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90 Years of The Gate Theatre

Micháel Mac Liammóir and Hilton EdwardsThis year the Gate Theatre is celebrating 90 years since its opening in 1928, a historical and momentous occasion that shaped and changed the theatrical world for Dublin. To commemorate this occasion Dublin City Archives are hosting a seminar Commemorating 90 Years of the Gate Theatre on Tuesday 13 February from 6pm to 8pm at The Conference Room, Dublin City Library and Archive. The seminar will consist of five short illustrated presentations – each about 10 minutes in length, which will focus on different aspects of the Gate’s early history and archival records, followed by panel discussion. Dublin City Archives are also putting together an exhibition for the public to enjoy filled with the history of the theatre and photographs which display the costumes, stage designs and productions from the founders of the theatre Micheál Mac Liammóir and Hilton Edwards.

Image: Micheál Mac Liammóir & Hilton Edwards outside Gate Theatre, 1974 (see larger version) Image courtesy Irish Theatre Archive at Dublin City Library and Archive.

News from Nelson: Flags

VictoryThe first time I was here, flags were an essential part of communication and identity.  I used flags myself on HMS Victory which was the most important ship at Trafalgar and was known as ‘the flagship’.  Most famously, I sent a signal to the rest of the fleet, spelled out in flags and saying: ‘England expects every man to do his duty’.  When I died at Trafalgar – leading from the front as usual – my men were distraught, including 1,800 Irishmen who served with me, of whom 403 were Dublinmen.   My body was packed into a cask of brandy and sent to London for a state funeral at Westminster Abbey, when my coffin was draped with national flags from Victory. The funeral over, my most senior men cut up the flag and divided it among themselves.  Well believe it or not – a large portion of the flag was auctioned last week in London.  The estimates were £80,000 to £100,000 but in the end it fetched £297,000. You see, I continue to be respected and popular.  But oh! if only I had some of that flag myself – I would now be comfortably off, as my overheads are nil!

Manuscript of the Month: The Insect Play

The Insect PlayMicheál Mac Liammóir and Hilton Edwards founded the Dublin Gate Theatre in 1928 and this year its 90th anniversary will be marked with seminars, exhibitions and publications.  It is worth remembering however that the duo had to share the Gate Theatre building with Longford Productions, on a rotating six-month basis.  While Edwards-Mac Liammóir toured in Europe as much as possible while they were temporarily homeless, more often than not they availed of a residency in the Gaiety Theatre. 

Image: Poster advertising The Insect Play (view larger version)

The Insect Play was performed at the Gaiety starting on 22 March 1943.  It answered Hilton and Micheál’s avowed intention to bring the finest and most challenging of European theatre to Dublin.  The original play was written in 1921 in Czech by Karel and Josef Kapek and here it has been translated by Myles na gCopaleen.

Podcast: William Spence Engineering Works Cork Street

William SpenceIn this podcast ‘William Spence: A Victorian engineer in the right place at the right time’, Cathy Scuffil, Dublin City Council Historian in Residence, looks at the history of William Spence Engineering Works Cork Street. 

The Cork Street Foundry and Engineering Works of William Spence and Son was established in Dublin in 1856.  It continued trading over two generations of the Spence family, with no small measure of success until 1930.  The company was situated on a large, circa 3 acre industrial site located at 105 -109 Cork Street, Dublin, on a site that, until the early 1850s, had housed the tanning and currier business of a James O’Neill, who also had a residence at 26 Cork Street.

News from Nelson: The Imposter!

Nelson's Pillar exhibition roomI was snatching forty winks on the plinth, drowsing in the warmth of the Reading Room, when I heard one of the students saying: ‘Nelson looks very well in the Exhibition Room doesn’t he?’  What?!  Was there an imposter elsewhere in the building?  Well that woke me up smartly.  That night, I manoeuvred myself off the plinth (with some difficulty) and took the lift to the ground floor where the Exhibition Room is.  And there it was: my very own Pillar made out of cardboard, with not just one, but four copies of my very own statue.

It was not an imposter – rather it was a tribute to my own goodself.   On looking around, I saw that the back wall of the Exhibition Room was covered with an enormous photograph of Sackville (now O’Connell) Street, in the early twentieth century.  These people, going about their daily round, were about to get caught up in the conflict of 1913-23.

Manuscript of the Month: Jimmy O’Dea

Jimmy O'DeaThe great comic artist, Jimmy O’Dea, passed away on 7 January 1965, leaving behind a legacy of laughter.  Born and brought up in Dublin, O’Dea trained as an optician but the lure of live theatre was too great and he began to perform full time in 1928, having already appeared in silent movies. 

