Irish theatre
The history of Irish theatre begins with the Gaelic Irish tradition. Much of the literature in that Celtic language was destroyed by conquest, except for a few manuscripts and fragments, such as the Book of Fermoy. The scribe who copied this leather book—Adam Ó Cianáin—copied out a dialogue called The Colloquy Between Fintan and the Hawk of Achill in the 14th century, and the little play is obviously much older. Such texts indicate something like a Gaelic theatrical tradition that was pagan, and not rooted in Passion plays. The Colloquy (conversation) is divided, as in a script, between one character "Fintan" and the hawk, whose dialogue is indicated above his speeches by "an t-én", or "the bird." The oldest Irish play to survive the Viking and English invasions is probably this Gaelic Irish conversation between a man and a hawk on the island of Achill at the edge of the known world. A source link for the play can be found below.

The history of Irish theatre in the familiar sense begins with the rise of the English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 administration in Dublin at the start of the 17th century. Over the next 400 years this small country was to make a disproportionate contribution to drama in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...


In the early days of its history, theatrical productions in Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 tended to serve the political purposes of the administration, but as more theatres opened and the popular audience grew, a more diverse range of entertainments were staged. Many Dublin-based theatres developed links with their London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 equivalents and performers and productions from the British capital frequently found their way to the Irish stage. However, most Irish playwrights from William Congreve to George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

 found it necessary to leave their native island to establish themselves.

At the beginning of the 20th century, theatres and theatre companies dedicated to the staging of Irish plays and the development of indigenous writers, directors and performers began to emerge. This allowed many of the most significant Irish dramatists to learn their trade and establish their reputations in Ireland rather than in Great Britain or the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...


Small beginnings

Although there would appear to have been performances of plays on religious themes in Ireland from as early as the 14th century, the first well-documented instance of a theatrical production in Ireland is a 1601 staging of Gorboduc
Gorboduc (play)
Gorboduc, also titled Ferrex and Porrex, is an English play from 1561. It was performed before Queen Elizabeth I on 18 January 1562, by the Gentlemen of the Inner Temple...

presented by Lord Mountjoy Lord Deputy of Ireland
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was the British King's representative and head of the Irish executive during the Lordship of Ireland , the Kingdom of Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland...

 in the Great Hall in Dublin Castle
Dublin Castle
Dublin Castle off Dame Street, Dublin, Ireland, was until 1922 the fortified seat of British rule in Ireland, and is now a major Irish government complex. Most of it dates from the 18th century, though a castle has stood on the site since the days of King John, the first Lord of Ireland...

. The play had been written by Thomas Sackville
Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset
Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset was an English statesman, poet, dramatist and Freemason. He was the son of Richard Sackville, a cousin to Anne Boleyn. He was a Member of Parliament and Lord High Treasurer.-Biography:...

 and Thomas Norton
Thomas Norton
Thomas Norton was an English lawyer, politician, writer of verse — but not, as has been claimed, the chief interrogator of Queen Elizabeth I.-Official career:...

 for the 1561/2 Christmas festivities at the Inner Temple
Inner Temple
The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, commonly known as Inner Temple, is one of the four Inns of Court in London. To be called to the Bar and practise as a barrister in England and Wales, an individual must belong to one of these Inns...

 in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 and appears to have been selected because it was a story of a divided kingdom descending into anarchy that was applicable to the situation in Ireland at the time of the performance. Mountjoy started a fashion, and private performances became quite commonplace in great houses all over Ireland over the following thirty years.

The Court in Kilkenny

In 1642, as a result of the English Civil War
English Civil War
The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists...

, Dublin Royalist
Cavalier was the name used by Parliamentarians for a Royalist supporter of King Charles I and son Charles II during the English Civil War, the Interregnum, and the Restoration...

s were forced to flee the city. Many of them went to Kilkenny
Kilkenny is a city and is the county town of the eponymous County Kilkenny in Ireland. It is situated on both banks of the River Nore in the province of Leinster, in the south-east of Ireland...

 to join a confederacy of Old English and Irish that formed in that city. Kilkenny had a tradition of dramatic performance going back to 1366, and the Dublin company, much attenuated, set up in their new home. At least one new play was published in Kilkenny; A Tragedy of Cola's Fury, OR, Lirenda's Misery, a blatantly political work with the Lirenda of the title being an anagram of Ireland.

With the restoration of the monarchy in 1661, John Ogilby
John Ogilby
John Ogilby was a Scottish translator, impresario and cartographer. Best known for publishing the first British road atlas, he was also a successful translator, noted for publishing his work in handsome illustrated editions.-Life:Ogilby was born in or near Killemeare in November 1600...

 was commissioned to design the triumphal arches and write masque
The masque was a form of festive courtly entertainment which flourished in 16th and early 17th century Europe, though it was developed earlier in Italy, in forms including the intermedio...

s for the new king's entrance into London. Ogilby was reinstated as Master of the Revels and returned to Dublin to open a new theatre in Smock Alley. Although starting well, this new theatre was essentially under the control of the administration in Dublin castle and staged mainly pro-Stuart works and Shakespearean classics. As a result, Irish playwrights and actors of real talent were drawn to London.

The Restoration

An early example of this trend is William Congreve, one of the most important writers for the late 18th London stage. Although born in Yorkshire
Yorkshire is a historic county of northern England and the largest in the United Kingdom. Because of its great size in comparison to other English counties, functions have been increasingly undertaken over time by its subdivisions, which have also been subject to periodic reform...

, Congreve grew up in Ireland and studied with Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift was an Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer , poet and cleric who became Dean of St...

 in Kilkenny and at Trinity College, Dublin
Trinity College, Dublin
Trinity College, Dublin , formally known as the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin, was founded in 1592 by letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I as the "mother of a university", Extracts from Letters Patent of Elizabeth I, 1592: "...we...found and...

. After graduating, Congreve moved to London to study law at the Temple and pursue a literary career. His first play, The Old Bachelor (1693) was sponsored by John Dryden
John Dryden
John Dryden was an influential English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who dominated the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden.Walter Scott called him "Glorious John." He was made Poet...

, and he went on to write at least four more plays. The last of these, The Way of the World (1700) is the one Congreve work regularly revived on the modern stage. However, at the time of its creation, it was a relative failure and he wrote no further works for the theatre.

With the accession to the throne of William of Orange
William III of England
William III & II was a sovereign Prince of Orange of the House of Orange-Nassau by birth. From 1672 he governed as Stadtholder William III of Orange over Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders, and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic. From 1689 he reigned as William III over England and Ireland...

, the whole ethos of Dublin Castle, including its attitude to the theatre, changed. Smock Alley stayed in existence until 1811 and new theatres, such as the Theatre Royal, Queens' Theatre, and The Gaiety Theatre opened during the 19th century. However, the one constant for the next 200 years was that the main action in the history of Irish theatre happened outside Ireland itself, mainly in London.

The 18th century

The 18th century saw the emergence of two major Irish dramatists, Oliver Goldsmith
Oliver Goldsmith
Oliver Goldsmith was an Irish writer, poet and physician known for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield , his pastoral poem The Deserted Village , and his plays The Good-Natur'd Man and She Stoops to Conquer...

 and Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan was an Irish-born playwright and poet and long-term owner of the London Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. For thirty-two years he was also a Whig Member of the British House of Commons for Stafford , Westminster and Ilchester...

, who were two of the most successful playwrights on the London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 stage in the 18th century. Goldsmith (1728–1774) was born in Roscommon
Roscommon is the county town of County Roscommon in Ireland. Its population at the 2006 census stood at 5,017 . The town is located near the junctions of the N60, N61 and N63 roads.-History:...

 and grew up in extremely rural surroundings. He entered Trinity College in 1745 and graduated in 1749. He returned to the family home, and in 1751, began to travel, finally settling in London in 1756, where he published poetry, prose and two plays, The Good-Natur'd Man 1768 and She Stoops to Conquer
She Stoops to Conquer
She Stoops to Conquer is a comedy by the Irish author Oliver Goldsmith, son of an Anglo-Irish vicar, first performed in London in 1773. The play is a great favourite for study by English literature and theatre classes in Britain and the United States. It is one of the few plays from the 18th...

1773. This latter was a huge success and is still regularly revived.

Sheridan (1751–1816) was born in Dublin into a family with a strong literary and theatrical tradition. His mother was a writer and his father was manager of Smock Alley Theatre. The family moved to England in the 1750s, and Sheridan attended Harrow Public School
Harrow School
Harrow School, commonly known simply as "Harrow", is an English independent school for boys situated in the town of Harrow, in north-west London.. The school is of worldwide renown. There is some evidence that there has been a school on the site since 1243 but the Harrow School we know today was...

. His first play, The Rivals 1775, was performed at Covent Garden
Covent Garden
Covent Garden is a district in London on the eastern fringes of the West End, between St. Martin's Lane and Drury Lane. It is associated with the former fruit and vegetable market in the central square, now a popular shopping and tourist site, and the Royal Opera House, which is also known as...

 and was an instant success. He went on to become the most significant London playwright of the late 18th century with plays like The School for Scandal and The Critic. He was owner of the Drury Lane Theatre
Drury Lane
Drury Lane is a street on the eastern boundary of the Covent Garden area of London, running between Aldwych and High Holborn. The northern part is in the borough of Camden and the southern part in the City of Westminster....

, which he bought from David Garrick
David Garrick
David Garrick was an English actor, playwright, theatre manager and producer who influenced nearly all aspects of theatrical practice throughout the 18th century and was a pupil and friend of Dr Samuel Johnson...

. The theatre burned down in 1809, and Sheridan lived out the rest of his life in reduced circumstances. He is buried in Poets' Corner
Poets' Corner
Poets' Corner is the name traditionally given to a section of the South Transept of Westminster Abbey because of the number of poets, playwrights, and writers buried and commemorated there. The most recent additions were a memorial floor stone unveiled in 2009 for the founders of the Royal Ballet...

 at Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, popularly known as Westminster Abbey, is a large, mainly Gothic church, in the City of Westminster, London, United Kingdom, located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English,...


The 19th century

After Sheridan, the next Irish dramatist of historical importance was Dion Boucicault
Dion Boucicault
Dionysius Lardner Boursiquot , commonly known as Dion Boucicault, was an Irish actor and playwright famed for his melodramas. By the later part of the 19th century, Boucicault had become known on both sides of the Atlantic as one of the most successful actor-playwright-managers then in the...

 (1820–1890). Boucicault was born in Dublin but went to England to complete his education. At school, he began writing dramatic sketches and soon took up acting under the stage name of Lee Moreton. His first play was Legend of Devil's Dyke 1838 in which he acted himself in Brighton
Brighton is the major part of the city of Brighton and Hove in East Sussex, England on the south coast of Great Britain...

. His first London production was London Assurance 1841. This was a great success and he seemed set to become the major writer of comedies of his day. However, his next few plays were not as successful and Boucicault found himself in debt. He recovered some of his reputation with The Corsican Brothers (1852), a well constructed melodrama.

In 1853, he moved to New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

, where he soon became a hit with plays like The Poor of New York (1857), Dot (1859, based on Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens
Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity and fame than had any previous author during his lifetime, and he remains popular, having been responsible for some of English literature's most iconic...

's The Cricket on the Hearth
The Cricket on the Hearth
The Cricket on the Hearth. A Fairy Tale of Home is a novella by Charles Dickens, published by Bradbury and Evans, and released 20  December 1845 with illustrations by Daniel Maclise, John Leech, Richard Doyle, Clarkson Stanfield and Edwin Henry Landseer. Dickens began writing the book around...

) and The Octoroon
The Octoroon
The Octoroon is a play by Dion Boucicault, which opened in 1859 at The Winter Garden Theatre. Boucicault adapted the play from the novel The Quadroon by Thomas Mayne Reid . It concerns the residents of a Louisiana plantation called Terrebonne. The play was very popular in its day, and sparked...

(1859). These plays tackled issues such as urban poverty and slavery
Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work. Slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to demand compensation...

. Boucicault was also involved in getting the 1856 law on copyright
Copyright is a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it, usually for a limited time...

 passed through Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

. His last New York play was The Colleen Bawn (1860). In that year, Boucicault returned to London to stage The Colleen Bawn and the play ran for 247 performances at The Adelphi Theatre. He wrote several more successful plays, including The Shaughran (1875) and Robert Emmet
Robert Emmet
Robert Emmet was an Irish nationalist and Republican, orator and rebel leader born in Dublin, Ireland...

(1884). These later plays helped perpetuate the stereotype of the drunken, hotheaded, garrulous Irishman that had been common on the British stage since the time of Shakespeare. Other Irish dramatists of the period include John Banim
John Banim
John Banim , was an Irish novelist, short story writer, dramatist, poet and essayist, sometimes called the "Scott of Ireland." He also studied art, working as a painter of minatures and portraits, and as a drawing teacher, before dedicating himself to literature.-Early life:John Banim was born in...

 and Gerald Griffin
Gerald Griffin
Gerald Griffin was an Irish novelist, poet and playwright.-Biography:He was born in Limerick, Ireland, the son of a brewer. He went to London in 1823 and became a reporter for one of the daily papers, and later turned to writing fiction...

, whose novel The Collegians formed the basis for The Colleen Bawn.

Boucicault is widely regarded as the wit
Wit is a form of intellectual humour, and a wit is someone skilled in making witty remarks. Forms of wit include the quip and repartee.-Forms of wit:...

tiest Irish dramatist between Sheridan and Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was an Irish writer and poet. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London's most popular playwrights in the early 1890s...

 (1854–1900). Wilde was born in Dublin into a literary family and studied at Trinity College, where he had a brilliant career. In 1874 he won a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford
Magdalen College, Oxford
Magdalen College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. As of 2006 the college had an estimated financial endowment of £153 million. Magdalen is currently top of the Norrington Table after over half of its 2010 finalists received first-class degrees, a record...

. Here he began his career as a writer, winning the Newdigate Prize
Newdigate prize
Sir Roger Newdigate's Prize is awarded to students of the University of Oxford for Best Composition in English verse by an undergraduate who has been admitted to Oxford within the previous four years. It was founded by Sir Roger Newdigate, Bt in the 18th century...

 for his poem Ravenna. His studies were cut short during his second year at Oxford when his father died leaving large debts.

During a short but glittering literary career, Wilde wrote poetry, short stories, criticism and a novel, but his plays probably represent his most enduring legacy. Wilde's first stage success came with Lady Windermere's Fan
Lady Windermere's Fan
Lady Windermere's Fan, A Play About a Good Woman is a four act comedy by Oscar Wilde, first produced 22 February 1892 at the St James's Theatre in London. The play was first published in 1893...

(1892), which resulted in his becoming the most talked about dramatist in London. He followed this up with A Woman of No Importance
A Woman of No Importance
A Woman of No Importance is a play by Irish playwright Oscar Wilde. The play premièred on 19 April 1893 at London's Haymarket Theatre. It is a testimony of Wilde's wit and his brand of dark comedy...

(1893), An Ideal Husband
An Ideal Husband
An Ideal Husband is an 1895 comedic stage play by Oscar Wilde which revolves around blackmail and political corruption, and touches on the themes of public and private honour...

(1895) and his most famous play The Importance of Being Earnest
The Importance of Being Earnest
The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People is a play by Oscar Wilde. First performed on 14 February 1895 at St. James's Theatre in London, it is a farcical comedy in which the protagonists maintain fictitious personae in order to escape burdensome social obligations...

that same year.
With these plays, Wilde came to dominate late-Victorian era
Victorian era
The Victorian era of British history was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence...

 British theatre. His plays are noted for the lightness of their wit, but he also contrived to address some serious issues around sexual and class roles and identity, as he wrote himself 'treating the serious things lightly and the light things seriously'. Events in Wilde's personal life were to overtake his literary success and he died in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 in 1900. He remains one of the great figures in the history of Irish theatre and his plays are frequently performed all over the English-speaking world.

Wilde's contemporary George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

 (1856–1950) was a very different kind of writer. Born in Dublin, Shaw moved to London in 1876 intending to become a novelist. Here he became active in socialist politics and became a member of the Fabian Society
Fabian Society
The Fabian Society is a British socialist movement, whose purpose is to advance the principles of democratic socialism via gradualist and reformist, rather than revolutionary, means. It is best known for its initial ground-breaking work beginning late in the 19th century and continuing up to World...

. He was also a very public vegetarian. His writing for the stage was influenced by Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen was a major 19th-century Norwegian playwright, theatre director, and poet. He is often referred to as "the father of prose drama" and is one of the founders of Modernism in the theatre...

. His early political plays were not popular, but he made a breakthrough with John Bull's Other Island (1904). Shaw was extremely prolific, and his collected writings filled 36 volumes. Many of his plays are now forgotten, but a number, including Major Barbara, Saint Joan (usually considered his masterpiece) and Pygmalion are still regularly performed. Pygmalion was the basis for the movie My Fair Lady, a fact which benefitted the National Gallery of Ireland
National Gallery of Ireland
The National Gallery of Ireland houses the Irish national collection of Irish and European art. It is located in the centre of Dublin with one entrance on Merrion Square, beside Leinster House, and another on Clare Street. It was founded in 1854 and opened its doors ten years later...

 as Shaw had left the royalties of the play to the gallery. A statue to the playwright now stands outside the gallery entrance. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1924.

The Abbey and after

A sea change in the history of the Irish theatre came with the establishment in Dublin in 1899 of the Irish Literary Theatre, later to become the Abbey Theatre
Abbey Theatre
The Abbey Theatre , also known as the National Theatre of Ireland , is a theatre located in Dublin, Ireland. The Abbey first opened its doors to the public on 27 December 1904. Despite losing its original building to a fire in 1951, it has remained active to the present day...

. The history of this theatre is well documented, and its importance can be seen from the list of writers whose plays were first performed here in the early days of the 20th century. These included W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, John Millington Synge
John Millington Synge
Edmund John Millington Synge was an Irish playwright, poet, prose writer, and collector of folklore. He was a key figure in the Irish Literary Revival and was one of the cofounders of the Abbey Theatre...

, George Moore
George Moore (novelist)
George Augustus Moore was an Irish novelist, short-story writer, poet, art critic, memoirist and dramatist. Moore came from a Roman Catholic landed family who lived at Moore Hall in Carra, County Mayo. He originally wanted to be a painter, and studied art in Paris during the 1870s...

, and Sean O'Casey
Seán O'Casey
Seán O'Casey was an Irish dramatist and memoirist. A committed socialist, he was the first Irish playwright of note to write about the Dublin working classes.- Early life:...

. Equally importantly, through the introduction by Yeats, via Ezra Pound
Ezra Pound
Ezra Weston Loomis Pound was an American expatriate poet and critic and a major figure in the early modernist movement in poetry...

, of elements of the Noh
, or - derived from the Sino-Japanese word for "skill" or "talent" - is a major form of classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century. Many characters are masked, with men playing male and female roles. Traditionally, a Noh "performance day" lasts all day and...

 theatre of Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

, a tendency to mythologise quotidian situations, and a particularly strong focus on writings in dialects of Hiberno-English, the Abbey was to create a style that held a strong fascination for future Irish dramatists. Indeed, it could almost be said that the Abbey created the basic elements of a national theatrical style.

This period also saw a rise in the writing of plays in Irish, especially after the formation, in 1928, of An Taidhbhearc, a theatre dedicated to the Irish language. The Gate Theatre
Gate Theatre
The Gate Theatre, in Dublin, was founded in 1928 by Hilton Edwards and Micheál Mac Liammóir, initially using the Abbey Theatre's Peacock studio theatre space to stage important works by European and American dramatists...

, also founded in 1928 under the direction of Hilton Edwards
Hilton Edwards
Hilton Edwards was an English-born Irish actor and theatrical producer. He was the son of Thomas George Cecil Edwards and Emily Edwards ....

 and Micheál MacLiammoir
Micheál MacLiammóir
Micheál Mac Liammóir , born Alfred Willmore, was an English-born Irish actor, dramatist, impresario, writer, poet and painter. Mac Liammóir was born to a Protestant family living in the Kensal Green neighbourhood of London....

, introduced Irish audiences to many of the classics of the European stage.

Mid 20th century

The twentieth century saw a number of Irish playwrights come to prominence. Samuel Beckett
Samuel Beckett
Samuel Barclay Beckett was an Irish avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, and poet. He wrote both in English and French. His work offers a bleak, tragicomic outlook on human nature, often coupled with black comedy and gallows humour.Beckett is widely regarded as among the most...

 is probably the most significant of these. Beckett had a long career as a novelist and poet before his first play, Waiting for Godot
Waiting for Godot
Waiting for Godot is an absurdist play by Samuel Beckett, in which two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, wait endlessly and in vain for someone named Godot to arrive. Godot's absence, as well as numerous other aspects of the play, have led to many different interpretations since the play's...

(1953) made him famous. This play, along with his second, Endgame
Endgame (play)
Endgame, by Samuel Beckett, is a one-act play with four characters, written in a style associated with the Theatre of the Absurd. It was originally written in French ; as was his custom, Beckett himself translated it into English. The play was first performed in a French-language production at the...

, is one of the great works of absurdist
In philosophy, "The Absurd" refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek value and meaning in life and the human inability to find any...

 theatre. Beckett was awarded for the Nobel Prize in 1969.

The Lyric Theatre
Lyric Theatre, Dublin
The Lyric Theatre grew out of Austin Clarke's Dublin Verse Speaking Society. It operated out of the Abbey Theatre's downstairs studio theatre, the Peacock from 1941 to 1944 and the Abbey proper from 1944 to 1951 when it closed as a consequence of the fire that destroyed the building....

, founded in 1944 by Austin Clarke
Austin Clarke
Austin Ardinel Chesterfield Clarke, is a Canadian novelist, essayist and short story writer who lives in Toronto, Ontario. Born in St...

 was based in the Abbey until 1951 and produced many of Clarke's own verse plays. From the mid 1950s, the Unitarian Church
Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement, named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism which defines God as three persons coexisting consubstantially as one in being....

 at St Stephen's Green, Dublin was home to Amharclann an Damer/The Damer Theatre. The Damer produced both professional and amateur Irish language theatre. The world premier of Brendan Behan
Brendan Behan
Brendan Francis Behan was an Irish poet, short story writer, novelist, and playwright who wrote in both Irish and English. He was also an Irish republican and a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army.-Early life:...

's An Giall (The Hostage) took place here in 1958. The theatre closed in 1976. Behan went on to be an extremely popular dramatist, particularly through his work with Joan Littlewood
Joan Littlewood
Joan Maud Littlewood was a British theatre director, noted for her work in developing the left-wing Theatre Workshop...

's Theatre Royal
Theatre Royal Stratford East
The Theatre Royal Stratford East is a theatre in Stratford in the London Borough of Newham. Since 1953, it has been the home of the Theatre Workshop company.-History:...

 in Stratford, East London.

Other important Irish dramatists of this period include: Denis Johnston
Denis Johnston
Denis Johnston was an Irish writer. He wrote mostly plays, but also works of literary criticism, a book-length biographical essay of Jonathan Swift, a memoir and an eccentric work of philosophy. He also worked as a war correspondent, and as both a radio and television producer for the BBC...

, Thomas Kilroy
Thomas Kilroy
Thomas F. Kilroy is an Irish playwright and novelist.He was born in Green Street, Callan, County Kilkenny and studied at University College, Dublin. In his early career he was play editor at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin...

, Tom Murphy
Tom Murphy (playwright)
Tom Murphy is an Irish dramatist who has worked closely with the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and with Druid Theatre, Galway. He was born in Tuam, County Galway, Ireland...

, Hugh Leonard
Hugh Leonard
Hugh Leonard was an Irish dramatist, television writer and essayist. In a career that spanned 50 years, Leonard wrote more than 18 plays, two volumes of essays and two autobiographies, one novel and numerous screenplays and teleplays, as well as writing a regular newspaper column.-Life and...

, Frank McGuinness
Frank McGuinness
Professor Frank McGuinness is an award-winning Irish playwright and poet. As well as his own works, which include Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, he is recognised for a "strong record of adapting literary classics, having translated the plays of Racine, Sophocles, Ibsen and...

,and John B. Keane
John B. Keane
John Brendan Keane was an Irish playwright, novelist and essayist from Listowel, County Kerry.-Life and career:...


Recent developments

In general, the Abbey was the dominant influence in theatre in Ireland across the 20th century. Beckett's example has been almost entirely ignored, although his plays are regularly performed on the Irish stage. Behan, in his use of song and direct address to the audience, was influenced by Bertolt Brecht
Bertolt Brecht
Bertolt Brecht was a German poet, playwright, and theatre director.An influential theatre practitioner of the 20th century, Brecht made equally significant contributions to dramaturgy and theatrical production, the latter particularly through the seismic impact of the tours undertaken by the...

 and Denis Johnston
Denis Johnston
Denis Johnston was an Irish writer. He wrote mostly plays, but also works of literary criticism, a book-length biographical essay of Jonathan Swift, a memoir and an eccentric work of philosophy. He also worked as a war correspondent, and as both a radio and television producer for the BBC...

 used modernist techniques including found texts
Found poetry
Found poetry is a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry by making changes in spacing and/or lines , or by altering the text by additions and/or deletions...

 and collage
A collage is a work of formal art, primarily in the visual arts, made from an assemblage of different forms, thus creating a new whole....

, but their works had little impact on the dramatists who came after them. In the 1970s and 1980s, a number of companies emerged to challenge the Abbey's dominance and introduce different styles and approaches. These included Focus Theatre
Focus Theatre
The Focus Theatre in Dublin is a small but respected theatre which offers a variety of plays from new and established writers.The theatre was founded in 1967 by the late Deirdre O'Connell, and opened on 29 September with a production of Doris Lessing's Play With a Tiger.The Focus Theatre has been...

, The Children's T Company, the Project Theatre Company, Red Kettle, Druid Theatre, TEAM
TEAM may be an acronym for:*The European Alliance of EU-critical Movements*The Electors' Action Movement, a municipal political party in Vancouver, British Columbia*The Evangelical Alliance Mission, an evangelical Christian missionary organization...

 and Field Day
Field Day
Field Day is an annual amateur radio exercise, widely sponsored by IARU regions and member organizations, encouraging emergency communications preparedness among amateur radio operators...

. These companies nurtured a number of writers, actors, and directors who went on to be successful in London, Broadway
Broadway theatre
Broadway theatre, commonly called simply Broadway, refers to theatrical performances presented in one of the 40 professional theatres with 500 or more seats located in the Theatre District centered along Broadway, and in Lincoln Center, in Manhattan in New York City...

 and Hollywood or in other literary fields. These include Enda Walsh
Enda Walsh
Enda Walsh is an Irish playwright born in Dublin and currently living in London. Walsh attended the same secondary school where both Roddy Doyle and Paul Mercier taught. Having written for the Dublin Youth Theatre, he moved to Cork where he wrote Fishy Tales for the Graffiti Theatre Company,...

, Joe O Byrne, Peter Sheridan
Peter Sheridan
Peter Sheridan is an Irish playwright, screenwriter and director. He lives in the north side of Dublin.His plays have a lyrical, vivid style amid tough dialog highlighting the difficulty and the promise of life in Ireland's capital. Awards include the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature...

, Brian Friel
Brian Friel
Brian Friel is an Irish dramatist, author and director of the Field Day Theatre Company. He is considered to be the greatest living English-language dramatist, hailed by the English-speaking world as an "Irish Chekhov" and "the universally accented voice of Ireland"...

, Stephen Rea
Stephen Rea
Stephen Rea is an Irish film and stage actor. Rea has appeared in high profile films such as V for Vendetta, Michael Collins, Interview with the Vampire and Breakfast on Pluto...

, Garry Hynes
Garry Hynes
Garry Hynes is an Irish theatre director. She holds the distinction of being the first female to win the prestigious Tony Award for direction of a play.Hynes was born in Ballaghadereen, Roscommon County and educated at St...

, Martin McDonagh
Martin McDonagh
Martin McDonagh is an Irish-British playwright, filmmaker, and screenwriter. Although he has lived in London his entire life, he is considered one of the most important living Irish playwrights.-Life:...

, Conor McPherson
Conor McPherson
Conor McPherson is an Irish playwright and director.-Life and career:McPherson was born in Dublin, . He was educated at University College Dublin, McPherson began writing his first plays there as a member of UCD Dramsoc, the college's dramatic society, and went on to found Fly By Night Theatre...

, Marina Carr
Marina Carr
Marina Carr is an Irish playwright.Born in Tullamore, County Offaly, Carr attended University College Dublin before holding posts as writer-in-residence at the Abbey Theatre and Trinity College Dublin. She served as Heimbold Professor of Irish Studies at Villanova University in 2003...

, Jimmy Murphy
Jimmy Murphy (playwright)
Jimmy Murphy is an Irish playwright living in Dublin.He is a former writer in residence at NUI Maynooth , a member of the Abbey Theatre’s Advisory Council and a recipient of three Bursaries in literature from the Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon. He is a member of Aosdána.Murphy was born to Irish...

, Billy Roche
Billy Roche
Billy Roche is an Irish playwright and actor. He was born and still lives in Wexford and most of his writings are based there...

 and Gabriel Byrne
Gabriel Byrne
Gabriel James Byrne is an Irish actor, film director, film producer, writer, cultural ambassador and audiobook narrator. His acting career began in the Focus Theatre before he joined Londo's Royal Court Theatre in 1979. Byrne's screen debut came in the Irish soap opera The Riordans and the...


In the 1990s and 2000s a new wave of theatre companies arrived. These include: Barabbas, Bedrock, Blue Raincoat, B*spoke, The Corn Exchange, Corcadorca, Fishamble, Loose Canon, Ouroborous and Pan Pan. A number of these companies had a significant portion or, in some cases, all of their Arts Council funding cut at the beginning of 2010 and it remains to be seen if they will continue to operate.

See also

  • Irish literature
    Irish literature
    For a comparatively small island, Ireland has made a disproportionately large contribution to world literature. Irish literature encompasses the Irish and English languages.-The beginning of writing in Irish:...

  • List of Irish dramatists
  • List of Irish theatres and theatre companies
  • Irish fiction
    Irish fiction
    Although the epics of Celtic Ireland were written in prose and not verse, most people would probably consider that Irish fiction proper begins in the 18th century. However, there are aspects of Early Irish prose that appear to have had some influence on the Irish novel: the use of exaggeration for...

  • Irish poetry
    Irish poetry
    The history of Irish poetry includes the poetries of two languages, one in Irish and the other in English. The complex interplay between these two traditions, and between both of them and other poetries in English, has produced a body of work that is both rich in variety and difficult to...

  • List of Irish poets

Further reading

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