The Abbey Theatre was founded as Ireland’s national theatre by W. B. Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory in 1904. Its mission was ‘to bring upon the stage the deeper emotions of Ireland’. With patronage from Miss Annie Horniman, premises were purchased on Old Abbey Street and on December 27th 1904, the Abbey Theatre opened its doors for the first time.
The emotions expressed on stage sometimes led to riots in the theatre, most famously in connection with Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World in 1907 and O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars in 1926. In 1925 the Abbey Theatre was awarded a subsidy by the new Free State, becoming the first state-subsidised theatre in the English speaking world. In 1927 the Peacock Theatre opened as a rental space, home to the Abbey Theatre School of Acting and School of Ballet. The Abbey Experimental Theatre, under the direction of Ria Mooney, produced new work at the Peacock from 1937 to 1944. Since then the Peacock Theatre has evolved as the fulcrum of new Irish writing - nurturing and staging work by emerging playwrights and encouraging experimentation.
Tragically in 1951, the original buildings of the Abbey Theatre were damaged by fire and the Abbey’s productions re-located to the Queen’s Theatre on Pearse Street. During its time there the Queen’s would play host to premieres by Brian Friel and John B. Keane.
Fifteen years to the day later, on the 18 July 1966, the Abbey moved back to its original and current home on Abbey Street, in a new theatre designed by Michael Scott Architects. The Peacock Theatre re-opened the following year. To the present day it continues the mission of its founders.
During the fire of 1951 considerable damage was done to the theatre’s archives. On the other hand we are fortunate that much of our national theatre’s archives survived through the efforts of Abbey Theatre staff to sort and dry the records in the aftermath of the fire. Indeed, the fire served to underscore the importance of the theatre’s archives to its past, present and future. Today the Abbey Theatre Archive has extensive holdings that shed light not only on the rich history of our national theatre and how theatre is made, but also on the history of the Irish nation.
- Description: Máire O'Neill as Pegeen Mike in the premiere of The Playboy of the Western World by John Millington Synge, Abbey Theatre, 1907.
- Description: Examiner of Play's English tour licence for The Playboy of the Western World by John Millington Synge, signed by G. A. Bedford, 23 May 1907.
- Description: The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet by George Bernard Shaw. Refused a licence by the English Examiner of Plays due to blasphemy, it premiered at the Abbey Theatre in 1909.
- Description: The Abbey Theatre first toured to America in 1911 with a repertoire of Irish plays, this is the programme for their second tour, 1912.
- Description: Poster for Easter Week 1916. With the outbreak of the rebellion performances did not go ahead.
- Description: Programme of cancelled performances, Easter 1916. Arthur Shields and Sean Connolly, along with several other Abbey actors and staff, took part in the Rising.
- Description: The nightly curfew imposed in Dublin forces the Abbey to curtail shows. As a result the need for fundraising centres around performances and lecture series in London, 1921.
- Description: Financial ledger showing the takings for Juno and the Paycock by Sean O'Casey, directed by Lennox Robinson, Abbey Theatre, 1926.
- Description: Fire damaged photograph of stage setting for Spring by T. C. Murray, Abbey Theatre, c.1935.
- Description: Property list for The Man in the Cloak by Louis D'Alton, directed by Hugh Hunt, Abbey stage, 1937.
- Description: Programme for Muireann agus an Prionnsa, the first of the Abbey Theatre's Gaelic pantomimes, 1945.
- Description: Abbey Theatre auditorium following the fire that destroyed much of the building, 18 July 1951.
- Description: An Abbey Theatre audience arriving to the Queen's Theatre on Pearse street for the opening night of Song of the Anvil by Bryan MacMahon, 12 September 1960.
- Description: Frank Mac Mahon’s adaptation of Brendan Behan’s autobiographical novel Borstal Boy was a major success when it premiered, 1967.
- Description: Peter O'Toole, Eamon Kelly and Donal McCann in Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett, directed by Sean Cotter, Abbey stage, 1969.
- Description: Scene from Hatchet by Heno Magee, directed by Patrick Mason, Abbey stage, photographed by Fergus Bourke, 1979.
- Description: Poster for the premiere of Observe the Sons of Ulster at the Peacock Theatre. Following a successful run and a national tour it was revived on the Abbey stage later that year, 1985.
- Description: Poster for The Great Hunger by Tom MacIntyre, tour to the Maison des Culture du Monde, Paris, 1987.
- Description: Poster for the premiere of By The Bog of Cats by Marina Carr, Abbey stage, 1998. In 2015 the show had a successful new production at the Abbey Theatre.