The Gaiety Theatre, Dublin was designed by the well known Theatre Architect C.J. Phipps and was constructed in the incredibly short time of just 25 weeks. The Theatre opened on the 27th of November 1871 and today it is Dublins longest-established Theatre, still in continuous production.
'The ceremony of laying the first stone of this Theatre vas performed by the Right Honourable the Lord Mayor on Saturday evening, the 1st of July, in presence of a large and distinguished assemblage. Many who accepted the invitation of the Messrs. Gunn attended under the impression that they were to see the laying of the foundation stone, and consequent actual commencement of the work. Surprise would hardly convey their amazement to find the building very much advanced, the dressing and greenrooms and the walls of the Theatre at a considerable height, and the floor of the pit and stalls laid.
Right - The auditorium and Safety Curtain of the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin in 2009 - Courtesy The Gaiety Theatre.
Immediately after the arrival of the Lord Mayor at three o'clock, the architect, Mr. Phipps read the following description of the new Theatre:
The new Theatre occupies a piece of ground fronting in South King-street, and having a depth of 138 feet towards Tangier-lane. The width of the frontage in King-street is 56 feet, in Tangier-lane 76 feet.
The entrances for the public will be in King-street, with distinct doorways and staircases to each of the four divisions of the audience.
The Pit will have 21 Rows of Seats
The staircases will be stone, the corridors fireproof, and retiring
and refreshment rooms adjoin the corridor of euch tier.
The dimensions of the Theatre are as follows :
Front Curtain-line to Back of Pit 58 Feet
The auditory will be lighted by a sunburner in centre of ceiling, with a ventilating shaft round same carried up through roof. There will also be flues for ventilation in the ceiling of each tier carried up to roof.
The footlights will not be seen, but will burn downwards, and all products of combustion of gas carried away in an iron shaft to top of building.
The stage will be constructed with all the latest improvements in machinery, so that scenic effects to any extent may be obtained.
The Theatre is being erected by Messrs MEADE and Son, of Dublin, from the designs and under the superiutendanee of Mr C. J. Phipps, F.S.A., architect of London, whose resident clerk of works is Mr GEORGE WEST.
The building will be complete ready to open by the end of November next.
At the conclusion of Mr. Phipps's descriptive report, the stone, being the base of the proscenium on the left side of the stage and the first stone appearing above ground, was lowered to its place, and, having been duly laid by the Lord Mayor, with the assistance of the architect and contractor, his Lordship declared the first stone well and duly laid amidst loud applause.
Left - The Auditorium of the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin in 1992 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.
At the conclusion of the applause the LORD MAYOR said
His Excellency the Lord Lieutenant, under the advice of his Attorney and Solicitor-General, having been graciously pleased to grant a patent for a new Theatre, it affbrds me much pride and pleasure in my official capacity, as Lord Mayor of Dublin to lay the first stone of this Thespian Temple, which is, I sincerely trust, destined to flourish and run a course of successful but honourable rivalry with our time-honoured and justly renowned Royal, which will hold its own against all corners under its present able and judicious management. I feel assured that nothing will be presented upon the boards of the Gaiety Theatre that could offend the delicacy of the most fastidious; that it will prove a source of sound mental recreation to youth, and that, in the words of Hamlet,
Not o'erstep the modesty of nature,
I earnestly hope that the sock and buskin will be worthily represented upon this stage, and contradiction be strong as holy writ to those who would cry out that the age of actors has passed away, and that sympathy with the Drama has resolved itself into the sensualism of lascivious burlesque. (Applause.) The Dublin audience holds a high, if not the highest, place as a critical audience. They regard the actor as "the abstract and brief chronicler of the time," and I have little doubt but that they will find in the performances at this Theatre much to commend, and also much to improve that taste for which they have been so pre-eminently distinguished. (Loud applause.)
