Object: Abbey Theatre programme
Object title: Abbey Theatre programme, Easter Monday, 1916
Physical Characteristics: Eight page print document
This programme was produced by the Abbey Theatre for sale at the theatre on Easter Monday 1916. It details the cast lists of the plays scheduled for production on Easter Monday namely Kathleen ni Houlihan by W. B. Yeats and The Mineral Workers by William Boyle. The programme announces that a new play by T.H. Nally, The Spancel of Death, will premiere on Easter Tuesday. Due to the Rising and cancellation of performances for Easter week, Nally’s play has not had its premiere at the Abbey, to this day.
This programme forms part of the Abbey Theatre’s master programme collection, which documents almost all Abbey Theatre productions from the foundation of the theatre in 1904, to the present day. Not only do the programmes provide details of productions, they also provide fascinating insights into printing and design, as well as social history and consumer culture. Also notable is the fact that the Abbey Theatre had an orchestra. For many years theatre goers could be expected to attend as much for the music as the theatrical performance.
How is the object associated with the Easter Rising 1916 and in what way does it make a unique contribution to our understanding of the event?
Ireland's literary revival is central to an understanding of the events of the Easter Rising 1916. It contributed to a sense of national identity and a reassessment of Ireland's status within the British Empire. The Irish Literary Theatre, founded in 1898, and its successor the Abbey Theatre, founded in 1904, would become the crucible for new Irish writing, bringing the 'deeper thoughts and emotions' of Ireland to the Irish stage.
In this Abbey Theatre programme W.B. Yeats sets out his inspiration for the play Kathleen ni Houlihan, first presented in 1899. 'One night I had a dream, almost as distinct as a vision, of a cottage where there was well-being, and firelight, and talk of a marriage, and into the midst of that cottage there came an old woman, in a long cloak. She was Ireland herself, that Kathleen Ni Houlihan, for whom so many songs have been sung, and about whom so many stories have been told and for whose sake so many have gone to their death. I thought if I could write this out as a little play I could make others see my dream as I had seen it.’ In 1938, shortly before his death and referring to the 1916 executions, Yeats asks in his poem The Man and the Echo, ‘Did that play of mine send out/Certain men the English shot?’ In this Yeats’ is questioning whether he was the cause of the uprising and the resultant deaths through his play Kathleen ni Houlihan.
The programme lists Sean Connolly as Peter Gillane in Kathleen Ni Houlihan by W.B. Yeats and Arthur Shields as Mr Casey in The Mineral Workers by William Boyle. Neither actor played their assigned roles at the Abbey Theatre that day. Instead they took up arms and participated in the Easter Rising. Sean Connolly was responsible for the opening shots of the revolution and was himself the first rebel fatality, killed in action at Dublin's City Hall. Arthur Shields was part of the General Post Office garrison and was part of the final surrender in Moore Street. At the outbreak of the fighting the performances were cancelled by the Abbey Theatre’s manager, St. John G. Ervine.
Are there any broader issues that can be illustrated through the story of the object?
Several staff members of the Abbey Theatre, actors, stage hands, prompters and an usherette took part in the Easter Rising. Two signatories of the proclamation and leaders of the Rising – Thomas MacDonagh and Padraic Pearse - had seen productions of their plays produced on the Abbey Theatre stage. In 1908 the Abbey Theatre had given MacDonagh’s play When The Dawn is Come it’s world premiere. In 1913 the Abbey second company and the boys from Pearse’s school, St. Enda’s, took part in two productions – The Post Office by Rabindranath Tagore and An Rí by Padraic Pearse. Incidentally William Pearse acted as Director and played a role in An Rí at the Abbey Theatre.
The social life of the city can be explored by an examination of the advertisements in the programme. Adverts for carpets and bicycles, sit alongside adverts by publishers of books of plays and poetry. Publications by St. John G. Ervine (the theatre’s manager) are listed on page 6. The Abbey Theatre programmes, including this one, were printed by Corrigan and Wilson, 13 Sackville Street, Dublin. Their advert is on page 8.