Monday, April 25, 2011

Original Abbey Theatre Programme - 1903

Following on from the discovery of the Abbey Theatre playbills several weeks ago, we can now show you another wonderful item in much the same vein. This is a programme from October 1903, when the plays The King's Threshold by W.B. Yeats and In the Shadow of the Glen by J.M. Synge premiered. The actors featured included Sara Allgood, Seumas O'Sullivan and P.J. Kelly. They were performed along with Yeats' Kathleen Ní Houlihan in Molesworth Hall, Molesworth Street in Dublin by the Irish National Theatre Society. The Abbey Theatre opened the following year, when the Mechanics' Hall on Lower Abbey Street became available. The opening run would see two of the plays from this programme staged again, Kathleen Ní Houlihan and In the Shadow of the Glen.

In fact, this production probably played an instrumental part in the development of the Abbey. Annie Horniman, the patron of the Abbey who eventually purchased the building on Lower Abbey Street, came to Ireland in 1903 in part to design the costumes for The King's Threshold.

It's not known precisely how this programme came into the possession of the O'Malley family, but as Mary O'Malley had such a keen interest in Yeats' drama and in the Abbey Theatre we can presume she collected it  at some point in the course of her research.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hollywood in Belfast

I came across this item bundled with some unproduced scripts in Mary O'Malley's papers. As you can see, it is an original script for the classic 1950 Bette Davis movie All About Eve. Unfortunately as of yet there is no indication of how Mrs O'Malley came to be in possession of the script - a note on the inside cover warns that failure to return it to Twentieth Century Fox will result in a $5 fine! While not being typical of the material in the Lyric Theatre archive, it's a fascinating item.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thomas Kilroy opens Cúirt Festival and explains the Galway Vibe

There were about fifty people in the foyer of the Galway Museum on Tuesday at 6pm, when Thomas Kilroy officially opened this year's Cúirt International Festival of Literature. He caused a few to laugh out loud (and a very few to frown a little), when he said that one of the attractions of the West of Ireland to artists and creative spirits was the way that the Irish language was never too far here, regarding and sometimes jostling its Anglo-Saxon counterpart, "knocking some of the rigidity out of English, getting the English language to throw off its clothes and run around all over the place naked." (More of this transcript is in the Galway Advertiser).

15 July 1989, John Updike to Thomas Kilroy
And then he mentioned two items from his archives:  a letter from John Updike, regretting he couldn't come to the George Moore symposium in County Mayo (1989), and another from Doris Lessing, whom Kilroy had met and invited to Cúirt in 1994, but who couldn't attend. Both express an interest in, and affection for the West of Ireland, and regret they cannot come. 

Kilroy also told us that Doris Lessing had at one difficult juncture in her life planned to stay in the West, but that after an unconclusive search (from Clare to Sligo) for a place to stay, she returned to London. Who knows what would have happened to her English if she had carried that plan out? The Cúirt Festival continues until Sunday.

Vera Orschel

Photographs from Unknown Productions - Can You Help?

One of the most difficult aspects of archivists' work is the task of trying to identify the people, places and events in photographic collections. I've been lucky with the Lyric archive to some extent as many of the photos have some manner of identifying note on the reverse. This will often be as short as a date or an actor's name, but that can be enough in most cases to help me in researching and discovering the image's provenance. Other photographs don't have notes, but may have distinctive set or costume design, or the photo may be taken of a recognisable scene.

In some cases though, the photo frustratingly remains a mystery. The slideshow above contains the images from my current 'unknown photos' folder. If anyone would like to hazard a guess at any of these, you can click on the slideshow to be brought to the Picasa web album where you can leave comments on any of the images!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New exhibition of photographs from Garda Siochana Historical Society

A new exhibition presenting a photographic history of An Garda Síochána is now on in the James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway. The exhibition features a series of 48 incredible images from An Garda Síochána Historical Association which date as far back as 1909 and reach as far forward as the 1940s. The photographs chart the fascinating history of An Garda Síochána and include its precursors The Royal Irish Constabulary and The Dublin Metropolitan Police.

The exhibition is complemented by images of Gardaí from our own archives here in NUI Galway, taken from the Ritchie-Pickow collection. More material from the Ritchie-Pickow archive can be seen here:

The exhibition runs until 6 May 2011 and admission is free.

 For further information please see:, and

Monday, April 11, 2011

First Night at the Lyric Theatre - 1968

The new Lyric Theatre opens in a couple of weeks (1 May). No doubt the opening night will be a fantastic experience, and a celebration of those who worked so hard to raise the funds to rebuild the theatre. This echoes the victorious opening night in 1968, when the Lyric’s first purpose built theatre opened. It’s difficult to imagine how Mary O’Malley, founder of the theatre, must have felt. What had been a labour of love for almost twenty years had finally come to fruition, and for the first time Lyric productions would be based outside of the O’Malley family home. To get an idea of the excitement of that time, here is a slideshow of some images from that night.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Kilroy Making Theatre History

Thomas Kilroy's first play to reach the public was in fact a radio play, The Door, which won a BBC radio play competition and was broadcast in 1967 with Cyril Cusack in the main role. However, his first work for the stage, submitted to the Abbey in 1964, was The O'Neill (The Abbey, 1969). It cast into dramatic form a few episodes in the Ulster chief's fortunes, round about the Battle of the Yellow Ford (1598), and it was the first of Thomas Kilroy's "history plays" (seven of his original plays could be called that). He sought opinions about the draft play from the Abbey Theatre, from Hilton Edwards, Mary O'Malley, and Cyril Cusack, and got some interesting replies.

