Archival Photos c.1904

Filed under:Research Sources — posted by Hugh Denard on March 28, 2011 @ 4:27 pm

Here are photographs of the old Abbey Theatre, provided by the Abbey Theatre, which has kindly given permission for their reproduction here on the project website. They were most likely taken around the time of the theatre’s refurbishment and opening, in December 1904.

Vestibule of the Old Abbey Theatre c.1904

Vestibule of the Old Abbey Theatre c.1904. Reproduced courtesy of the Abbey Theatre.

This image is taken from the stairs leading to the Balcony, looking down across the Vestibule towards the street entrance (left, partially hidden by pillar) and stained glass window by Sarah Purser (right).

The next image, one of the two most important historic images we have of the old Abbey’s auditorium, is taken from the steps at the foot of the stage to the left of the auditorium.

Auditorium of the old Abbey Theatre, c.1904. Reproduced courtesy of the Abbey Theatre.

Auditorium of the old Abbey Theatre, c.1904. Reproduced courtesy of the Abbey Theatre.

To the extreme left of this image, we can see the steep stairs down into the auditorium from the Vestibule and, beside it, a door (with balustrade) which led to the ladies’ lavatory.

The Stalls are formed of rows of individual, upholstered, tip-up seats, comfortably spaced. Behind them, we can make out the top of a barrier separating the Stalls from the Pit, to the rear, which consists of long, unmarked benches. Inset into the right-hand auditorium wall is a radiator.

Directly above can be seen the doorway from which patrons entered the Balcony from the Vestibule. A little to the right, between the three-headed light fittings, can be seen the round copper mirror which now resides in the Foyer of the modern Abbey Theatre. To the right of the image in the upper level can be seen one of two doorways that provided egress from the Balcony onto Lower Abbey Street.

The Balcony railings are delicate, pierced iron swags. A tall railing separates the entrance area from the seating. On close examination, we can the seating in the Balcony is composed of continuous benches, rather than the individual seats we see in the Stalls, below. However, we can also see small white dots on the backrests of the Balcony seating, and slender metal dividers / armrests confirming that from the earliest days, the Balcony seats in the Abbey were individually numbered and physically demarcated. Additional rows of Balcony seating can be discerned towards the rear of the auditorium.

This image has been central to the digital modelling process, as it provides “authoritative” documentation for the earliest phase of the Abbey Theatre, even more so than architectural drawings which must necessarily be “interpreted” for the specific conditions encountered within the building. Later photographs of the theatre, which I will blog separately, allow us to see various alterations which were carried out over the lifetime of the theatre, such as the introduction of doors around the Vestibule stairs, and changes in the seating arrangements in the Balcony and Pit.

New discoveries at the National Library

Filed under:Research Sources — posted by Hugh Denard on March 22, 2011 @ 10:09 pm

Back in January, I blogged about my two visits to the Prints and Drawings department of the National Library of Ireland. One of the little gems that Assistant Keeper Honora Faul unearthed was a ticket envelope from the old Abbey Theatre, on the side of which was printed a seating plan of the Balcony. Just a week ago, Honora wrote to me saying that she had, by chance, happened upon a second ticket envelope showing a plan of the Stall seats and front Pit seats. Quite unprompted, Honora has had both envelopes photographed and sent to me on CDs.

The information they provide is unparalleled in any of the documentation or plans we have had till now: they provide uniquely detailed information about the precise layout of the seating in the old Abbey.

And here they are: another project publication first, courtesy of the care and imagination of extraordinary people at the National Library of Ireland.

Ticket Envelope for Balcony of Old Abbey Theatre. Reproduced Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

Ticket Envelope for Balcony of Old Abbey Theatre. Reproduced Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

Ticket Envelope for Stalls and Front of Pit, Old Abbey Theatre. Reproduced Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

Ticket Envelope for Stalls and Front of Pit, Old Abbey Theatre. Reproduced Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

These views give a sense of the envelopes as physical objects. To see what they have to show us about seating arrangements in the old Abbey Theatre, we’ll have to look at the drawings more closely.

