lady Gregory and writer Edward Martyn began to plan the creation of an Irish National Theatre.  It should be remembered that discussions of a cultural renaissance involving organisations such as this literary theatre or the Gaelic League, reflect a political agenda shaped by a minority grouping of urban intelligentsia, while, as R.F. Foster writes, “life went on in eighteenth-century tenements [in Dublin city] bereft of water or sanitation.” Furthermore, the activities of the Irish National Theatre Society similarly reflect the niche interests of a small segment of society. Yeats’ intended audience was “that limited public which gives understanding,” and he records that he would “not mind greatly if others are bored.” Attendance of productions such as The Playboy of the Western World (1907) and Cathleen Ní Houlihon (1902) was far outstripped by the public’s interest in light-opera and music hall performances. As Christopher Morash writes in his A History of Irish Theatre 1601-2000 (2002), “on that same December night, as Maire Ní Shiubhlaigh was playing Cathleen Ní Houlihan…across the Liffey almost two thousand people were howling for the informer’s blood in Whitbread’s Sarsfield at the Queen’s.” This is, at least partially, the rationale for projects of this kind. By drawing attention to the more popular forms of Irish cultural life, it is possible that the oversights of Irish historiography can be corrected and the milieu of mid-twentieth century Dublin life can be reflected more accurately.

The events surrounding the reception of J.M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World further points to Yeats’ talents as regards the art of self-promotion. Yeats took a dim view of those who disrupted the second performance of the play, dismissing them as “commonplace and ignorant people,” who “had no books in their houses.” He also brought a sectarian dimension to the affair, drawing a line between the behaviour of the owners of the Irish Literary Theatre, mostly Protestants, and those disruptive members of the audience – and the public in general – objecting to the content of the play. For Yeats, their behaviour was indicative of characteristics inherent to members of the Catholic religion: “We have not such pliant bones, and did not learn in the houses that bred us a so suppliant knee.”

Much of the information we have about the Dublin literary scene at the time of the Celtic Revival and beyond has been obtained from the unpublished manuscript written by the architect and theatre fanatic Joseph Holloway. Holloway’s Impressions of a Dublin Playgoer (1895-1944) is a massive and rich resource containing a number of manuscript volumes in which he wrote extensive reviews and information about various performances he attended in almost all of Dublin’s theatres, such as the Abbey, the Queen’s and the Antient Concert Rooms. Holloway also designed the Abbey for the purposes of the Irish Literary Theatre and was commissioned to do so by Annie Horniman, a theatre manager and patron. For further information on Irish theatre, it is recommended to consult Holloway’s diaries and the texts provided in the Further Reading section below.

Further Reading

Brown, Terence. Ireland: A Social and Cultural History 1922-2002.London, Harper Perennial, 2004. Print.

Foster, R.F. Modern Ireland 1600-1970.London, Penguin Books, 1989. Print.

Kiberd, Declan. Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation. England, Vintage, 1994. Print.

Morash, Christopher. A History of Irish Theatre 1601-2000. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.

Digital Humanities Internship Blog Post #1 – Historical, Literary Context & Impressions of a Dublin Playgoer as a Resource

This blog post is the first to document progress on ‘The Lost Theatres of Dublin’ internship as part of the Digital Humanities and Culture MPhil. This first post will be dealing primarily with Joseph Holloway himself and his unpublished manuscript Impressions of a Dublin Playgoer 1895-1944 in order to provide a context for the resource and its accompanying challenges.

Joseph Holloway was born on 21 March 1861. He was an architect and designed the Abbey Theatre when it was converted from the Mechanic’s Institute into a building fit for the Irish Theatre Society in 1904. His architectural career ended in 1912. He did however, continue his work on amassing an enormous collection of theatrical ephemera, including playbills, newspaper cuttings and an accompanying diary of performances that he attended from 1895 until his death in March 1944. Holloway attended a vast number of plays in a number of different theatre venues around Dublin during his lifetime, including the Abbey Theatre, the Antient Concert rooms and the Gaiety Theatre.

Holloway provides in his manuscript, a contents page for each year that the diary covers. Each venue appears as a heading, followed by the production that Holloway saw there, next to the page number on which they appear in the diary. Holloway also occasionally provides the name of the theatre company performing that particular night. This system of pagination and indexing was carried out by Holloway himself. This resource does not however, provide us with a full concordance or index as modern print versions of texts such as these generally do. From the size of the corpus and how active Holloway was in Dublin theatrical and literary life at the time, it is reasonable to assume that there are many points at which Holloway mentions the Queen’s Theatre, which are not necessarily grouped under a ‘Queen’s Theatre,’ contents heading because of the rudimentary nature of his contents system. This is demonstrated by passing references to the Queen’s under the heading of different productions in the selections from the Impressions published by the Proscenium Press in 1970. Rather than documenting every instance that Holloway mentions the Queen’s, an impossible task in the time allowed to this project due to the size of the corpus, it was decided that this project would be limited to instances when a Queen’s performance is mentioned and a page number has been provided. Navigating the corpus without this means of signposting would have been too time-consuming a task otherwise.

The Impressions have been microfilmed for use by the National Library of Ireland’s users so that they can be examined without damage coming to the manuscripts and the theatrical ephemera and newspaper clippings that they contain. However, the work is incomplete. While the manuscripts continue until 1944, the microfilm runs out at December 1924. Why this is the case is uncertain, but as the Impressions appear in the microfilm directory under the collection title Manuscripts of the Irish Literary Renaissance (Parts One and Two) it is probable that this was part of an ongoing project to provide more resources for those seeking to understand the ‘Celtic Revival’ of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, of which Holloway would have been a key observer. Maria Edgeworth’s and William Butler Yeats’ papers are listed in the same collection and appear next to Holloway’s Impressions in the directory of microfilms. The prevailing notion about Ireland in the early to mid twentieth century that persists to some extent until today is that following the Celtic Revival, the Irish literary scene went through a dormant phase. This reputation extends to the Irish theatrical scene, due to mismanagement of the Abbey under Ernest Blythe. It could be argued that under Blythe’s tenure, there was a movement away from the sort of drama that helped to cement the Abbey Theatre’s reputation as a platform for the staging of bold and emergent Irish dramatists. This belief has had the effect of undermining the work of playwrights such as Teresa Deevy, Paul Vincent Carroll and George Shiels. It is only recently that critics have drawn attention to the work of these marginalised authors and insisted upon their importance.

The Impressions are consistent in some respects and maintain a number of key features in the entirety of the corpus. However, they are in many ways also quite a dynamic resource and constantly undergo changes as Holloway’s methods of journal-keeping change. Firstly, they get longer as time goes on. It was decided at the start of the project that every play indexed as being staged at the Queens would be fully transcribed and marked up in TEI. However, as was said above, if particular years came without a contents page, they would be ignored and left for future undertakings of this kind. Even with this reduced scope, the transcription of every available year 1895-1924 remained somewhat over-ambitious. While this would perhaps have been feasible if the resource stayed within the length of the manuscript in 1895 of five hundred or so pages, by 1900, each manuscript volume is at least one thousand five hundred pages, sometimes one thousand seven hundred.

There are a number of reasons for this inflation of the resource. Initially, Holloway kept his reviews or summaries of the performances quite succinct. He provides the names of actors, the names of the characters that they portrayed, a word or two on how their performance was and how the audience reacted to it. This would typically take up no more than a page of the manuscript. However at around 1900 he begins to make much more extensive notes. Descriptions of a production typically run to about three full pages, sometimes five. He also takes up a lot of extra manuscript pages with caricatures of actors, people he has spoken to or seen around Dublin, newspaper clippings, correspondences, deaths, conversations he has had and a number of other articles under the contents heading of ‘Miscellaneous.’ This is all material that makes it increasingly difficult to ‘scan through’ the microfilm, at least in such a way that does not result in the waste of huge amounts of time.

This is why the decision was reached to transcribe every five years of the microfilm, 1895, 1900, 1905, 1910, 1915 and 1920. This would firstly provide a deliverable of six years of history of the Queen’s Theatre and would also be a representative sample, as it would be spread out throughout the chronology of Holloway’s lifetime and the political and social milieu of Dublin society during a number of very turbulent years in its history.

However, from 1914 onwards, Holloway fails to provide an index or contents page as he does in every other year from 1895. This led to the exclusion of a number of years from the process of transcription as the size of the corpus precludes intensive examination as has been stated many times already. As such, it was decided that an extra year would be transcribed in order to compensate for the loss of 1915 and 1920. The productions from the year 1896 were transcribed in their place.

However, in the 1913 manuscript, Holloway’s index becomes incomplete or incorrect. This is problematic as it is the means that has been used to navigate the resource until now. Instead of providing contents at the start of the manuscript, they appear at the end. Furthermore, Holloway’s index at the end creates a new indexing scheme and provides dates rather than pages numbers. This would not appear to be problematic at first, but these dates often contradict those given in the actual manuscript. It is in this year that Holloway first abandons pagination as a navigation device. Sometimes the index disappears altogether. He occasionally returns to use this method of date navigation, but these will still contradict one another occasionally. A wholly speculative reason for this could be that he wrote the diary entry on a different day to the actual production and that the date given in the index is the real date, whereas dates given in the entry themselves is the date that wrote the actual entry on the productions that he has seen in the past few days.

The primary argument of this first blog post that provides a context and introduces some of the resource’s procedural difficulties is that the indexing of the resource is inconsistent and unreliable. While it was anticipated that they would at least provide a reliable means of locating information pertinent to the Queen’s Theatre, they did not. It is speculative to advance the possibility that a more dependable contents page exists somewhere in the Impressions manuscripts that have not been microfilmed, or were possibly missed in the microfilming process. It is nevertheless recommended for future projects of this kind that transcription should be carried out in tandem with the manuscript, if only to perhaps find a more efficient means of traversing this protean resource.