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.

Day 1 of 3D Modelling – Images

Filed under:Visualisation — posted by Hugh Denard on February 24, 2011 @ 12:22 pm

Some images taken by Niall during his first day modelling the old Abbey Theatre.

Wire-frame view of the auditorium and stage

Old Abbey Theatre: wire-frame view of the auditorium and stage. © 2011

Massing model view towards stage from 'Pit' below Gallery

Old Abbey Theatre: massing model view towards stage from ‘Pit’ below Gallery. © 2011

Massing model view from stage

Old Abbey Theatre: massing model view from stage. © 2011

Launch Event & S H I F T

Filed under:Project — posted by Hugh Denard on @ 12:01 pm

The Provost, Dr John Hegarty, will launch the digital reconstruction of the old Abbey Theatre at a Reception in the Foyer of the Samuel Beckett Theatre, on

Friday 15th April 2011, at 7 p.m.

The reception will be followed, at 8pm, by a live, mixed-media production


in the Samuel Beckett Theatre, in which contemporary Irish sound and video artists, actors and musicians, will create a live, improvisatory response to the 1907 Playboy of the Western World riots, augmented by the digital model of the old Abbey Theatre.

Tickets for S H I F T, which cost €12/€6 (concessions), will soon be available from

These two events follow the Annual Samuel Beckett Lecture, by Professor Jean-Michel Rabaté (Pennsylvania) on “Beckett and Bathos”, in the Samuel Beckett Theatre at 5.30pm (admission free), and will also mark the opening of

An International Symposium, “The Rest is History: Ireland, Performance and The Historical Imagination”, in the Samuel Beckett Centre on

Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th April.

S H I F T is supported by the Trinity Association and Trust, the Samuel Beckett Centre, and the Long Room Hub, Trinity College Dublin.

See event listing on the School of Drama, Film and Music website website.

Meeting Provost John Hegarty

Filed under:Project — posted by Hugh Denard on February 18, 2011 @ 11:39 pm

This morning, I had the privilege of presenting the Abbey Theatre, 1904 and S H I F T projects to the Provost of Trinity College Dublin, Dr John Hegarty.

On entering the Provost’s House (a gorgeous Palladian building, technically at the bottom of Grafton Street, but really feels like College Green), I was introduced to the Provost and Dr Catriona Curtis, Assistant to the Provost, by Dr Jennifer Edmond, Executive Director of the Long Room Hub; the Hub is sponsoring my research through a Visiting Research Fellowship.

I gave a brief, illustrated presentation, situating the Abbey Theatre, 1904 in the context of previous visualisation, methodology and creative projects I’ve been involved in over the years, most recently the Roman Villa at Boscoreale, for the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Body and Mask in Ancient Theatre Space funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and The London Charter. S H I F T, as a creative enterprise that takes humanities research as its point of departure, is conceptually related to Vanishing Point(s), an installation for the Great Hall at King’s College London which I worked on with artist, Michael Takeo Magruder, and (although I didn’t mention it this morning) Dionysos, a devised performance I directed, with Alex Linse and the late Carl Mueller, at the Warwick Arts Centre in 2000.

We then went on to discuss one of the Provost’s flagship initiatives, Creative Arts Technologies and Culture, which is forging powerful links across disciplines within Trinity, and between Trinity and wider Irish society, particularly the areas of Dublin on the College’s doorstep. This is such a visionary “movement”, determinedly criss-crossing boundaries that are usually all-but impermeable due to social entropy, in order to generate new kinds of cultural and intellectual energy. With such ideas circulating, it’s not surprising that people from such diverse disciplinary contexts in Trinity have been so strikingly receptive to and supportive of the kind of work I’ve been attempting.

A real pleasure to meet the man behind the plan, as well as the infectiously enthusiastic Catriona. Couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend the morning, really.

Day 1 of 3D Modelling

Filed under:Visualisation — posted by Hugh Denard on February 16, 2011 @ 5:04 pm

Hello Everyone,

I am the 3D Modeller on this project and the video below is a rambling account of what I am using as reference and how I am getting on with the work so far. This is only after a day’s work, so don’t get too excited, but I think it is shaping up nicely. We are only focusing on the main blocking of the model at the moment.

Abbey Theatre Reconstruction – Day 01 from Noho on Vimeo.

It’s great to have such good reference material to hand without having to look for it myself, so thanks to Hugh for making my job pretty easy. The next day of work shall focus on more blocking out of walls and doors and stairs. I will also start to try and colour code the models according to sources.

More soon,


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.

The moment of truth…

Filed under:Visualisation — posted by Hugh Denard on February 7, 2011 @ 6:31 pm

All the archival research, discussions and journeys have been leading up to this: the modelling of the Theatre.

I met up with Niall Ó hOisín again this morning at the now, newly-refurbished, NOHO offices (nice job!). I’m particularly lucky it’s going to be Niall himself, the founder of NOHO (did the name give it away?), who’s going to work on the project. I have to say, it’s fantastic to find someone to collaborate with who is every bit as crazy about the Old Abbey Theatre project as I am!

We ran through the scope, methodology and schedule of the project, before getting down to the nuts and bolts of reviewing and interpreting the sources for the 1904 theatre, which are several, and complicated.

Let me outline the plan here, and I’ll blog the discussion of sources separately.

We’ve only a short time-span and limited funds for the project (this phase of it, at least), and my primary focus is on what avenues of theatre-historical exploration we can open up by modelling and exploring performance and spectatorship in the Old Abbey Theatre, so we’re going to concentrate on the Auditorium and Stage only of the Theatre, trying to model it as closely as possible to its state on its opening night, 27th December 1904.