Image right: Jimmy O'Dea with bust by Marjorie FitzGibbon.

He formed his own company, O’D Productions, with Harry O’Donovan in 1928 and in Christmas that year they first presented their own pantomime, Sinbad the Sailor.  For decades to come, it was a Dublin tradition that an O’D pantomime would be shown at the Gaiety Theatre at Christmas, to be followed by a summer revue, Gaels of Laughter, starring Jimmy O’Dea with Maureen Potter and Vernon Hayden.

Embroidered postcards from First World War

WW1 Christmas postcardDCLA Manuscript of the Month December 2017:Embroidered postcards from First World War

Soldiers fighting at the Front welcomed any opportunity to write to their loved ones.  Seeing an opening, many individuals issued postcards for sale, including embroidered ones.  These were made by French and Belgian women many of whom had lost husbands and brothers in the war and welcomed this chance to make a little money.  The designs were picked out on gauze and worked in coloured silks to create an image.  The finished gauze was mounted on a cardboard frame and the postcard was then ready for sale.

Image right: Postcard with forget-me-nots and horse shoe theme: "With Greetings for Christmas and the New Year: Good Luck and Happy Days". Monica Roberts Collection, Ref. RDFA1.09.006cardA. (See larger version)

Irish Ramblers Club Archive

IRC badgeThe Irish Ramblers Club Archive is the newest addition to the Dublin City Sports Archives.  Since 2010, Dublin City Sports Archive has acquired material in written, visual and oral form, relating to a variety of sports and leisure activities from hockey, boxing, soccer, cycling, swimming and golf. The formal transfer of Irish Ramblers Club Archive was marked by a reception at Dublin City Library and Archive on 23rd November 2017, which included a talk by club historian Jack Morrissey and a poetry reading by first club president Sean Quinn.

The Irish Ramblers Club was founded in 1964 with the mission statement, “to explore, enjoy and protect our beautiful countryside”.  It has had 4000 members over a 50 year period and organises over 400 hikes per annum. The Club from the outset has taken a very proactive interest in conservation of mountains and forests of Dublin & Wicklow and has contributed to national issues – such as national parks, environmental awareness, rights of way and the development of the Wicklow Way.

Manuscript of the Month: Grant of arms to the Dublin Guild of Tailors, 1655

Tailors' ArmsThe very existence of this document is somewhat surprising, as it was issued during the Cromwellian inter-regnum in Ireland, a regime that despised ostentatious show. Nevertheless, ‘Richard Carney, Principall Herald of Armes for the whole Dominion of Ireland’ prepared this grant of arms to the Dublin Guild of Tailors in 1655.  This guild was founded in 1418 by royal charter and was second in order of precedence in the Dublin City Assembly.  The grant of arms states that the Dublin guild used the arms of the Merchant Taylors of London but that it had now applied for arms in its own right.  Carney concurs with this request, ‘in perpetuall memorie of (not onlie the ever constant Loyaltie of the said Cittie of Dublin and the many greate and famous services by them done the Commonwealth).’  The grant is issued on parchment and the top portion consists of three coats of arms, those of Ireland (left) and Dublin (right) with the arms of the Commonwealth in the centre; their inclusion indicates support for this grant. The Tailors’ arms is in the left panel, with its motto ‘Nudus et Opervistis Me’ (I was naked and you clothed me) a quotation from the New Testament (Matt. 25, 36). Elements of the coat of arms include the head of John the Baptist (whose feast was the guild’s swearing-in day, 24 June).  The guild colours were white and watchett (light blue) and these are referenced in the arms.

News from Nelson: Love me please!

Nelson's PillarAs I mentioned in my last blog, I went on top of Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin which was inaugurated with great fanfare on 29 October 1809 (Dublin First and Always). I had a great view, and with my one good eye I could see as if I had a spyglass, everything was magnified.  And of course when people climbed my Pillar I could hear what they were saying to each other – and in this way I knew what was going on in this great city which was my new abode.

As the century unfolded, it soon became apparent that not everybody loved me as much as I loved myself.  How could this be – the great hero of Trafalgar?  Listen to this: ‘At the monthly meeting of Dublin City Council of 2 November 1885 a letter from the architect and engineer John L. Robinson, C.E., M.R.I.A.I., of Great Brunswick Street, was read calling for the desirability of removing Nelson’s Pillar from its present position to a more suitable site.

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