Three cheers having been given for the success of the new Theatre, for the Messrs. Gunn, for the architect, and for the Lord Mayor, The company, numbering over two hundred, were invited to a sumptuous dejeuner, laid out with lavish style in a large marquee erected on the floor of the pit and pit stalls. Mr. JOHN GUNN occupied the chair, having on his right the Lord Mayor, ex-Lord Mayors Sir William Carroll and Pardon, and on his immediate left Dr. Waller, the Hon. J. P. Vereker, Mr. Phipps (the architect), &c. Mr. Michael Gunn occupying the vice-chair. The company having fully enjoyed the good things provided for their comfort, Mr. JOHN GUNN proposed the "Health of the Queen," also the "Prince of Wales and the rest of the Royal Family," and in his remarks stated that both the Queen and the Prince deserved the special thanks of all lovers of histrionic art for their invariable and consistent support of the Drama. The "Lord Lieutenant and Prosperity to Ireland" enabled Mr. Gunn to tell some pleasant things of his Excellency in reference to the interest be took in the new project and the support he had already given them by becoming the proprietor of a State box and allowing himself to be named patron of the Theatre.
Right - The Front Cover of a Programme for the D'oyly Carte production of Gilbert & Sulivan's 'Iolanthe' at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin on the 2nd of June 1892. The Programme also advertises that 'The Yeomen of the Guard', 'The Mikado', and 'The Gondoliers' will also be performed by the D'oyly Carte Principle Repertoire Company on the following days at the Theatre.
Mr. GUNN next proposed "The Health of the Lord Mayor," and thanked him cordially for the hearty and ready response he had always received to any application or request, he had ever to make of him. Mr Gunn said he felt he had to apologise to his Lordship and the Corporation for asking them to inaugurate what was after all a private speculation, but they ventured to think that his Lordship would take the view of the matter which prevailed generally on the Continent, that the recreation of the people was a subject which was well worthy of the municipality, and besides many reasons urged them to ask their presence on the present Occasion. They wished to convince those sceptics who had perpetuelly pooh-poohed their efforts and prophesied that nothing would come of the matter, that they would now, as ever heretofore, keep their practise when made with good faith, but better still and more agreeable to them they wished to thank publicly and collectively the many kind friends who had assisted them in the rather hard battle they had to fight in obtaining the patent, and further by asking his Lordship and the Corporation they wished as it were to give a public undertaking that they intended to carry out their project in such a way that it would be a credit to the city.
The LORD MAYOR returned thanks for the way in which Mr Gunn proposed his health, and on proposing "The Healths of the Messrs John and Michael Gunn," the patentees, paid a very high and well-deserved tribute to the enterprise of the patentees.
The toast having been honoured and cheered to the echo, Mr JOHN GUNN, having thanked his Lordship and the company, said that, as to the success of the Theatre, that must depend in a great measure on its management. Mr Tara Taylor, and other literary men, had recently written some excellent letters, in which it was inferred that the Manager of a Theatre should be a man who, to the poetical sensibility of Tennyson, should add the knowledge of stage effect of the late Charles Kean and, to be further more, a first-rate man of business. He feared that if we must wait for such a combination as that, few Theatres would have Managers at all; he ventured to think that the true solution of the point would be that Theatres, being, after all, commercial enterprises, should be managed by properly-trained commercial men. In furtherance of his argument, Sir Gunn gave several analogous cases, such as the fact that the most eminent publishers were not themselves literary men, &c., and, in conclusion, gave some very interesting hints as to the future management of the New Gaiety.
Above - The Gaiety Theatre, Dublin in March 2009 - Courtesy Des Kerins
Having been warmly called upon, Mr MICHAEL GUNN said he also felt very happy in having this public oppertunity of thanking the many influential citizens who had given him and his brother such valuable aid when seeking a patent to enable them to build a new Theatre; those who had in such numbers signed a memorial in favour of the project; those who had attended, at considerable inconvenience, before the Attorney and Solicitor-General, and had undergone the ordeal of examination and cross-examination in support of their application; and to those who had with such alacrity come forward, and, before a brick of the new Theatre was laid, Subscrined for debentures (here he might add that the capital raised on debentures was much less than one-fourth the amount required). This was doubly pleasing, evincing, as it did, not only an interest in the undertaking, but a confidence in his brother and himself, which, he believed, would not be misplaced. Mr Gunn made some very happy allusions to the benefits to be derived from an increase in the amusements of the city, and gave some very interesting details as to theatrical management generally, and the difference necessary in catering for London and Provincial Theatres. He concluded by saying that he hoped that the Lord Mayor, who so kindly laid the first stone, would, previous to the termination of his half-year of office, also come to inaugurate the first performance within its walls.
The CHAIRMAN next gave "The Corporation," responded to by ex-Lord Mayor PURDON;' "The Trade and Commerce of Dublin," responded to by Alderman REDMOND ; "Literature and the Drama," responded to by Doctor WALL.; " The Architect and Contractor," responded to by Mr PHIPPS; the final toast being "The Press," Mr GUNN returning special thanks for the assistance and advocacy they had received in their preliminary struggles.
The company subsequently inspected the site, plans, &c., and separated, after spending a very pleasant evening, and heartily wishing every success to the enterprise of the spirited Lessees.'
Above text in quotes is from the ERA 9th of July 1871.
In 2003 the Theatre was extensively restored at a cost of £2.15 million.
For a complete history of the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin and booking details for their current productions you may like to visit the Theatre's own Website here...
The Gaiety Theatre, South King Street, Dublin - by Des Kerins
The Gaiety Theatre opened for business in November 1871. The interior was designed in the style of a traditional European Opera House by Charles Ashworth. The Venetian-style exterior was designed by C J Phipps. Because the builders worked a 24-hour shift the theatre was completed in the record time of 25 weeks.
Right - A Programme for 'We're Still Here' at the Gaiety Theatre Dublin for the 7th of August 1950.
In 1883 the famous architect Frank Matcham was contracted to carry out some alterations and he designed the extension to the west that included a bar for the Parterre and also a bar for the Dress Circle. The ownership of the theatre came into the hands of Patrick Wall and Louis Elliman in 1936 and they managed to keep it open all through the 2nd World War using local talent. They introduced an annual Pantomime which still goes on up to the present time.
In 1965 Elliman & Wall sold out to a company owned by Eamonn Andrews and Fred O'Donovan [The Eamonn Andrews Studios]. During the time of Eamonn Andrews the Eurovision Song Contest was broadcast from the Gaiety to a worldwide audience of 400 million. That was the year that Monaco won the contest. Joe Dowling ran the theatre for Andrews from 1980 until it was sold to Denis Desmond in the late 1990's.
Mr Desmond spent a lot of money [about €2.5 million] on refurbishing the building and in 2003 the theatre was refitted and a new canopy was installed. The Department of Arts and Tourism contributed to this work of restoration. As part of the refurbishing in 2007 a nightclub was installed and is open late on Friday and Saturday nights.
Above - In recent years the Gaiety's owners have started putting bronze plaques in the pavement outside the Theatre, here showing the 'Handprints of the Stars' plaque, and handprints for Luciano Pavarotti and Milo O' Shea - Courtesy Des Kerins.
Many famous members of the theatrical profession appeared at the Gaiety including: - Markova, Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland, Veronica Dunne, Joan Greevy, Jack Benny, Julie Andrews, Noel Purcell, Henry Irving, Sara Bernhardt, Sybil Thorndike, Michael Gambon and Peter O'Toole. We also enjoyed the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, the Carl Rosa Opera and the Dublin Grand Opera Society.
This is indeed a wonderful theatre and many generations of Dubliners have grown old with the Gaiety.
Above text kindly written for the site by Des Kerins in 2009.
For a complete history of the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin and booking details for their current productions you may like to visit the Theatre's own Website here..
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.