Monday 17 August 2009

Artefacts found at historic theatre site

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have discovered artefacts and part of the original Smock Alley theatre (then known as the Smoke Alley theatre) in Dublin’s Temple Bar.

The original Smoke Alley theatre, which dates from 1662, was the first theatre in Dublin to secure a royal patent, issued following Oliver Cromwell’s death. It would have been where English actor and theatre manager David Garrick (1717-1779) staged his version of Hamlet.

The theatre also staged works by Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816), whose father, Thomas, was the theatre’s manager.

Through connections with Covent Garden in London the theatre thrived and was remodelled a number of times before it was rebuilt in 1735. In later years the site was home to a Catholic church, SS Michael and John’s, and the Dublin Viking Experience.

Sections of the building dating from each period were discovered in the archaeological excavation which is being completed as part of an €8 million plan to reopen the building as a theatre complex, including a main theatre, a studio and rooms for the training of actors.

Commenting on the discoveries yesterday, Patrick Sutton, director of the Gaiety School of Acting and the Smock Alley project, said what had been found was “not only the original walls of the 1662 building but of some of the walls of the later buildings”. He said a mosaic tiled floor uncovered was “as ornamental and beautiful as anything you would see”. Also recovered were timbers from the theatre’s stage, wine bottles and a man’s wig curler.

The discoveries, which form a national monument, are being recorded in situ before being moved to the National Museum. The excavation, which ended yesterday, will be sealed up on Monday, but it is hoped a permanent exhibition will be incorporated in the completed complex.

Mr Sutton paid tribute to the archaeologist Linzi Simpson, who he said had surprised him with the discovery when he returned from America. He also paid tribute to the Temple Bar Cultural Trust, Dublin City Council and the Department of Arts for their help in bringing the €8 million project along. “We have more than half the funding in place and will be setting up a foundation in the States to get the rest, I am confident it will be done,” he said.

Irish Times

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