Keeping in mind, as always, the London Charter‘s precepts on documentation, Niall will create three versions of the model:

  1. Forensic Massing Model (FMM): this model will be a reconstruction of the architecture, but not surface textures, of the auditorium and stage. It will include stairs, doors, windows, seating, ceiling, fittings for lighting and heating, and the position of the paintings and other decorative features that were hung within the auditorium. Unfortunately, there will be conflicts and gaps in our information. To give just two examples: we already know that it’s proving difficult to pin down details of the original ceiling; and there’s also a troublesome window high above the left-hand gallery that appears in some sources but not in others. The FMM will therefore use a “traffic lights” system, using green, amber and red to make it easy for viewers to distinguish between “known”, “probable” and “speculative” elements in the model.
  2. Artists’ Impression (AI): again, a full architectural reconstruction, but this time also restoring as accurately as possible the surface textures of the space, from the colour of paint on the walls, to the materials and textiles used in the columns, railings, floors, seating, curtains etc. The purpose of this model is to allow us to experience as close a simulation as evidence permits of the full spatial-visual array that the Theatre presented to both actors and spectators from 27th December 1904. This version of the model will be used when, in the summer, we come to populate the theatre with animated virtual figures in an attempt to discover how far we can recreate the “Playboy” riots of 1907.
  3. Forensic Textured Model (FTM): this final version will combine the approaches used in the FMM and the AI, overlaying textures AI with semi-transparent colour shading, so that viewers will be able to see, at a glance, the levels of confidence we have in our restoration of surface information (colours, materials, textiles etc.).

We need to keep the door open for future edits or additions to the model should resources become available, and we also have to ensure that the models have a reasonable chance of surviving beyond the lifespan of the project (see the London Charter on sustainability), so NOHO is going to deliver the digital models in three industry-standard file formats:

  • XSI (the native format of Autodesk’s Softimage software, which NOHO will be using for this project)
  • 3DS (the format of files for 3d Studio Max, another industry-standard 3d modelling software package by Autodesk)
  • OBJ (an almost universally-accepted format for 3d graphics).

In addition to the three versions of the model, Niall will render still images of selected viewpoints of each of the models, which we can publish on the website and even in print, when the time comes. And, finally, he’ll export the complete AI model into the Metropolis real-time engine, so that Carol O’Sullivan’s summer-time intern can develop virtual characters for it.

There are several additional bits of visualisation we’d love to do, to help to contextualise the models and also to explore the experience of 1904 audience members, depending on whether they were bound for the Stalls, Gallery or the “cheap seats” in the Pit. That would involve modelling the entire architectural layout of the Theater: its famous Vestibule on Marlborough Street, as well as the Lower Abbey Street entrance to the Pit. And we could also learn a great deal from attempting to model the backstage areas, including the Green Room and workshop.

It would also be helpful for people more familiar with the new Abbey to superimpose models of the old and new theatres onto each other on the 1907 Ordnance Survey map of the area, which I’ll hopefully be able to acquire tomorrow afternoon when I meet Trinity Map Librarian, Paul Ferguson at the Glucksman Map Library. (Back in my – surprisingly not entirely misspent – youth, I spent one long, sweaty, student summer extracting dirty, heavy, waxed bundles of OS maps from the basement of No.6 Front Square and carting them down to the Map Library, then in the “Science end” of College, where, under Paul’s kindly, watchful eye, we straightened and sorted them. Ah, them were the days!)

However, if we do have any time to spare, we’re going to prioritise putting onto the stage some scenery and three-dimensionalised photographs of Abbey actors in costume, to give a sense of its scale, and to see how the visual style of the plays worked in the Theatre for which they were written. An obvious choice would be the 1907 Playboy of the Western World, but we’ll see what we have best evidence for.

I was going to blog about how we’re going to organize and capture the modelling process, but this entry is far too long as it is, so that’ll have to wait another day.

@ GV2

Filed under:Visualisation — posted by Hugh Denard on February 3, 2011 @ 4:34 pm

I gave an informal overview and update on the project at noon today to Carol O’Sullivan and her colleagues in the Computer Science Department at Trinity College.

I related the “digital jig-saw puzzle”, which the Old Abbey is turning out to be, to other digital visualisation projects I’ve been involved in with my colleagues in the King’s Visualisation Lab, including work on the Theatre of Pompey in Rome, the Roman villas at Boscoreale and Oplontis, and their theatrical frescoes, the London Charter, as well as the Body and Mask in Ancient Theatre Space and Theatron3 projects and the “Vanishing Point(s)” artwork for the Great Hall at King’s College London that I worked on with artist Michael Takeo Magruder.

It was a relaxed and enjoyable session, and great to hear about activities in which Trinity is involved, including research on facial perception and an exciting project extending to the Book of Kells digital analysis of various kinds (PDF).

We agreed that there continue to be areas of common interest, and as we move towards the actual creation, with NOHO, of the project’s digital model (starting next Monday, 7th Feb) it will be interesting to keep thinking about, and planning, how we might, with Carol and her colleagues, model not only performance, but also the demographics and social expectations of spectatorship in the Old Abbey Theatre.

Carol also mentioned some fascinating work (PDF), by Frank Boland (TCD) and Gavin Kearney (now University of York) on digitally modelling the acoustics of Christ Church and St. Patrick’s Cathedrals in Dublin. Perhaps this kind of work is an avenue we could explore in a future phase of the project?

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.

image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace