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.

image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace