April 1916

The Abbey Theatre and the Easter Rising, 1916

Abbey Theatre

This exhibition looks at the influence of the Irish Literary Revival in the lead up to the events of Easter week 1916. It also remembers the  contribution of Abbey Theatre company members and the impact of the Rising on the theatre's operations. Finally it recalls the 50th anniversary commemorations at the Abbey Theatre.

The Literary Revival
Ireland's literary revival is central to an understanding of the events of the period 1916-1923. It contributed to a sense of national identity and a reassessment of Ireland's status within the British Empire. The Irish Literary Theatre and its successor the Abbey Theatre would become the crucible for new Irish writing, bringing the 'deeper thoughts and emotions' of Ireland to the Irish stage.

Lady Augusta Gregory (1852-1932): playwright, folklorist, co-founder of the Irish Literary Theatre and Abbey Theatre with W.B. Yeats. She was key figure in the late 19th-century Irish literary renaissance.

W.B. Yeats (1865-1939): poet, playwright,and co-founder of the Abbey Theatre. In 1898 he established the Irish Literary Theatre with Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn.

In his play Kathleen ni Houlihan (1902) Yeats idealises the fight for an independent Ireland. Following the 1916 Rising he wondered:

‘Did that play of mine send out/ Certain men the English shot?’

In Lady Gregory's play Kincora (1905) High King of Ireland Brian Boru, and his son, refuse to turn their backs on Ireland in return for eternal happiness.

Eamon De Valera, Easter 1916 rebel and future Taoiseach of Ireland, in a little known stage performance at the Abbey Theatre in 1905.

Countess Markievicz, Easter Rising rebel, playing as Daphne Tisdall in the world premiere of Seymour's Redemption at the Abbey Theatre, 1908.

Performances by Countess Markievicz and other 1916 rebels. Markievicz was second in command at St. Stephen's Green during the Easter Rising.

Programme for the world premiere of When the Dawn is Come by Thomas MacDonagh, Abbey Theatre, 1908. Prophetically, the play centres on seven captains of an Irish Insurgent Army.

Playscript of When The Dawn is Come by Thomas MacDonagh,1908.

MacDonagh was later executed for his part in the Easter Rising, 1916.

Abbey Theatre performances in aid of St. Enda's College, 1913.

Founded by Padraic Pearse, Easter Rising 1916 leader, St Enda's students performed in both plays. Many of them joined Pearse in the GPO in 1916.

Easter Week 1916
As events unfolded in Dublin's city centre, and throughout the country, the Easter Rising had a profound effect on the Abbey Theatre, its actors and staff. 

Programme for the Abbey Theatre's cancelled performances, scheduled for production on Easter Monday 1916. Actors Sean Connolly and Arthur Shields listed in the productions took part in the Rising.

Abbey Theatre programme listing productions scheduled for Easter Tuesday 1916. Due to the Easter Rising the world premiere of The Spancel of Death by T.H. Nally was cancelled.

Sean Connolly, Easter Rising rebel and Abbey actor. Firing the first shots of the Rebellion he was also the first rebel to be killed, leading the attack on Dublin Castle and City Hall.

Ellen (Nellie) Bushell, Easter Rising rebel and usherette at the Abbey Theatre.

Barney (Bernard) Murphy, Easter Rising rebel, Abbey Theatre stage hand and prompter, served at the Four Courts under Commandant Ned Daly.

Abbey Theatre actors Gabriel Fallon and Arthur Shields in the 1920's. Arthur Shields took part in the Easter Rising, serving at the GPO, and was part of the final surrender on Moore Street.

Edward Keegan, who played one of the Kings in On Baile's Strand (1904), took part in the Easter Rising 1916 at the South Dublin garrison under Eamonn Ceannt.

Máire Nic Shiubhlaigh, Easter Rising rebel and Abbey Theatre actor. She served at Jacob's Biscuit Factory under the command of Thomas MacDonagh.

In the weeks leading to the Rising, Helena Molony, Arthur Shields, Sean Connolly and Peadar Kearney appear together in the revolutionary drama The Dreamers by Lennox Robinson at the Abbey Theatre.

Peadar Kearney, Easter Rising rebel, composer of A Soldier's Song (Irish National Anthem), Abbey Theatre stage hand, scenic artist and occasional actor.

Based on the events of the Easter Rising 1916 O'Casey's play caused considerable controversy when it premiered in 1926. The widows of 1916 figured among the opposition.

Barry Fitzgerald as Fluther Good in The Plough and the Stars by Sean O'Casey, 1926.

Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising
1966 saw commemorations at the Abbey Theatre's temporary home at the Queen's Theatre and later at the new Abbey Theatre, opened by President Eamon De Valera on 18th July.  The following week a commemorative plaque was unveiled, celebrating the participation of Abbey actors and staff in the Easter Rising.

The Abbey Theatre's 1966 commemorative programme, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising.

Unveiling the Easter Rising 1916 commemoration plaque in the foyer of the new Abbey Theatre, July 1966.

Easter Rising 1916, 50th anniversary commemorative plaque at the Abbey Theatre. In 2016 a new plaque will be unveiled, honouring more Abbey Theatre actors and staff who took part in the Rising.

Credits: Story

Curator: Mairéad Delaney (Abbey Theatre Archivist)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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