Dons Dublin: Smock Alley Theatre

by Don Cameron
0 comment

Smock Alley Theatre, on the south bank of the Liffey, is in one of the oldest parts of the city where many a Viking walked about long before an actor tread the boards of the old theatre.

Dublin, as the second city to the British Empire, was given its very own Theatre Royal. In fact, it was the only Theatre Royal beyond London. 

The theatre opened in 1662, two years into the reign of Charles II who was determined to bring back ‘the good times’ that Oliver Cromwell and his followers had previously banned. No funds were spared in getting the place ready, and the sparkling chandeliers, colourful drapes and decorated sceneries were an instant success with the audience. It was a leader in the use of ‘footlights’ on the stage, a new innovation that added excitement to the whole experience. 

The Theatre Royal at Smock Alley was a training ground for works by great Irish playwrights, like Oliver Goldsmith (She Stoops to Conquer) and Richard Brinsley Sheridan (The Rivals), both of which are still regularly performed. Nearly three hundred people attended the theatre each night of the week, where they were entertained by actors, acrobats, dancers, musicians and trapeze artists. Candles blazed in brass chandeliers as David Garrick, the greatest actor of the time, moved about the stage holding theatregoers’ rapt attention. 

As time moved on other theatres opened and took business away.

Structural problems threatened and soon the place was forgotten about and it closed its doors in 1787.

A number of different owners came and went before it was stripped bare of its fine interior. The once great theatre now became a warehouse for whiskey barrels! 

In 1811 the place was recreated as a Catholic Church and the church bell rang out for the first time in three centuries. 

In 2012, Smock Alley returned as a theatre having been restored – it became Dublin’s Oldest Newest Theatre.

Related Articles