Cyril Cusack in Genet's
The Balcony,
Cyril Cusack's letter is, in his own description, "ultra-cautious"; he does not think himself a good judge of a play, but despite all mincing of words he makes this comment on the play and on himself: "As it is, this is not the play I would ask, above all, to put on, and, alas, that is the only kind of play upon which I could possibly take a risk" (28 December 1964). An O'Neill could not beat him for mixing diplomacy with boldness.

Ernest Blythe, then director of the Abbey Theatre, reported that there were widely differing opinions on the Abbey board about the play. He himself committed himself as far as to say that "while O'Neill is not a play which might be expected to be wildly popular or a money-spinner and might indeed even provoke some public anger, we think it is far better than any previous play about O'Neill which has come to us and merits the most serious consideration" (24 May 1966).

However, despite such good feedback from The Abbey, The O'Neill suffered the fate of a quixotic journey via the desks of three successive directors and various others, before the Abbey finally produced it in May and June of 1969, with Dubliner Joseph O'Connor in the lead role. In the meantime, Kilroy's second play, The Death and Resurrection of Mr Roche, was turned down by the Abbey in 1966 or early 1967, and then overtook The O'Neill by reaching the stage first (Dublin Theatre Festival, 1968).

Revival of "The O'Neill" on the anniversary of O'Neill's departure from Rathmullen
It's also noteworthy that when Brian Friel wrote his own play about Hugh O'Neill, Making History (produced by Field Day in 1988), he and Kilroy were in correspondence about it. There is an essay by Anne Fogarty about the way either dramatist makes sense of "The Great O'Neill" and of historiography. (Irish University Review, vol 32 no.1, Spring/Summer 2002) 18-32.
Vera Orschel

Monday, April 4, 2011

Discovery - Abbey Theatre Playbills!

An avid theatregoer in her youth, Mary O’Malley collected some interesting memorabilia of the Dublin theatre scene during that time. Two items which have recently come to light are evidence of this. As you can see in these images, the archive contains two small playbills advertising new productions in the Abbey Theatre in 1929 and 1937.
The first of these is a playbill for Cartney and Kevney by George Shiels, produced on the 8th November 1929. The Abbey Theatre archives reveal that this play had an outstanding cast, featuring actors such as P.J. Carolan, Barry Fitzgerald, Arthur Shields, May Craig, Eileen Crowe and F.J. McCormick. The play was directed by Lennox Robinson. The archives note that ballets were also performed on the nights this play was performed, by Ninette de Valois and her pupils.
The second playbill advertises the opening night of Coggerers by Paul Vincent Carroll, being part of a double bill with the Synge’s Playboy of the Western World. This production featured Frank Carney, Patrick Considine, Josephine Fitzgerald and Eric Gorman. The director was Hugh Hunt, assisted by Arthur Shields.

Besides being wonderful examples of playbills of this era, these items have resonance in being stored in this particular institution, as NUI Galway Archives houses the Arthur Shields archive. This collection, which also contains much material on his brother Barry Fitzgerald, is available to researchers visiting the library. For those who would like to see more of this type of material, we have recently launched a wonderful online exhibition of images from the Shields collection, which can be viewed here.

James Thierree - 'Dreams and Magic' in Galway from Chaplin's grandson

One of the most celebrated events on the Irish stage of late has been James Thierree’s Raoul at the Abbey Theatre. Fusing dance, movement, performance and stories, Thierree’s Raoul captivated its sell-out audiences night after night for the duration of its run at the Abbey. Thierree’s credentials and his own amazing story add in no small part to his appeal. Born in France into a family steeped in theatre and circus performance, Thierree’s upbringing was far from the traditional and set him on the path for a life of entertaining and enthralling. What’s even more intriguing is that Thierree can count the comic actor Charlie Chaplin as his maternal grandfather and the celebrated American playwright Eugene O’Neill as his paternal great-grandfather. James’ own parents were vaudeville star Jean-Baptiste Thierree and dancer/designer Victoria Chaplin. Serious lineage indeed.
Starring at the Galway Arts Festival in July 2003, Thierree’s show, entitled the Junebug Symphony, was his first foray as a creator having previously worked mostly as an actor. The show was already a huge international success and was a highlight of the 2003 Galway Arts Festival. The festival archive contains detailed press accounts and interviews with Thierree, who described his show as being about “mood, visuals and being very free as a show”.  There is no continuous narrative he stresses, where anything can happen and plenty does. “Everyone can make their own story into it”.
Given the instant and deep connection between Thierree and Irish audiences at Galway in 2003 and at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin in February of 2011, It is interesting how these non-traditional theatrical works with no central narrative were so warmly received in Galway and later in Dublin. As I work my way through the Galway Arts Festival archive, I will post updates on further material from the James Thierree performances. Photographs, administrative material or any such records will be an incredible insight into the work of this man who grew up in a circus and lives on stage. If anyone has witnessed the 2003 production of the Junebug Symphony  at the Black Box Theatre, Galway, or indeed this year’s performance of Raoul at the Abbey Theatre, we would love to record your thoughts and experiences here!  

Friday, April 1, 2011

Public Lectures on Irish Theatre History - Next Week!

Next week sees a remarkable opportunity to see two outstanding speakers on this topic as two public lectures are planned in Galway. Professor Fiona Burke of Florida State University speaks at the Druid Theatre on Tuesday 5th April at 7pm, while Professor Stephen Watt of Indiana University speaks in the Moore Institute Seminar Room in NUI Galway on Thursday 7th April at 4pm. These events are free and part of a series of public lectures at NUI Galway, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.