Detail of Ticket Envelope for Balcony of Old Abbey Theatre. Reproduced Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

Detail of Ticket Envelope for Balcony of Old Abbey Theatre. Reproduced Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

In this plan, we can see that the Balcony  is accessed by a single entrance, to the right, with two exits, one at either rear corner of the auditorium.

Two full rows, of seats 1-52 and 53-106, run from right to left around the entire curve of the Balcony, while a third row, seats 107-145, starts only part of the way along the right-hand side, perhaps designed to afford additional room near the entrance. These three rows are served by a single aisle with steps at each extreme nearest the stage, and two further sets of steps that line up with the exits.

Behind the aisle, row 4, containing seats 146-160, occupies only the centre area between the exits, while Row 5, seats 161-189, in addition to seats in this area, has a further ten seats, five to either, outer side of the exits.

In each row in the Balcony, the seats are close together, confirming what photographs of the theatre show: that seating in the Balcony consisted, not of individual tip-up chairs as in the Stalls, but of long, wooden benches, divided into separate, numbered seats only by slim, curving metal divides.

Detail of Ticket Envelope for Stalls and front Pit, old Abbey Theatre. Reproduced Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

Detail of Ticket Envelope for Stalls and front Pit, old Abbey Theatre. Reproduced Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

The second envelope shows eight, numbered rows of seats in the Stalls, and a further four unnumbered rows in the Front Pit area. Dark circles in the Stalls, and scratched-in seat positions in the Front Pit, show the location of the columns that supported the Balcony. The Stall seats offer generous leg-room, unlike those in the Front Pit. Rows 1 (seats 1-18), 2 (19-37) and 3 (38-56) are truncated to the right in order to give clearance to the entrance at the front, right of the auditorium, giving them just 18 seats each. Row 4 (seats 57-76) runs nearly the full width of the auditorium, but, twice interrupted by columns, gains  just one seat. (The marks on seats 66 and 67 show the seats booked by the tickets the envelope once held.)

Row 5 (seats 77-98) and 6 (99-120) have 21 seats each, while rows 7 (121-141) and 8 (142-162), at 20 seats each, both lose a single seat to a column. Here, as in the third and fourth rows of the Front Pit, the fact that the matching columns interrupt different rows is one of the few hints the theatre-goer would have had that the plan of the auditorium was not regular, but skewed, as Scott’s plan of the site so clearly shows.

The four rows of seats in the Front Pit (seats 1-23, 24-46, 47-68 and 69-92) show the same lateral compression we observed in the Balcony; with the theatre narrowing towards the rear, the Pit rows are shorter than that of the Stalls rows, and, in addition, the third and fourth row are each interrupted once by a column shaft, but they still managed to fit in a profitable 23, 22, 21 and 23 seats.

Behind these four rows, photographs from 1951 show a further five rows of seating, corresponding with the nine steps in the Pit area that appear in Scott’s 1935 survey of the auditorium. Scott’s survey also contains the same seating totals of 162 in the Stalls and 92 in the Front Pit that we see on the envelopes. The earliest photographs of the theatre pre-date individual seating even in the front rows of the Pit: the punters in the cheap seats piled into benches without even the dignity of the metal divides to be found in the Gallery. The post-fire photographs of 1951, however, show individually upholstered, numbered seats, with reservation labels (“IN AIRITHE”), on all rows of the Pit, indicating that at some time between Scott’s survey of 1935 and the fire in 1951, the Directors had chosen to liberate the lesser mortals of the darkest Pit from ignominious anonymity.

I’ve sent these images on to Niall at NOHO so we can factor all this new information into the digital model. What a wonderful find! Honora, you are in danger of becoming the official Muse of the project!

