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Ireland as it
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Book Summary. This deals with leisure activities. Many sports were invented or codified in Britain at this period and were shortly afterwards adopted around the world. It also deals with music, literature, art, and architecture. The hyperlinks immediately below are to the most important headings.
Sport and Recreation
In this period the games which the British invented, and which were to spread worldwide were adopted in Ireland almost as soon as they were in Britain. In a few cases, like football and hockey, Irish nationalists insisted on variations which were rarely played outside Ireland. These they labelled the ‘native games’.
All modern football codes are derived from a rather rough and unregulated game which involved kicking, throwing, or carrying a stuffed ball. The games were normally confined within a parish or between neighbouring parishes, each area having its own rules. The spread of the railways meant that teams from further afield could be challenged, and consequently there was a need for agreed sets of rules. Association football (soccer) commenced in Ireland in 1878. The codification of the rules was made in Cambridge in 1843 and was widely adopted. The English Football Association was formed in 1863. Cliftonville Football Club formed in Belfast in 1879, was the first Irish club, and the Irish Football Association was formed in Belfast shortly afterwards. As in England works teams based on particular factories were general. Linfield and Distillery were drawn from a linen mill and a distillery. Linfield imported a famous coach from Lancashire in England and were soon beating all other teams. Matches between Linfield and Belfast Celtic, a Catholic team, often resulted in sectarian disturbances. In Munster association football depended heavily on army teams. Belfast remained the stronghold of soccer. The codification of rugby occurred somewhat earlier but the Rugby Football Union was not formed until 1871. A rugby club was formed in Trinity College in 1854. The first international match was played against England in 1871 and in 1880 two local unions amalgamated to form the Irish Rugby Union (Encyc. of Ireland). Harvey du Cross who co-founded the Dunlop Rubber Company was a noted sportsman. He founded and captained Bective Rugby Club and with it won the Irish Rugby Championship. He was also president of the Irish Cyclists Association.
The Gaelic Athletic Association was formed in 1884 by Irish nationalists to draw up rules different from those of rugby or soccer and which were claimed to reflect better the ‘national spirit’ (or Volkgeist) of Ireland. There was always a close link between Gaelic sport, nationalist separatism, political crime and terrorist organisations. It was notorious for excluding from its ranks any who participated in ‘foreign games’. As the local Gaelic football club was often the only club in a rural parish, exclusion from the club meant exclusion from social life. The other ‘native games’ recognised were hurling, a variation of hockey, and codified so as to exclude hockey players, and handball which was not significantly different from handball in Britain. Sport in Ireland consequently became split on political and sectarian lines, the so-called ‘native games’ being played almost exclusively by Catholic separatists. The Irish police forces were devoted to athletic sports, so it was especially desired, for obvious reasons, to exclude them. The fact that Catholics in rural areas did not have a half-day on Saturdays but were allowed to play on Sundays, while workers in the towns, many of whom were Protestants, were not allowed to play on Sundays but had early-closing on Saturdays further polarised the games. Ireland was therefore always disadvantaged in international games when soccer, rugby, and hockey were adopted widely throughout the world. Hockey was codified in England around 1860 but a Hockey Association was not formed until 1886. Hockey seems to have been adopted in Ireland first as a game for women, and an Irish Women’s Hockey Union was formed and was soon followed by a men’s union. The 1st men’s international was played against England in 1895, and the 1st women’s international was also against England in 1896. Ireland’s women played Wales in 1900. It should be noted that when the four ‘home countries’ which comprised the United Kingdom played against each other in any sport these were regarded as ‘international’ matches.
Athletics, or track-and-field sports, like other sports, had existed from time immemorial, but for competition purposes were codified in England in the second half of the 19th century. In 1866 the Amateur Athletics Club was formed and organised British national championships. The first formal athletics contest in Ireland was held in Trinity College in 1857. The first athletics club was formed in Cork in 1862. Irish championship meetings were held from 1873. In 1884 the Gaelic Athletic Association insisted on holding its own championship, so thereafter a Catholic nationalist championship was held and a Protestant unionist one. However an individual athlete could enter for both championships. In 1895 J.M. Ryan established a world record high jump in Tipperary of 6 feet 4 inches. The Royal Irish Constabulary held their own championships for their members. Cycling and high jumping were very popular. The period from 1896 to 1922 was the ‘golden age’ of Irish athletics when Irish-born athletes won numerous Olympic medals (Encyc. of Ireland).
