Everyone in Israel is an archaeologist, while everyone in Ireland is a poet (or writer, playwright, or singer, or at the very least, a critic).

Mirth and merriment is woven deeply into the fabric of the Irish consciousness.  You can sit in a pub and in the middle of a conversation they will break out in passionate song or quote prose and poetry from William Butler Yeats or other national literature heroes. After all, this is the Isle that invented the limerick.

The National Theatre of Ireland is celebrating its centennial in 2004 with nationwide events called Abbeyonehundred that not only sees wonderful staged plays at the theatre that W.B. Yeats built, but major museum shows about drama, acting, and even stage sets.

For ten decades the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, has staged provocative  dramas and comedies and musicals by playwrights who have observed and absorbed the tumultuous changes that have taken place in Irish society.  Since 1904 these distilled and poignant revelations have been revealed on the two national stages, the Abbey and the more recent Peacock.

The new Abbey Theatre in Dublin rests on the namesake of WB Yates' original theatre.

26 Lower Abbey Street
00 353 1 887 2200


The Abbey was founded at a time of social, political and intellectual ferment in Ireland and its story is well woven into the fabric of the nation. It has served with distinction in asserting the Irish identify under the yoke of English rule.  The names of its champions are legendary and it is fascinating to see among them the names of so many women, among them Maud Gonne, Augusta Gregory, and the English philanthropist Annie Horniman, who bankroled Yeats' thespian endeavor.  William Butler Yeats' own vision of the Abbey at its inception was a vision not only of the future for drama but the future of Ireland.  The decades have seen considerable applause and a predictable quota of criticism and controversy prevaricated by the Abbey.

Dublin ’s Abbey Theater gave a stage to Yeats and other dramatists: J. M Synge, George Moore, and Sean O’Casey. Richard Sheridan and George Bernard Shaw were born in Dublin. James Joyce grew up in Dublin, the city of his birth, and it is reflected in the autobiographical book Portrait of an Artist As A Young Man, a work that cuts a deep slice into the city, the country, and the culture.

James Joyce statue in Dublin
Trinity College in Dublin is the oldest in Ireland, and it has pumped out many distinguished writers, such as Thomas Moore and Oliver Goldsmith to Oscar Wilde.  But Trinity has a Protestant tinge, while Joyce was a Catholic.  Even though Joyce spent most of his time in Europe writing, his eye for discernment was distinctly as a Dubliner.  His most famous work, Ulysses, was published in Paris in 1922, the same year the Republic of Ireland was formed after over 300 years of English lordship.  Ulysses is about a single day, Thursday, June 16, 1904, the same year the National Theatre incubated the Abbey. The focus of the book is on a Dubliner named Leopold Bloom, and you meet numerous Dubliners throughout the novel.  It is a tightly woven tapestry of Dublin.  The Martellow Tower, a central point in the book, still stands in Dublin.  The towers were built by the British to thwart a possible invasion from Napoleon.

It was an educated and sophisticated audience in attendance the night I attended the packed Abbey for the drama, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards The Somme. The dire forewarning of a shaky independence spotlights the Ulster boys preparing and then fighting in the WWI trenches of France in 1916, the same year that the foment of Irish Independence rears its head, which was so magnificently captured in the movie, Ryan’s Daughter.  It is also ironic that this drama would play in the Republic of Ireland’s largest city, while Ulster is in Northern Ireland.

But at that time there was a single Ireland, ruled by the British crown.

The Irish have experienced their own heartbreaking Diaspora of famine and immigration, dispersing them all over the world, but they are still Irish in spirit wherever they go. So it is not so ironic that the play, which originally premiered at the other national theatre, the Peacock, in 1985, was judged responsible for bringing the Nationalists (Catholics) and the Unionists (Protestants) together after 70 years of bloody hatred.  In the play there was a lighthearted lilt to the work that never sees an intermission.  But there was also an ominous undertone brewing up like fumaroles; independence was bursting like bombshells even on the battlefields of the Somme, a freedom that would not come without further tumult.  And it is a surprise to many modern Irish to learn that their grandfathers, Catholic and Protestant, fought side by side to save France.

The play reminded me of the direness and despair of war in the book Johnny Get Your Gun, written after WWI and banned between the wars so that new raw recruits could not envision the cold brutality of the battlefields.  In many instances it takes war to gain independence, but now with the 1998 peace accords between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and England, a peace engineered by two Irish politicians, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, some aspects of the Irish turmoil have died down a bit on the revolutionary front that was portrayed in this excellent play by Frank McGuinness, another national Irish hero.

Born in Bunccrana, County Donegal, Frank McGuiness now lives in Dublin and lectures in English at University College Dublin.  This WWI drama received the London Standard’s Most Promising Playwright Award, the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, Harvey’s Best Play Award, the Cheltenham Literary Prize, the Plays and Players Award, the Ewart Briggs Peace Prize, and the London Fringe Award. 

The equally talented and awarded Ben Barnes has been the Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre since 2000, and since then he has focused on a strong European and international dimension as a platform for new writers and the development of new theatre programs for young and young at heart.  The performance of the Observe The Sons Of Ulster . . . has closed for the season, but Barnes has plenty of other wonderful examples of the Irish spirit that can be researched and booked online at www.abbeytheatre.ie

Portable James Joyce

Portable James Joyce

Jetsetters Magazine recommendation.

Although much of Yeats' and Joyce’s Dublin has disappeared, the city remains a literary landmark with the Abbey at it’s historical and artistic heart, still beating in the acclaimed Temple Bar District, which is also home to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, The National Gallery of Ireland, The National Library of Ireland, and the most unique Chester Beatty Library (Chester Beatty Library; Dublin), which celebrates the Abbey’s 100th birthday with an exhibition of the Japanese Noh Theater, which influenced Yeats when he lived in London. The library also has one of the best archives of ancient Jewish scrolls and parchments.

Georgian mansions line Dublin streets
where playwrights and poets once lived.

Dublin is still a town of Georgian mansions.  Merion Square in Dublin is where many writers once lived, such as Oscar Wilde at No. 1; William Butler Yeats at No. 52 and No. 82, Daniel O’Connell, the great political hero, at No. 58, and the pioneer mystery writer, J. Sheridan le Fanu at No. 70.  Even Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, lived near the square.  Jonathan Swift is buried in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he was Dean.

The arts and theatre will continue to thrive in this majestic city, and to immerse yourself even more, visit during the Dublin Theatre Festival. Irish Film (www.irishfilm.ie)  houses a plethora of historic clips about the Abbey Theatre.  The abbeyonehundred Book of Days sells in local Dublin bookshops for about 50 Euros.

Visit Webbandstand.comAnd if you have any Irish blood in you at all and you have the call of the bard, The National University of Ireland, in Galway, offers a M.A. Degree in Drama and Theatre Studies. For more information about Ireland log on to www.tourismireland.com or call 800/223-6470.

By Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.

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