Maps and Fires

Filed under:Research Sources — posted by Hugh Denard on February 25, 2011 @ 6:27 pm

Intriguing discoveries at the Map Library. Map Librarian, Paul Ferguson, dug out, not only the relevant Ordnance Survey maps from 1907-8 but, much more revealingly, Fire Insurance maps from 1893 and 1926, created by London-based company, Charles E. Goad Ltd, which, at 40ft to the inch, give us a great deal of useful information.

etail of Fire Insurance Map of Dublin 1 by Charles E. Goad Ltd., 1893 (Sheet 8: 40 feet = 1 inch.) Reproduced from a map in Trinity College Library, Dublin, with the permission of the Board of Trinity College.

Detail of Fire Insurance Map of Dublin 1 by Charles E. Goad Ltd., 1893 (Sheet 8: 40 feet = 1 inch.) Reproduced from a map in Trinity College Library, Dublin, with the permission of the Board of Trinity College.

The 1893 map shows the “Mechanics’ Institute” on Lower Abbey Street and the auditorium, stage and galleries of the “National Music Hall” occupying exactly the locations they occupied in the Abbey Theatre following Holloway’s 1904 renovations.

Dressing rooms are indicated as being under the stage, and a dotted line outlines the distinctive horseshoe contour of the theatre’s “Galleries” (the plural probably denoting the left and right wings of the gallery with their separate doors). A small dotted circle in the centre of the stalls area suggests, in a Fire Insurance map, a large, central light fitting (chandelier?).

What would later become the Abbey’s Vestibule on Marlborough Street is, in the 1893 map, the “Coroner’s Court and Morgue”, which corresponds with Joseph Holloway’s backstage anecdote of 24 November 1904, when the Irish National Theatre Society had acquired the building, but not yet opened:

An amusing incident – an echo of the past one might term it – occurred at the Abbey Theatre this afternoon during one of my professional visits. Hearing a ring at the stage door, I opened it as I was going out and found a man, accompanied by a little boy, there, who made this inquiry: “Is there an inquest going on here to-day?”

The inquiry took me aback at first, and then I explained to him that it was a theatre, not a dead house he was at, and he departed apologising. From this it would seem that its old fame clings to the transformed morgue still.*

Goad’s 1926 map shows considerable changes in the architecture of the surrounding area of the city, both in design and usage, a significant amount of which must have been caused by the political upheavals of the intervening years. So far as the Abbey Theatre is concerned, however, the most significant change between the 1893 and 1926 maps is the expansion of the property owned or leased by the Abbey.

Detail of Fire Insurance Map of Dublin 1 by Charles E. Goad Ltd., 1926 (Sheet 8: 40 feet = 1 inch.) Reproduced from a map in Trinity College Library, Dublin, with the permission of the Board of Trinity College.

Detail of Fire Insurance Map of Dublin 1 by Charles E. Goad Ltd., 1926 (Sheet 8: 40 feet = 1 inch.) Reproduced from a map in Trinity College Library, Dublin, with the permission of the Board of Trinity College.

By 1926, this includes not only the Vestibule (described as “Entrance & Dressing Rooms”), but also the College (in place of the Mechanics’ Institute), Scenery Store (replacing Stables), and, replacing two tenement buildings, a single building having “Properties” on the 1st floor, with “Paint Loft & Dressing Rms” on the 2nd floor.  The 1893 map shows two windows in the left-hand auditorium wall, but only the rearmost one survives in the 1926 drawing; an alteration for which Holloway was most likely responsible.

The large plot on the corner of Marlborough Street and Lower Abbey Street, however, remains outside the Abbey’s reach, being occupied by Whyte and Sons’ China Warehouse in both the 1893 and 1926 maps. The 1926 map notes the position of the “Orchestra” just in front of the “Asbestos & Iron Curtain” which was destined, in 1951, to save the entire collection of buildings from complete destruction.

Detail of Fire Insurance Map of Dublin 1 by Charles E. Goad Ltd., 1961 (Sheet 8: 40 feet = 1 inch.) Reproduced from a map in Trinity College Library, Dublin, with the permission of the Board of Trinity College.

Detail of Fire Insurance Map of Dublin 1 by Charles E. Goad Ltd., 1961 (Sheet 8: 40 feet = 1 inch.) Reproduced from a map in Trinity College Library, Dublin, with the permission of the Board of Trinity College.

A stark, white void in the final Goad map, of 1961, captures the very moment at which the Old Abbey and its neighbouring buildings have been demolished, to make way for the New Abbey Theatre.

*Robert Hogan and Michael J. O’Neill (Eds.) Joseph Holloway’s Abbey Theatre: a selection from his unpublished journal “Impressions of a Dublin Playgoer” Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967, p.47.

Programme Notes

Filed under:Research Sources — posted by Hugh Denard on February 9, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

This entry contains a transcription of the programme that audience members received on the opening night of the Abbey Theatre, 27 December 1904; or those sections of it, at least, which have particular relevance to the attempt to create a digital model of the old Abbey. I was able to take reference photos of the whole programme during my recent visit to the Abbey Theatre’s Archives. I adapt the formatting of the original which, apart from doing things with layout that I’d be hard pressed to reproduce here, also has TOO MANY CAPS FOR COMFORT.







The Carpets

in this theatre supplied by

Millar & Beatty, Ltd,

Artistic House
Furnishers. . .

14 Grafton Street and
56 Dawson Street.


The Scenery for the Abbey St. Theatre

has been made and painted by

The Irish Decorating Co.,

Scenic Artists, Bazaar Decorators,
Exhibition Fitters,

Scenic Studio Dublin.

The Library Scene and the Street Scene, at
Kingstown Pavilion Theatre, have also been painted
by Mr. Bryer. We have been entrusted with the
work of decorating the forthcoming All Ireland
Temperence Bazaar, to be held at Ball’s Bridge
in May next.
If you require Scenery of any description
(Sale or Hire) please note the address—

166 Pembroke Rd.,

Principals: Frederick Bryer, Scenic Artist; Joseph S. Mason, Manager.


Complete Electric Installation for Abbey Theatre
erected by

T. J. Sheehan, 68 Dame Street, Dublin,

Electrical Engineer & Contractor
to H.M. War Department.

Complete Installations of Electric Lighting Plants, Motors, Bells,
Telephones erected and maintained. Estimates Free.

Telephone 64x


The Painting

of this theatre has been
executed by

Marks Bros.,

Painting Contractors and Decorators,
13 South Anne Street, Dublin. . .

Estimates Free.


The Upholstering and Seating

of this theatre has been done

James Hill,

10, 11 & 12 Bachelor’s Walk,


J. & C. McGloughlin, Ltd.,

Art Metal Workers and Constructional Engineers.

The Fireproof Curtain & External Porches

of this theatre were made and erected by us.

Works and Offices: 47 to 54 Great Brunswick Street, Dublin.

Established 1875.

Telephone No. 705.   Telegrams— “METALS, DUBLIN.”



of this theatre
was carried out by

R. & E. Farmer,

Builders and Contractors,


Nottingham Street,
North Strand.

Estimates Free.

[The signature “Edward Farmer” indeed appears on one of the plans by Joseph Holloway held by the National Library (AD2191). The inscription “R + E. Farmer” also occurs on AD2190 and on AD2192 (the latter dated “July 7. 1904”). The Farmers crop up again on Holloway’s 1912 plans for the proposed new balcony in the “Electric Theatre, Talbot Street, Dublin” (AD2208), which are signed by both Holloway and E. Farmer and also initialled “DF.”]


Irish Farm Produce Co.

Tea and


21 Henry Street.

Leanam go dlút do c(h)lú ar


Musical Instruments


American Organs.

The Largest Stock in the Kingdom
to select from at

Great Musical Depot,

4 & 5 Westmoreland Street, and reres
of 40, 41, 42 & 43 Fleet Street, Dublin.