Cycling was a sport to which Ireland made a major contribution, namely the invention of the pneumatic tyre. Unusually, cycle races were started in France, but the first race was won by an Englishman. This was a 1,200 metre race in 1868. The first bicycle in Ireland was said to have been a wooden ‘boneshaker’ around about 1870. This was an early version of the ‘penny farthing’. The front wheel was slightly larger that the back wheel and driven by cranked pedals. For speed in racing the front, or driving, wheel was made progressively larger to produce the ‘penny farthing’, the penny coin being much larger than the farthing coin. Road racing developed widely in France, but elsewhere the poor conditions of the roads led to races being held on special tracks. In 1885 John Kemp Starley invented the ‘safety bicycle’ as we know it today, with wheels of equal size, and the rear wheel driven by crank pedals and chain, and the front wheel used for steering by means of handlebars. In 1889 a Belfast team using Dunlop’s new pneumatic tyres easily defeated a visiting team from Dublin using the old solid tyres. Soon every racing bicycle was equipped with them. Irish cyclists competed in the Olympic Games in 1912.
Swimming clubs were formed in Dublin in 1882 and 1884 and the Irish Amateur Swimming Association was formed in 1893. The Metropolitan Swimming Clubs of London in 1869 became the governing body and codified the rules. Swimming was made an Olympic sport in 1896. Lawn tennis was codified and distinguished from real tennis in the 1870s. It was rapidly adopted in Ireland, and by the 1890s the Irish Lawn Tennis Championship was rivalling the Horse Show for popularity. This popularity however did not last. Golf was another sport which spread rapidly in Ireland in the second half of the 19th century. It is believed that it was introduced by officers of Scottish regiments while stationed in Ireland and the game was played at the Curragh military camp in 1852. The first Irish golf club, the Royal Belfast Golf Club started in 1891. The Golf Union of Ireland was formed in 1891 and the Ladies Golf Union in 1903. Aristocratic ladies were enthusiastic members.
The more traditional and aristocratic sports, hunting, horse-racing, yachting, and angling, also gained in popularity. The Dublin Horse Show became the focal point of Dublin’s social calendar. This was where show jumping was held. Another great social occasion was a meet at Punchestown in Co. Kildare from 1861 onwards. The Kildare Hunt organised the first meetings, and after 1851 a small stand was built. In 1860 some local noblemen decided to develop the course and a large stand was built. The Lord Lieutenant, Earl Spencer (1868-74, and 1882-3) was long remembered in Ireland for his attendance at race meetings and hunts, and especially the time he was accompanied by the Empress of Austria (Farmers’ Gazette 5 Jan 1901). The Prince and Princess of Wales attended Punchestown in 1868. By 1900 it was regarded as one of the principal centres for jumping races in the world (Irish Field 21 April 1900). More popular was the Fairyhouse racecourse in Co. Dublin, where the Irish Grand National was raced from 1870. The principal racecourse for flat racing was The Curragh in Kildare not far from Punchestown. The Irish Derby was run there from 1866. The more monotonous flat races were more popular with the public, probably because the shorter races allowed for more betting. Bets placed by the public with the on-course bookmakers were far more important than the prize money. Betting on horse racing was one of the most popular forms of gambling. Almost every person in Ireland placed a bet on the English Grand National. Professional bookmakers who made a living by accepting bets from the public became established at this time. Race meetings had been held at The Curragh since the 18th century, but like other sports, horse racing was organised on a national basis in the second half of the 19th century. Most of the Irish counties had a local racecourse where meets were held a few times a year. County Down had two, the Maze and Downpatrick. Horse racing and show jumping was big business and wealthy owners maintained large staffs in their stables. The great centre for training was around The Curragh where the ground was particularly suited. The biggest military camp in Ireland was also at The Curragh, and every officer had at least one horse. The most successful breeder was John Gubbins of Bruree, Co. Limerick. In 1897 he headed the list of winning owners (DNB Gubbins).
