Theatre in Dublin

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXXII

Nor did the good people of Dublin neglect to provide for their amusements. Private theatricals were performed in the Castle at the latter end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, if not earlier. The sum of one-and-twenty shillings and two groats was expended on wax tapers for the play of "Gorbodne," "done at the Castle," in September, 1601. Miracle and mystery plays were enacted as early as 1528, when the Lord Deputy was "invited to a new play every day in Christmas;" where the Tailors acted the part of Adam and Eve, it is to be supposed because they initiated the trade by introducing the necessity for garments; the Shoemakers, the story of Crispin and Crispianus; the Vintners, Bacchus and his story; the Carpenters, Mary and Joseph; the Smiths represented Vulcan; and the Bakers played the comedy of Ceres, the goddess of corn.

The stage was erected on Hogges-green, now College-green; and probably the entertainment was carried out al fresco. The first playhouse established in Dublin was in Werburgh-street, in 1633. Shirley's plays were performed here soon after, and also those of "rare Ben Jonson." Ogilvy, Shirley's friend, and the promoter of this enterprise, was appointed Master of the Revels in Ireland in 1661; and as his first theatre was ruined during the civil war, he erected a "noble theatre," at a cost of £2,000, immediately after his new appointment, on a portion of the Blind-quay. Dunton describes the theatres, in 1698, as more frequented than the churches, and the actors as "no way inferior to those in London." The Viceroys appear to have been very regular in their patronage of this amusement; and on one occasion, when the news reached Dublin of the marriage of William of Orange and Mary, the Duke of Ormonde, after "meeting the nobility and gentry in great splendour at the play, passed a general invitation to all the company to spend that evening at the Castle."[4]


[4] Castle.—Gilbert's Dublin, vol. ii. p. 69. There is a curious account in the Quarterly Journal of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, July, 1862, p. 165, of a comic playbill, issued for a Kilkenny theatre, in May, 1793. The value of the tickets was to be taken, if required, in candles, bacon, soap, butter, and cheese, and no one was to be admitted into the boxes without shoes and stockings; which leads one to conclude that the form of admission and style of attire were not uncommon, or there would have been no joke in the announcement.