The Oldest Music Warehouse in Ireland (established
1801). Covers nearly two acres of floor space.

New and Second-hand Instruments by all the
principal English and Continental Makers. For
Hire, from 10s. per month. For Cash on most
liberal terms, or on the Three Years’ System of
Purchase at Cheapest Rates.

Repairing Pianos. Old Pianofortes
thoroughly repaired—Estimates Free—or taken in
exchange, and the highest price allowed for same in
part payment for a New Instrument.

Gramaphones from £1 10s. to £12 12s.


Combridge & Co, Ltd.

Established 1839.


All Picture
Frames are made
on the Premises by
Competent Workmen.

Depot for Fountain Pens.

18 & 20 Grafton St.,


Stained Glass Windows

in Abbey Theatre made at

An Túr Gloine
(The Tower of Glass)

Stained Glass and Mosaic works,
24 Upper Pembroke Street, Dublin.

Proprietor: Miss Purser, H.R.H.A..,
Private Address: 11 Harcourt Terrace.

Manager: A. E. Child.


Hely’s, Limited,

Printing & Stationery

Publishers & Account
Book Makers.

27, 28, 29 & 30, Dame Street,
Acme Works, Dame Court,

Telephone Nos. 840 & 841.

Telegrams: “ACME, DUBLIN”

[Hely’s are also given, on the outer rear cover, as the printers of the programme.]


I’ll have to do some checking in the City Archives and Thom’s Street Directory to look into these companies and see if any of them may have left archival materials.

The centre-fold of the programme is taken up with the Dramatis Personae and cast of On Baile’s Strand (“Costumes designed by Miss Horniman”), Spreading the News, Kathleen Ni Houlihan and In the Shadow of the Glen.

This is followed by a double-spread advertising various recent publications, including work by Lady Gregory, W. B. Yeats, A.E. et al. including an issue of Samhain, “sold by all Booksellers, and at the Abbey Theatre”, containing “a detailed exposition of the aims and methods of the Irish National Theatre Society, by the Editor [W.B.Yeats], and Miss A. E. F. Horniman’s Letter to the Society, offering it the free use of the Abbey Theatre.”

Overleaf, is a one-page ad for “Books of Irish Interest” stocked by Macmillan & Co. and, on the inside back cover, a listing of “Last Trains” and “Last Trams” on the inside (I notice these rather mean times haven’t changed much since 1904).

The outer back cover advises patrons that “The Abbey Theatre, Lower Abbey St. and Marlborough St., can be hired for Lectures, Concerts, Entertainments, etc. Seats 562 people. For Particulars apply to— Messrs. Cramer, Wood & Co., Westmoreland St, Dublin.  Lessee . . A. E. F. Horniman.

Entering the Archive

Filed under:Research Sources — posted by Hugh Denard on @ 7:15 pm

I visited the Abbey Archives, on the first floor of O’Connell Bridge House, on Wednesday 2 Feb, where I met Mairéad Delaney, Archivist, as well as Mindy Shull from Perdue University, USA who is assisting in the Archives for the next several weeks. While I was there, David McCadden, the Abbey’s Press Officer, having heard about the project through the RIA’s Digital Humanities Observatory, dropped in for a few minutes to learn more; it is extraordinarily satisfying for me to feel the Old Abbey project connect with the current life of the Abbey Theatre.

Mairéad had identified several sources of potential interest, including some excellent photographs of the interior of the Old Abbey, pre- and post-fire, and – a welcome surprise – the ground plan made for the wooden model I had earlier seen in the Hanly’s garden shed. More than other plans I’ve seen, this one emphasizes the irregular parallelogram-shape of the auditorium and stage.

One curiosity that lurks in the archives is a large, cast-iron ashtray from the old Abbey Theatre with neo-classical decorative motifs, which Mairéad believes dates to around 1912.

Cast-iron ashtray from Old Abbey Theatre

Cast-iron ashtray from Old Abbey Theatre

Mairéad also very kindly gave me a copy of Pictures at the Abbey: the collection of the Irish National Theatre, a slim volume by Lennox Robinson and Micheál Ó hAodha (Dolmen Press in association with the Irish National Theatre Society Limited, 1983), which includes the only colour photograph I’ve seen, so far, from the Old Abbey: a beautiful shot of Sarah Purser’s stained glass for the Abbey’s Marlborough Street vestibule (p.10), but also Lennox Robinson’s “Conversation Piece” in which he takes an imaginary American visitor on a tour of the Old Abbey; a wonderfully rich seam of information in its own right!

In anticipation of our appointment, Mairéad had also retrieved from the Abbey’s off-site repository, a large bundle of architectural drawings created in the early 1950s by Michael Scott, Architect. These were part of a survey of the area, postdating the 1951 fire. But, as Mairéad pointed out, while all but the box office went out of use following the fire, the theatre’s fire curtain did in fact save the building as a whole from complete destruction, and so Scott’s detailed, floor-by-floor, survey gives an accurate representation of the Abbey Theatre in its last functioning state, prior to demolition in 1961.

By 1951, the Old Theatre had already undergone a number of renovations and extensions, but there’s no question that these drawings will be of considerable value for cross-checking measurements of the main structural features that appear in Holloway’s 1904 plans.

I was also able to examine the Abbey’s reproduction of the complete programme for the 27th December 1904, which contains all of the information one could wish for about the builders and suppliers of Annie Horniman’s Abbey. These are worth examining in detail, so I’m posting an annotated transcription separately.

Having exhausted the building-related holdings of O’Connell Bridge House, Mairéad, Mindy and I took ourselves off across the river to the Abbey, where we saw in the foyer the copper-framed mirror from Youghal that can clearly be seen in photographs adorning the upper auditorium of the Old Abbey Theatre.

Copper mirror from Old Abbey Theatre

Copper mirror from Old Abbey Theatre

In the bar area upstairs, we encountered the four portraits, painted by John B. Yeats for the opening night of the theatre, of the Fay brothers, Annie Horniman and Maire Nic Shiubhlaigh, all elegantly displayed in their original, gilt frames of overlapping laurel leaves and berries.

My sincere thanks to Mairéad, and Mindy, for their generous assistance and to David for his encouraging interest in the project! I look forward to being able to share the results of the research as they begin to take shape in the form of the digital model.

Feasting on Killiney Hill

Filed under:Research Sources — posted by Hugh Denard on February 2, 2011 @ 6:34 pm
Stones from Old Abbey Theatre's facade: "Savings Bank"

Vestibule Facade Fragments

A productive day, yesterday, starting with a morning meeting in the Long Room Hub with a small group of experts in Irish theatre history and digital humanities to discuss the prospect of digitizing a number of key research sources. Can’t say more at this point, but watch this space…

Afterwards, I took the DART out to Killiney (should have been Dalkey, but I overshot) where Helen Fogerty, daughter of Daithi and Joan Hanly, picked me up in her car. We drove up the hillside, past Bono, to the house in which Helen grew up, and where her mother still lives. Immediately, in the front garden, were these dressed stones; inscribed “Savings Bank”, they once were part of the Old Abbey Theatre’s Marlborough Street facade. Before getting down to business, we were treated, with Chlora Hall, to a delicious lunch (thank you, Viera!) with a clear, crisp vista from our high vantage point out over Killiney Bay. Bounded by Bray Head and the distinctive peak of the Sugarloaf Mountain to the south, and by Dalkey island to the north, and with the obelisk of Killiney Hill – once known as Victoria Hill – to the west, this is one of the most spectacular views on the east coast, and one I’ve loved from childhood.

Remnants of the window frames of the old Abbey Theatre's vestibule.

Window-frames from the Marlborough Street vestibule.

