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Abbey Theatre | Southern Illinois University Special Collections Research Center

Name: Abbey Theatre

Historical Note:

The Abbey Theatre (1904- ) is the Irish theatrical company devoted primarily to indigenous drama (presenting the Irish character with an Irish audience in mind). W. B. Yeats was a leader in founding (1902) the Irish National Theatre Society with Lady Gregory, J. M. Synge, Edward Martyn and A. E. (George Russell) contributing their talents as directors and dramatists. In 1904, Annie Horniman gave them a subsidy and the free use of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. The theater was bought for them by public subscription in 1910. Among the many dramatists whose works the Abbey Theatre first presented are Padraic Colum, Lennox Robinson, Sean O'Casey, and Paul Vincent Carroll. The Abbey began touring America in 1911 and was not well received. However, they were appreciated by the next generation when they returned to New York and Boston in the 1930s. In 1951, a fire destroyed the theatre and the company spent fifteen years at the Queen's Theatre until the new building opened in 1966.

In close association with Irish dramatists, the Abbey also has been an important instrument in the revival of Irish drama that began in the 1960s. From 1977 to 1983, the Abbey's small experimental theatre, the Peacock, saw the rise of a new school of playwrights, including J. Graham Reid, Bernard Farrell, Tom MacIntyre, Frank McGuinness, Neil Donnelly, Michael Harding, Dermot Bolger, and Sebastian Barry. Some of the work of Farrell and McGuinness was also successful on the larger Abbey stage. Nevertheless, the work of an earlier generation of playwrights--particularly Brian Friel, Tom Murphy, and Hugh Leonard--has been the mainstay of the Abbey repertoire since the 1970s.

Sources: "Abbey Theatre" in The Dictionary of Irish Literature edited by Robert Hogan (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996): 85-95 and "Abbey Theatre" in The Oxford Companion to Irish Literature edited by Robert Welch (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996): 1-5.

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