The Abbey Theatre

This Spring break, I will be traveling to Dublin with a friend of mine for the week. We have spent the past several weeks planning an itinerary, and trying to find ways to fit as much as possible into one week in this city. While studying online tourist websites, and searching every variation of “Top Tourist Sites in Dublin,” we came across The Abbey Theatre, a historic theatre founded in 1904 by W.B. Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory.

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Lady Augusta Gregory, born Isabella Augusta Persse was born in County Calway in 1852. She had much experience with theatre, as she has written numerous plays, and published books of Irish folklore, as well as founding The Abbey Theatre with Yeats. In terms of her political associations, Lady Gregory was born into a family who was very loyal to the British rule in Ireland. However, later in life she shifted towards nationalism, as many of her generation did.

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On the theatre’s website (www.abbeytheatre.ie), they list the following as the mission of the company, Abbey Theatre Amharclann Na Mainistreach, which runs the theatre:

1) To invest in and promote new Irish writers and artists.
2) To produce an annual programme of diverse, engaging, innovative Irish and international theatre.
3) To attract and engage a broad range of customers and provide compelling experiences that inspire them to return.
4) To create a dynamic working environment which delivers world best practice across our business.

The theatre has had multiple sites. The original theatre was built on Old Abbey Street in Dublin. When the original building caught on fire in 1951, it was moved to the site of the Queen’s Theatre, but has since been moved back to its original location.

The play that we will be seeing is called Sive, by John B. Keane. Keane was an Irish playwright from County Kerry, born in 1928. He was a member of The Royal Dublin Society, whose mission is to “promote and develop agriculture, arts, industry, and science in Ireland. Sive is referred to as “one of the greatest Irish plays of the 20th century.”

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Sive cover

The description provided by The Abbey Theatre’s website is as follows:

“Beautiful young Sive lives with her aunt and uncle in rural Kerry. Seán Dóta, an elderly farmer, offers the local match-maker Thomasheen Seán Rua, a large sum for her hand in marriage. Will this be too much for her aunt and uncle to resist?”

The play’s protagonist is an 18 year-old girl, Sive, who was born illegitimately and lives with her uncle, aunt, and Nanna. It is a story of her family’s desire to have her wed, and is plagued by the ongoing debate about who is the appropriate man for her to marry. Her aunt and uncle encourage her to marry Sean Dota, a rich man but he is significantly older than Sive. She is in love with Liam Scuab, however, he is related to Sive’s father whom abandoned her mother when he heard she was pregnant. Therefore, Sive’s uncle has dubbed Liam unworthy of marrying Sive. Because it is the will of her family, Sive is forced to marry Sean Dota. Liam attempts to rescue her but fails, and when Sive goes missing the night before her wedding, Liam goes to look for her and finds her dead, as she has drowned herself. Liam mourns her death and Sean does not. It is in this moment, though much too late, that Sive’s family understands that she should have married Liam, as he is the one who truly loves her.

Here is an extract of a production of Sive performed by the Bardic Theatre Group at the Ardhowen Theatre. This scene features Sive’s aunt, uncle, and Nanna:

Visiting this theatre will complement the course nicely because of the relation to Yeats, one of the first poets we studied in detail this semester, and because it is such an integral part of the history and culture of Ireland. I will be sure to take many pictures when I visit, and hopefully I will be able to make an “Abbey Theatre Part 2” blog post when I return!