In Daithi P. Hanly’s Garden

Filed under:Research Sources — posted by Hugh Denard on January 19, 2011 @ 2:15 pm

Shortly after Christmas, Steve Wilmer mentioned to me that, in 1961, distinguished Dublin city architect and town planner Daithi P. Hanly succeeded in saving the stones of the old Abbey Theatre, which were being dismantled and prepared for dumping, in preparation for the building of the new Abbey on the site. The old Abbey’s front façade and vestibule on the corner of Marlborough Street and Abbey Street, undamaged by the fire of 17th July 1951, had continued in use until 1961 as the ticket office of the Abbey players during their exile in the Queen’s Theatre. At Hanly’s request, the contractor, Christy Cooney, had the stones numbered and transported, along with the old theatre’s canopy, railings, windows, vestibule fittings, and billboards to Hanly’s garden and a former boathouse in Vico Road, Dalkey, where they lie to this day (Sunday Independent, August 7, 1988).

Charles Duggan, Dublin City Council’s Heritage Officer, on learning of the “Abbey Theatre, 1904” project, sent Niall Ó hOisín of NOHO a PDF of documents and press cuttings relating to Hanly’s visionary deed of cultural preservation and his subsequent efforts to find a proper home for the old theatre’s façade. From the mid 1980s until his death in July 2003, Hanly, backed by a cast of Irish theatre notables, from Cyril Cusack to Vincent Dowling, succeeded in generating a great deal of interest in the story both in the media and among potential stakeholders in the proposed reconstruction. While Boston College expressed an interest in acquiring the stones should no home be found for it in Dublin, and exploratory, but ultimately fruitless, discussions took place with Trinity College Dublin about the potential incorporation of the granite façade, measuring 25 feet high and 34 feet wide, into The Lir, National Academy of Dramatic Art, Hanly’s preferred outcome was to have it re-erected close to its original site as an entrance to a proposed National Theatre Gallery or Museum.

It would be a joy to be able to see this “original Georgian façade, with the name ‘The Abbey Theatre’ in dark green letters above the main entrance” (“Where Stands the Abbey?” Dáithi P. Hanly letter to the Irish Times, 30 May 2002), as well as the several other fixtures and fittings preserved by Hanly, and to incorporate them, as virtual objects and textures, in at least a digital rebuilding of the old Abbey Theatre. Perhaps this effort could help to draw attention, once again, to this precious survival and the question of its future.

image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace