Dublin is famous for many things and over its thousand-year history it saw the building of the first two-chamber parliament (Houses of Commons & Lords) – now the Bank of Ireland, College green – in the 1730s; the construction of the Rotunda by Benjamin Mosse in 1745, which is now the oldest continuously operating maternity hospital in the world, and the production of Guinness, one of the best-known drinks in the world. However, its contribution to the written word is legendary with its three native-born Nobel Laureates for Literature giving it a unique place in history.
WBY – home on Sandymount Avenue
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) was born in Sandymount and is considered one of the foremost of 20th century literature. He studied in London and spent summer holidays with his maternal grandparents in Sligo, a place that he often wrote about. With Lady Augusta Gregory he established the Abbey Theatre, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1923 that cited his ‘inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.’ Voted as Ireland’s favourite poet his poem Easter 1916, written in the months after the event, capture the mood of the nation at that very tense moment. On the other hand one of his earliest works, Lake Isle of Innisfree (from 1888), a twelve-line written in style of the Celtic Revival that was then becoming popular is still the poem that most people are familiar with:
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee loud glade.
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was born in 33 Synge Street, but went to London where he worked as a theatre critic before starting to write. He is best known as a playwright (he wrote more than 60 plays) with Man and Superman, Saint Joan and Pygmalion being the most famous. In 1938 a film version of Pygmalion was produced in Hollywood and it won an Oscar for Best Screenplay. He is the first person to have won both a Nobel Prize for Literature (1925) and an Oscar. In 1906 he moved to a house in Ayot St Lawrence, north of London, that late became known as Shaw’ Corner. He spent the rest of his life here and loved nothing more than tending the garden with his wife Charlotte. In 1950 he fell while pruning a tree, and he died shortly afterwards from complications associated with the fall. He was ninety-four! His and Charlotte’s ashes were scattered along the paths and throughout the garden they loved.
Samuel Beckett (1913-1989) was born in Foxrock and went to Trinity College. A keen sportsman he is the only Nobel Laureate to have played first class cricket having featured in two matches against Northamptonshire. He was in France when WWII began and fought with the French Resistance and was awarded both the Croix de Guerre and the Medaille de la Resistance. He described his efforts during the war, rather humbly, as ‘boy scout stuff’. He had met James Joyce in Paris in the 1930s and had begun writing before the war began. In 1949, his bleak absurdist play Waiting for Godot was well-received in Paris. When the play was first performed in London in 1955 it was voted ‘the most significant English language play of the 20th century’. His works consider the tragicomic conditions of life, that often combine a bleakness and minimalism which he captured so well. Beckett was at the forefront of ‘modernist’ writing style and a leading light in the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’. He lived and worked in Paris until he died on 22 December 1989 and he is buried in Montparnasse Cemetery. And on 10th December 2009 the new bridge across the Liffey was named in his honour.
Samuel Beckett Bridge
George Bernard Shaw is one of the giants of Irish literature, and over a long life of 94 years he was a prodigious writer of plays, letters and an ardent socialist.
33 Synge Street, Dublin
He was born in 33 Synge Street on 26th July 1856 to George Shaw, a grain merchant, and Lucinda Gurly, a professional singer. He attended Wesley College and later a private school in Dalkey. Although he had a lifelong love of learning he disliked formal education considering ‘Schools and schoolmasters prisons and turnkeys.’ Later, in 1895, he was a co-founder of the London School of Economics.
He went to London in 1876 and joined his mother who had moved there with her voice teacher George Vandeleur Lee four years earlier. Most of his early years there were spent in various libraries reading the works of great dramtists, and visiting thestres. His early novels were rejected by publishers, but he began to make a living by writing critical reviews for London magazines.
In 1892 his first play Widowers’ Houses, a sharp attack on slum landlords, opened in the Royal Theatre on 9th December. He considered it one of the worst plays that he ever wrote, but by the mid-1890s he was one of the most popular and successful playwrights in London. Works like Mrs Warren’s Profession, Arms and the Man and Candida drew critical reviews for their incisive commentaries on class-structure, morals and the prevailing social issues. This is often considered his greatest contribution to the dramatic art.
In 1925 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and in 1938 had the rare distinction of becoming the only person to also win an Academy Award for his work on the film of his play Pygmalion. This was later adapted as the musical My Fair Lady in 1956 and as movie of the same name in 1964.
George Bernard Shaw
In 1906 he moved to the small village of Ayot St Lawrence, north of london, and lived there for the rest of his life. The house is called Shaw’s Corner and his ashes, with those of his wife Charlotte, were scattered along the footpaths and garden they loved.
The Abbey Theatre (also known as the National Theatre of Ireland) has had a long and interesting history dating back over a hundred years.
In the 1890s WB Yeats, Lady Augusta Gregory and Edward Martyn published a ‘Manifesto for the Irish Literary Theatre’ with the intention of establishing a national theatre for Ireland. Allied to this was the work of the brothers William and Frank Fay who formed WG Fay’s Irish National Dramatic Company that helped develop local acting and writing talent, and the financial input and management guidance of Annie Horniman. She was from London and a friend and supporter of George Bernard Shaw and had financed one of his plays Arms and the Man in 1894. She came to Dublin in 1903 and worked as Yeats’ secretary when he, Gregory, Martyn, AE Russell and JM Synge founded the Irish National Theatre Society. She helped fund the new project which was soon augmented by members of the Fay group. The first plays were performed in the Molesworth Hall, but when the old Merchanic’s Hall on Lower Abbey Street became available Horniman and the Fays agreed to buy the premises.
William Fay was the appointed as the first theatre manager with responsibility for training new actors. Jack B Yeats, the renowned artist, was commissioned to paint portraits of the leading actors of the time that were on show in the theatre’s foyer. On the opening of the new theatre, 27 December 1904, three one-act plays were performed; two by WB Yeats and one by Lady Gregory. The theatre thrived for a few years, but after the riots that followed Synge’s play The Playboy of the Western World in 1907 and the split with Fays, the theatre’s fortunes slipped.
The old building was destroyed by fire on 17 July 1951, and the company performed at the Queen’s Theatre until 1966 when the newly built Abbey Theatre, designed by Michael Scott, was officially opened 18 July. With the contribution of new, exceptional playwrights like Hugh Leonard (Da 1973), Tom Murphy (A Whistle in the Dark 1961) and Brian Friel (Dancing at Lughnasa 1990), the fortunes of the theatre improved and helped raise its international profile.
Theatre of Dreams!