Hunting on horseback was also a popular sport not only among the gentry but among the smaller farmers many of whom tried to breed their own hunter. They would take their own mare to a not very expensive thoroughbred stud and hope for the best. A hunter was not a breed but a horse with stamina and good jumping ability. The Irish Masters of Foxhounds Association was formed in 1859. In 1910 there were 69 fox hunts in Ireland and 3,750 members hunted weekly during the winter hunting season. Unsurprisingly, when ownership of horses was widespread, polo was popular and not only among officers in cavalry regiments. An all-Ireland Polo Club was founded in 1874.
Yachting was also very popular with gentlemen. Yachts were large boats manned by a professional crew. Originally they were cutter-rigged like a ship, but gradually moved to a fore-and aft rig with triangular sails. Modern yachting may be said to have commenced in 1851 when a schooner from New York City called the America beat the yachts from the Royal Yacht Squadron from Great Britain in a race round the Isle of Wight. Ireland’s most noted yachtsman was the 4th Earl of Dunraven who raced his yachts in the America’s Cup races in 1893 and 1895. To compete, a yacht-owner issued through his yacht club a challenge to the New York Yacht Club. He withdrew from the second contest because he believed the Americans were cheating. In 1899 Thomas Lipton, whose parents were from Ireland issued his first challenge to the New York Yacht Club through the Royal Ulster Yacht Club and entered his yacht Shamrock I. The rules at this time favoured the Americans, for European boats had to be strong and heavy enough to sail across the Atlantic. His 5th and final challenge was in 1930. Meanwhile smaller and smaller yachts were being designed and built, and the races were divided into classes, so that men of quite moderate means could compete. The Unionist politician, Col. Edward Saunderson of Belturbet, Co. Cavan, designed and raced yachts on Lough Erne against local opposition.
Angling was a sport in decline due to over-fishing and especially poaching, illegal netting at the mouths of rivers, and pollution of the water through dumping of rubbish and sewage, the drainings of mills and factories, cloth mills, breweries and distilleries, and releasing flax water (Farmers Gazette 10 Mar, 23 June 1900). Nearly all the Irish rivers had good salmon runs. The Midland lakes around Mullingar in Co. Westmeath were patronised by English anglers. It was regarded as the centre of Irish angling. Almost every small town on a river or lake had a small hotel patronised by anglers. The various inland fisheries were controlled by local conservancy boards interested in preserving the fish, limiting netting, preventing poaching, seeing that closed times were observed, preventing pollution, and were able to bring charges at magistrates’ courts for those in breach of the fishing laws. They often had difficulty in getting reliable bailiffs to patrol the waters. Salmon fishing on the River Lee and River Shannon declined to almost nothing.
Shooting was another sport in relative decline. There were too many people with guns, and as with angling, poaching was a major problem. Many people felt that preserving rivers, lands, or bogs was simply to provide sport for the rich, and to a large extent that was the case. But a free-for-all approach meant that no fish or game was left for anyone, while preserved lands and waters meant that a considerable number of people were given employment, for example in hotels. Any man who could afford 10 shillings for a licence for a shotgun felt free to shoot on preserved land. Even if he was caught shooting the magistrates could only impose nugatory fines. There were supposed to be closed seasons, the breeding seasons, but as with angling, it was difficult to enforce these. Wildfowling however, on marshes and estuaries for duck and widgeon continued to be quite good, doubtless because it was not easy to get to those places.
New recreations were being devised and adopted. Among these was photography, which however remained fairly rare until Kodak introduced the box Brownie in 1900 with a removable film which was quite easy for even amateurs, or the local chemist, to process to produce black-and-white photographs. The earlier Kodak camera had to be returned to America to get the films developed. Nevertheless, thousands were sold in Ireland at five guineas each (Encyc. of Ireland). From photography came the cinema. The French Lumière brothers demonstrated their cinématographe in December 1895. It was a hand-cranked projector, was driven at 16 frames a second, weighed only 20 pounds and so was eminently portable. Short films were being shown at Irish fairs from 1897 onwards. The first cinema exhibition was given by Professor le Claire, a travelling showman. The first showing in Dublin was made by the Original Irish Animated Film Company of Messrs Jameson (Irish Limelight August 1917). The earliest films, which were not edited, and which lasted only a few minutes, were often of street scenes or railway stations with moving trains. The novelty lay in the record of motion, something which had never been achieved before. The films were of course silent, and when actors were used to produce plays they had to rely on the techniques of mime. Gestures and expressions were exaggerated. Tricks were used like placing a camera low between the tracks facing a speeding train which gave the impression that the train was about to run through the audience. Local content was popular, and films were taken of Irish volunteers marching or drilling, and the release of the Sinn Fein prisoners from prison in 1917. Films about the War, such as ‘The Battle of the Ancre (Somme)’ in 1916 were also popular.
The gramophone too was increasingly fashionable. Thomas Edison in 1877 invented the phonograph with sound recorded on a cylinder. But in 1894 recordings were being made on discs which were more easily reproduced. Unlike cinema, gramophones, which had no electronic amplification, were essentially family entertainment. Already in 1901 Edison was selling his phonographs in Dublin. His Grand Concert Phonograph was claimed to be as loud as a man can sing, and was obviously aimed at the entertainment industry along with cinema projectors and slide shows (Church of Ireland Gazette 1 Feb 1900). In 1909 a Berliner disc machine was being offered for sale. Recordings by Melba, Caruso, and John McCormack were available. But the gramophone was not widely used until after the War.
As elsewhere, seaside resorts developed immensely during this period. Again this was a result of the railways. All around the Irish coast small villages developed hotels and guesthouses. Families who could afford it might take a house for a month by the sea for sea bathing. This was supposed to be good for the health. Children loved playing on the sand. A certain amount of hardiness was expected for the sea, though not cold, was never very warm. In 1870 Portrush on the north coast of Ireland in County Antrim was a little fishing village. It became connected to the railway and was soon being visited even by viceregal parties (Weekly Irish Times 8 Sept. 1900). In 30 years it had become an unlikely success story as a seaside resort. Bathing was segregated with different times or places for men and women, but in 1916 Portrush, again an unlikely place, allowed mixed bathing at the Blue Pool (Northern Constitution 3 June 1916). Those who could not afford a holiday nevertheless usually contrived to spend one day at the seaside, often by an excursion train. Factories or churches could hire a train for the day. For Catholics, the Feast of the Assumption (15 August) was most popular, and for Protestants the 12 July. For further entertainment, resorts could organise dances or outings by horse-drawn vehicles like sidecars. As motor vehicles developed they too were used for day-trips. Boat-trips too could be organised as steamboats made day-trips predictable. Steam boat trips on the Shannon were organised in conjunction with the Great Southern and Western Railway (Irish Truth 12 May 1900). Pleasure steamers in the Shannon estuary ruined the area for rough shooting (Farmers’ Gazette 11 Jan 1902). Queenstown in Cork Harbour was regarded as the gem of Irish seaside resorts, with summer temperatures the same as those on the south coast of England. A newspaper noted that nowadays people wanted more than a place to pick up shells or dig sand, or to paddle in the sea. They wanted a place to parade in a smart frock, they wanted places to cycle to, they wanted suitable excursions to nearby places. Queenstown had many good hotels, and the promenade committee provided music often by the best military bands. There were also numerous steamer trips. Gradually going to the seaside had little to do with sea bathing (Weekly Irish Times 25 May 1901, 17 Aug 1907). It was equal to the best of English seaside resorts at the time.
This was not yet the era where factory or shop workers or farm labourers could spend a week in a seaside boarding house. But increasingly the middle classes could share some of the pleasures of the rich. In 1906 the pleasures or touring by motorcar were noted. [Top]
Between 1850 and 1900 there was not much high quality music in Ireland. In the 1840s an attempt was made to introduce good Italian operas to Ireland which culminated in the appearances of Jenny Lind and Catherine Hayes, a lady from Limerick who had triumphed in La Scala in Milan and was then invited to Dublin by the Dublin Philharmonic Society. By 1900 the Dublin Musical Society and the Dublin Orchestral Society had folded as popular taste ran to military bands (Irish Truth 23 June 1900). The Irish Times in 1923 commented on the low state of music in Dublin at the time, with no concert hall, no permanent orchestra, no symphony orchestra, and little chamber music. Music was at a low ebb despite the efforts of such organisations as the Feis Ceoil. The standard of music taught in schools was very low in both primary and secondary schools. In 1908 the Austrian violinist Fritz Kreisler played to almost empty halls, yet when he returned in 1923 it was almost impossible to get seats in the Theatre Royal. This was explained by the availability of his recordings on gramophone records (Weekly Irish Times 10 Nov 1923).
Popular music was quite abundant. There were many marching bands apart from the military ones. Organisations like the Orange Order and the Ancient Order of Hibernians had bands for their parades which were at least able to play popular tunes by ear. Most parishes had a fiddler who could play dance music for dances. There were also music halls in many towns where popular songs and music was played. Songs tended to be political or sentimental, though at times humorous, like those of Percy French. Thomas Moore’s ‘Irish Melodies’ provided Ireland’s national music. The music was by Sir John Andrew Stevenson, adapted from traditional tunes (DNB Stevenson). Strict nationalists tried to exclude foreign dances, but with little success.
The founding of the Feis Ceoil (fesh cyol, festival of song) to promote ‘native’ music marks the turning point. Unlike the Gaelic League and the Gaelic Athletic Association it never allowed itself to be confined in the straightjacket of blinkered nationalism, but promoted all kinds of music. It encouraged choral music, which in Ireland unlike in Wales, had virtually died out (Talk 2 Nov 1901). So successful was it that by 1920 when a musical festival was held in Belfast in 1920 choirs from commercial firms like the shipyards and the Belfast Telegraph entered (Church of Ireland Gazette 21 May 1920). The Gaelic League started a rival musical festival, An tOireachtas, in 1897 which lasted until 1924. Its scope was wider as it was intended to promote Gaelic literature as well. (This was not Oireachtas Eireann or parliament of the Republic of Ireland.)
The Irish Academy of Music was founded in 1848 and became the Royal Irish Academy of Music in 1872. It maintained a small school of music. It was revitalised in 1882 when it got an Italian named Michele Esposito to teach the piano. He was prominent in introducing orchestral music. In 1900 its teaching of instrumental music was considered excellent, but its vocal music less so (Weekly Irish Times 12 May 1900). Another foreigner who had a great influence on the revival of music in Ireland at this period was Carl Hardebeck, a blind organist from London. He won a prize at the Feis Ceoil in 1897 and was appointed head of the Cork Municipal School of Music, and later professor of music in University College, Cork. The Municipal School of Music had been opened in Cork city in 1878. A noted musician of the period was Sir Robert Prescott Stewart. He was musically educated at the school attached to Christ Church cathedral in Dublin and was appointed organist there in 1844. He graduated as a Doctor of Music from Trinity College Dublin and became professor of music there in 1861. He became a professor of music in the Royal Irish Academy of Music in 1871. He composed cantatas, songs, and organ music. Sir Charles Villiers Stanford of Dublin, though he worked outside of Ireland, was the most versatile British composer in the second half of the 19th century. Another highly esteemed composer who also worked outside Ireland was Charles Wood from Armagh (DNB Stewart, Stanford, Wood).
There was a tradition of theatre in Dublin stretching back to the 17th century. Yet successive theatre managers found it difficult to make theatre pay. The Lord Lieutenant had the authority until the 19th century to licence theatres for the whole of Ireland, though local mayors could licence local theatres provided that performances did not interfere with a patent for a theatre royal granted by the Lord Lieutenant. An exclusive patent for a theatre royal was granted for Dublin to enable a single manager to make productions equal to the two London theatres, and still make a profit from regular performances during the winter season. There was great difficulty in doing this and the patent passed from hand to hand. The patentee could licence performances of his productions in provincial theatres and so increase his income. But it was always a struggle. Dublin audiences expected performances of London standards, and then did not attend regularly.
A theatre manager maintained a stock company which had a set of plays from which they performed a different one each night. The company usually had players who specialised in certain roles like tragedian, leading lady, young lover, and so on. Most theatre companies were stock companies but by the end of the 19th century in the large cities it was more profitable to put on plays for long runs, while in smaller towns stock companies were displaced by touring companies which brought long-running plays to the provinces. In the twentieth century, a modification of the stock system called the repertory system was developed which had a smaller set of plays for longer runs.
A theatre royal was a patent so the patentee had to provide his own building unless the previous patentee was willing to sell his building to him. When Henry Harris’ predecessor, Buck Jones, in 1819 refused to sell his building, Harris had to build his own, the new splendid Theatre Royal which proved to be too large for Dublin. (Patents for theatres in Britain were ended in 1843 but it is doubtful if this Act applied to Ireland.) Despite being fairly successful in the 1840s the Theatre Royal in Dublin by 1853 was closed except for the occasional visits of London or Italian operas. John Harris later took over the Theatre Royal and introduced from Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London the new style of verisimilitude in scenery and costume (Weekly Irish Times 15 Dec 1900). The Theatre Royal returned to the production of plays in 1861 following the success of Dion Boucicault’s The Colleen Bawn. It burned down in 1881 but was re-built in 1897.
In 1829, two sons of Buck Jones got a patent for an alternative theatre, basically a circus, and called it the Adelphi and in 1844 it was re-named the Queen’s Royal Theatre. It was taken over by an actor-manager named Harry Webb, who put on a kind of variety programme of small sketches. It ultimately became the home of melodrama, a play with sung parts, but chiefly remembered for its exaggerated style which left us the word melodramatic. It appealed very much to the working classes. At six pence a night it was cheaper than the public house, and the audiences had become more orderly, indeed the best in Dublin. Its manager for many years was Kennedy Miller whose touring companies were well appreciated (Weekly Irish Times 4 Nov 1905; 10 Mar 1906). Buck Jones’ old theatre was occasionally used for events, and also the still more ancient theatre in Fishamble Street. The Fishamble Street theatre, the oldest in Dublin, was purchased in 1868 by a firm of engineers and used as a workshop (Warder 7 Sept 1901; 9 Sept 1905).
Theatres in the broad sense of buildings where live performances of music or variety or music hall, or cinema shows were quite popular and in 1909 there were five theatres in Dublin, the Gaiety, the Theatre Royal, the Empire, the Abbey, and the Tivoli. The Gaiety was opened in 1871 as a venue for touring companies and was quite successful. Its inspiration and first managers came from the Savoy Theatre in London. Modern theatre in Ireland may be said to have derived its resurgence from Dion Boucicault at the Theatre Royal, but more especially from the Gaiety where Shaw, Wild, and O’Casey were first exposed to the stage as were the actors in the original Abbey company (Encyc. of Ireland, Gaiety Theatre). The Gaiety put on pantomimes at Christmas. The Empire Theatre was later called the Olympia as nationalism in Dublin increased. It opened in 1879 as the Star of Erin music hall. Throughout its career it was a variety theatre. Music halls with variety shows were very popular throughout the United Kingdom in the Victorian period (Encyc. of Ireland, Comedy).
The most important playwright in the years after 1850 was Dion Boucicault from Dublin who was educated partly in London and acted at the Haymarket Theatre in London in 1839. Some of his plays or adaptations are on Irish themes, and his connection with Ireland was limited, though he supported Home Rule (DNB, Boucicault).
But the Golden Age of Irish writing was just commencing. William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw received the Nobel Prize for literature, while Oscar Wilde’s immorality probably cost him his. London was a world centre for literature and the theatre and gifted young Irishmen tended to drift there. