Saturday 29 April 2017

Flashback: See what Abbey Theatre looked like after fire damage 65 years ago this week

1951: Abbey Fire: The roof had collapsed and there is a fire hose on the ground.
1951: Abbey Fire: The roof had collapsed and there is a fire hose on the ground.
1951: Picture shows aftermath of Abbey Theatre Fire in the auditorium - which shows how effective the fire curtain on the stage was. It was mostly water damage in the auditorium after the fire.
9/7/66 The last performance at the Old Abbey Theatre Scanned from the NPA archives.
9/7/66 Ernest Blyth (left) at the last performance at the Old Abbey Theatre Scanned from the NPA archives.
9/7/66 Some of the attendance at the last performance at the Old Abbey Theatre Scanned from the NPA archives.
9/7/66 Making-up for the last performance at the Old Abbey Theatre Scanned from the NPA archives.

Sophie Donaldson

This week 50 years ago the newly unveiled Abbey Theatre opened its doors for the first time. The date, July 18 1966, was auspicious for more than one reason.

Exactly 15 years before a fire had torn through the original Abbey Theatre, destroying the building and forcing the Company to find a new home.

They relocated to the Queens Theater for what was intended to be a temporary stay but instead lasted for a decade and a half. A week before the brand new premises on Abbey Street were opened the company had its final performance at the Queens in what would have been a bittersweet evening.

For the Abbey it signaled the end of an era and the beginning a new one, but the future of the Queens was far less bright.

After the final performances from the Abbey, "Never the Time and the Place" by Lennox Robinson and "The Irishwoman of the Year" by John Power, uncertainty shrouded the fate of the theatre with the Irish Independent reporting that "It will be used for variety performances up to the end of September, but after that it is just a matter for speculation."

The jubilee year of the 1916 Easter Rising, the 1966 Abbey opening recalled memories of the events that had taken place 50 years earlier.

1951: Abbey Fire: The roof had collapsed and there is a fire hose on the ground.
1951: Abbey Fire: The roof had collapsed and there is a fire hose on the ground.

In an article published the day after opening night the Irish Independent recalled that “Thomas McDonagh, one of the executed leaders of the Rising was himself an Abbey playwright and when news of the seizure of the General Post Office reached the theatre at a rehearsal, members of the Abbey players and other hands made a hurried exit to join the fighting. And by then others of the company were already at the barricades.”

A world away from the battleground of the Rising, the opening of the new Abbey Theatre was attended by the who’s who of arts, culture and politics.

1951: Picture shows aftermath of Abbey Theatre Fire in the auditorium - which shows how effective the fire curtain on the stage was. It was mostly water damage in the auditorium after the fire.
1951: Picture shows aftermath of Abbey Theatre Fire in the auditorium - which shows how effective the fire curtain on the stage was. It was mostly water damage in the auditorium after the fire.

Alongside Abbey actors, playwrights and staff were members of parliament including Eamon De Valera, Minister for Finance Jack Lynch, James Dillon and lord mayor Aiderman Eugene Timmons. Eammon Andrews, Radio Telefis Eireann’s director-general Kevin McCourt, theatre personalities Hilton Edwards and Michael Mac Liammoir and Lord Moyne, himself an Abbey playwright and who gave the Company its temporary home immediately after the fire in Rupert Guinness Memorial Home, were also there on the night.

The new building was designed by Irish architect Michael Scott, who also designed the nearby Busáras building.

Scott is considered one of the great modern architects and his vision for the new Abbey was thought to be the last word in modern-day design.

The theatre was a fittingly contemporary space for a Company that continues to champion new Irish playwrights.

Click here if you're interested in purchasing these exclusive Independent Archives photos

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