Archiving Holloway

Filed under:Research Sources — posted by Hugh Denard on January 26, 2011 @ 1:21 am

With project time rapidly elapsing and visiting hours to the Prints and Drawings Department limited to Mondays and Tuesdays, today’s priority was to photograph the 1904 Holloway designs for the Abbey. There’s a form to sign, that assures the Library that any photos I take with my own camera are for my own personal research only and (sorry readers!) will not be shared.

The paper Holloway used is now extremely fragile; not, it would seem, a product designed for long-term preservation. Many of the drawings have distinctly distressed edges, and some of the larger sheets have even cracked apart into two or more separate fragments that have to be reassembled to be understood. Here and there, entire sections of plans are missing.

My time-slot started at 2.30pm but, treating the drawings with the tender care they deserve, it took every moment of 3-and-a-half hours to photograph all 36, including a handful that are double-sided. So, not much time, today, to linger lovingly over them and ponder their secrets.

Enough, however, to note that the collection includes a survey of the “Hibernian Theatre of Varieties, Lower Abbey Street”, as well as a couple of site plans, the all-important seating plans, and floor-by-floor plans and elevations of the “proposed alterations”, including for the canopies over both Marlborough and Abbey Street entrances – the far less ornate design for the “PIT” entrance leaving in no doubt who was (not) at the top of the Abbey’s social pecking order!

There’s just a handful of close-up details, of decorative architectural mouldings, and even of “presses” in the dressing rooms. Oddly, only one of the Abbey drawings is dated (July 7, 1904). An interesting item is a single page of text, being a: “specification of work required to be done according to the accompanying plans…”, signed by Holloway. For fun, the collection concludes with a drawing inscribed “Electric Theatre, Talbot Street Dublin for Electric Theatre Co. Ltd. Proposed New Balcony”, which is signed and (unusually) dated 8/3/12: a gratifying spin-off project for Holloway following the presumable success of his adventures in the Abbey.

I’ve some workaday cataloguing to do, tomorrow, to match my photos with descriptions, and fulfil my promise to Honora to give her an inventory. In the process, I’ll get a chance to spend some more time with the collection and really find out what’s what.

With characteristic kindness, Honora copied for me the list of artists in Holloway’s 1119-strong collection of sketches and paintings, which contains 150 by the man himself, as well as 125 by Frank Leah. There are also pieces by Micheál MacLiammóir and George Russell (AE).

The collection includes an affectionate portrait by Ben Bay (one of 56 items that Holloway collected by Bay) of a bewhiskered Holloway as eternal boy, pictures scattered at his feet like toys on a nursery floor, an oversized volume portentously labelled “Architecture | Ethics” in his hands.

Bay’s drawing, and its title, “When we were boys”, casts a droll, but warm eye on a man who sustained his childlike passion for plays and playhouses through judicious, “grown-up”, labours of love such as his monumental Impressions of a Dublin Playgoer and, of course, his painstaking architectural work on the Abbey itself.


  1. Hi Hugh, the ‘Impressions of a Dublin Playgoer’ presumably records some of Holloway’s nights out at the Abbey once it was built, doesn’t it? If so, are you using it? As I’m in the BL now, I’ll take a look to see if they have it. Now I’m curious.

    Comment by Ildi — January 26, 2011 @ 3:28 pm

  2. Hi Ildi, yes indeed. The NLI has the original, 221-volume(!) MS, as well as microfilm, and I’ve been working on it. JH says very little about the architecture even during the period in which we know he was busy designing it. His “Impressions” of the theatre are primarily concerned with the acting styles and capabilities of the performers he sees, the subject matter of plays, and audience responses. He give us some wonderful backstage vignettes from the Abbey, but these are typically character sketches or observations on directing styles, neglecting for the most part the physical environment in which they take place. Robert Hogan and Michael J. O’Neill published a selection of JH’s “Impressions” of the years 1899-1926 (Southern Illinois University Press, 1967), which is a painless way of getting a sense of H’s work, but of course there’s no shortcut to scouring the original for details that may not have made it into the published volume.

    Comment by Hugh Denard — January 26, 2011 @ 4:31 pm

  3. Gosh – he’s talking of actors in performance and I haven’t heard of this? must check it out. Thank you! must be annoying though that he doesn’t remark on the architecture. He probably thought that that was Dr Denard’s job. By the way, I hope there’s an image of the space in Hogan and O’Neill, to give context to the remarks on acting style. Looking forward to reading it.

    Comment by Ildi — January 26, 2011 @ 9:48 pm

  4. Spent much of yesterday (as much time, at least, as I could liberate from other obligations – article proofing, reference-writing etc.) editing and analysing the photos of JH’s 1904 plans. Wonderful material to be working with, if slow going.

    Comment by Hugh Denard — January 27, 2011 @ 10:45 am

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace