After unsuccessful attempts at accessing the Abbey Theatre Archives, I decided to see what the National Library of Ireland held. One obstacle with the Abbey Theatre material held there is that it is dispersed among the various departments of the NLI – manuscripts, prints and drawings and National Photographic Archive – and much of it is remains uncatalogued.
After a search on the online NLI catalogue. I saw they had an undated print of the production The Hour Glass by W.B. Yeats at the Abbey ( PD 2159 TX (52) 22). Unfortunately this is not digitized so I made an appointment to view this at the prints and drawing room. Luckily they could fit me in quite quickly so off I went, camera in hand. The ‘print’ took the form of a photographic post card. These post cards were a device employed by the Abbey at the time to advertise what was currently showing and forthcoming productions. The post card was in a file that was part of the Joseph Holloway collection.
Joseph Holloway (1861-1944) was an architect and avid theatregoer. He redesigned the Abbey Theatre for its opening in 1904 and amassed a vast collection of theatre ephemera which he gifted to the NLI.
The postcard, rather than depicting a 1911 or later production of The Hour-Glass, it depicted a scene from a very early production of The Hour-Glass, from 1905, before Yeats utilized Craig’s Screens. Despite this, it was interesting to compare this production to the later with set design by Gordon Craig. The background to the scene was dark heavy drapery with the same sparse setting and props (chair, table, book and hour glass). I took a photograph of the front and back of the item and am currently awaiting confirmation from the National Library that we can reproduce this on our projects website.
Following this visit, Hugh emailed his contact at the NLI, Honora Faul, to query if there was anything further in the Library that may be of use to our project. Honora kindly responded with a very helpful email, suggesting that I contact the National Photographic Archive to see if they hold any relevant material. What followed was a very interesting visit to the NPA with Hugh where we looked through 10 uncatalogued boxes of material from the Abbey Collection. While there, one of the librarians also brought down some boxes from the Holloway collection that were held at the NPA. It was fantastic to journey through the history of the Abbey and it’s actors via photographs and promotional material. It was fortunate that Hugh could accompany me to the archive as his knowledge maximised the outcome of the visit. Turning each print brought up another curious image, while it would have been easy to while away a day looking through the collection, we discovered two images of importance. One of the old Abbey Theatre stage showing the curtains, while perhaps more interesting was another photograph showing Craig’s Screens being employed at a 1938 production at the Abbey. Hugh ordered prints to be made of these two images from Rights and Reproductions at the NLI. Once we have obtained them I will contact the NLI for permission to reproduce these on our project’s blog.
While these visits were really interesting they further highlighted the lack of concrete evidence readily available. I imagine there is more uncatalogued material out there in the NLI and various archives that has yet to be unearthed.
Joseph Holloway Collection at the National Library of Ireland