Needless to say, by the time lunch was ended, we were in a suitably convivial frame of mind to take on the remnants of the old Abbey Theatre. In the old boathouse at the top of the drive is a collection of window-frames and other wooden fittings from the demolished vestibule, the dull green of their paintwork still visible. One would have to lay them out in a row and systematically compare them with photographs of the Theatre’s 1951 facade to make a great deal of sense of them, and it’s unclear (at least at this point in my archival research) whether these are the original frames, or date from a later period.

Peacock Theatre Entrance Pay Desk 1961

Peacock Theatre Entrance Pay Desk 1961

One plain, wooden construct is labelled in chalk “PEACOCK THEATRE ENTRANCE PAY DESK 1961”. D.P.Hanly recounted: “When the plans for the new building [the new Abbey Theatre] were ready in March 1961, the entrance facade and the vestibule, which many still remember as the Abbey Theatre, were being demolished. The contractor, Christy Cooney, told me that his instructions were to dump everything. I was horrified that this last historic part of one of the most celebrated theatres in the English-speaking world would be lost for all time. I asked him, please, to number each stone and to ‘dump’ them in our garden at home instead. He said he would be delighted and this was done.” (“The Man with the Abbey Theatre in his Garden” unknown journal, section heading “Inner Vision”, p.55).

Scale model of the old Abbey Theatre

Scale model of the old Abbey Theatre

In a second, smaller outhouse, were finds of a different sort: heavy, slate counters, billboards and signs dating from the 1930s, and a scale model of the old Abbey Theatre – undoubtedly the one published by James W. Flannery as Plate 1 in W. B. Yeats and the Idea of a Theatre: the early Abbey Theatre in theory and practice (Yale, 1976). Nobody had seemed to know what had become of this model, so it was an unexpected joy to happen upon it here. This, of course, is a digital modeller’s dream: although care must be taken. The model is labelled: “Showing the collection of buildings occupied by the National Theatre Society in 1904.” More accurately, as Holloway’s drawings in the National Library attest, the model shows the buildings that the Society gradually acquired over the years, starting in 1904. Although each detail will have to be checked and cross-checked against other sources in order to assess its accuracy and, in particular, its degree of correlation with the earliest phase of the Theatre, the model undoubtedly gives us an extraordinarily useful three-dimensional impression of the internal and external architectural framework of the old Theatre.

Stones of the old Abbey Theatre on Killiney Hill

Stones of the old Abbey Theatre on Killiney Hill

Finally, we went out to the long, garden to the rear of the house, to see what has to be the most enviable garden feature in Dublin. Small, seemingly haphazard, piles of dressed and rusticated stone lie deposited in the planted borders. At places, ageing shrubs throw their limbs protectively over discarded cornices and lintels, while elsewhere a gentle shawl of moss and pine needles enfolds the granite into the hillside landscape like the return of an erstwhile estranged child. Here and there, half-faded numbers, in white paint, remain visible. Ensconced within the natural theatre of Killiney Bay, the monumental historical weight of Hanly’s stones offers an odd frisson.


Filed under:Research Sources — posted by Hugh Denard on January 27, 2011 @ 7:41 pm

Just over a week ago, I blogged about the stones of the Old Abbey Theatre lying, unloved, in the Dalkey garden of the late Daithi P. Hanly. Next Tuesday, I will actually get to travel out to Dalkey to see and photograph the stones, canopy, railings, windows and the rest; should be quite an experience!

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.

Holloway’s Plans in the NLI

Filed under:Research Sources — posted by Hugh Denard on January 24, 2011 @ 11:25 pm

I spent a blissful 3 hours in the Prints and Drawings Department of the National Library of Ireland this afternoon, courtesy of Assistant Keeper, Honora Faul. The room is a vastly-ceilinged, tripartite chamber bathed in natural light and punctuated by large, dramatic, white, fluted Ionic columns. Quite a setting!

Laid out for me were three portfolios of Joseph Holloway’s architectural designs for the Abbey, created in 1904. They’re pencil on paper, for the most part, with occasional dashes of pen or coloured ink. Most of them have the quality of working sketches, full of half-erased lines and changed figures. It is thrilling to see and touch Holloway’s process of “inventing” the space of the Abbey; his drawings lend an additional vividness to entries in his journal such as: “Called up with rough sketch plan of the Abbey Street Theatre [The Mechanics] to Camden Street “Theatre” to have a chat over it with Mr. W.G. Fay.” (Journal entry for Friday, April 15th 1904).

The 34 drawings, Honora told me, while they have been numbered (AD 2171-2205), haven’t been individually catalogued, so creating an inventory seems a worthwhile exercise, not least because the process of systematically describing them requires me to pay a quality of attention to small details I might otherwise miss.

Using, for convenience, the fields in the IAA’s inventory of the Scott collection (Number; Description; Inscription; Medium; Scale; Dimensions), and making my own notes for the digital modelling process, I got through the first of the three portfolios today (AD 2171-2179). JH’s jottings in the margins indicate concern with the number of seats required to make the theatre financially viable. One plan of the Stalls and Pit (AD 2175) is inscribed:

“Stalls 230. (£34.0.0) Pit 200. (£10.0)”

A different plan of the seating in Gallery and Stalls (AD 2179) squeezes 15 more into the Stalls, its 245 seats now yielding £36.16.0, at the expense of 14 seats fewer in the Pit (including “Tip up seats”). We don’t know the sequence in which the plans were drawn, but it seems likely that Holloway is doing his best to maximise the number of higher-earning seats at the expense of the cheaper seats in the Pit. (AD 2175, intriguingly, also gives the rows of seats in the Stalls a gentle, classical curve – a solution that evidently did not find favour.)

The largest, most sumptuous and complete of Henderson’s plans is reproduced in the 2006 companion volume, by James Quin, Eílís Ní Dhuibhne and Ciara McDonnell, to the Yeats Exhibition at the National Library. WB Yeats Works and Days: Treasures from the Yeats Collection contains, besides the drawing, photographs of the old Abbey interior, including what looks like a post-fire shot along the balcony (p.81).

Honora was wonderfully helpful, giving me a spontaneous tour of the scope of the Joseph Holloway holdings in the P&D and Ephemera Departments, including a staggering number of theatrical playbills from the Dublin theatre scene, and his collection of sketches and paintings by a small constellation of Irish artistic types, including some 125 by his own hand. There is a digitization project made in heaven just praying to be dreamt of, here.

P&D only admits readers on Mondays and Tuesdays; I’m lucky to have secured an additional slot tomorrow afternoon. Ordering photographs from the NLI’s Reprographics Department (which typically take just a one or two days to arrive) costs between €13 (8″ x 10″) and €32 (24″ x 20″) for black and white images, or between €25 and €38 for sepia/colour. Alternatively, you can request a CD of TIFF images for €19 per image. Requesting permission to publish images requires a separate application.

Coming soon…

Filed under:Research Sources — posted by Hugh Denard on January 22, 2011 @ 11:31 pm

Steve Wilmer suggested I have a look at John Lynch’s 2004 documentary, “The Abbey Theatre: the first 100 years” (Production Company: Subotica) With any luck, the Irish Film Archive ought to have it – I’ll check with them on Monday 24th.

Monday 24th at 3pm: meeting Honora Faul in the NLI Prints and Drawings Department to look at Joseph Holloway’s 1904 architectural plans and drawings for the Abbey.

Wednesday 2nd Feb, morning: meeting Mairéad Delaney, Abbey Theatre Archivist, to look at pre-1951, floor-by-floor survey of the Abbey and surrounding buildings; four portraits originally hung in the old Abbey; whatever additional sources can be found to help us reconstruct the architecture, but especially textiles and colour-schemes, of the 1904 Abbey interior. I’m hoping we’ll manage to find that elusive wooden model of the old Abbey…

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace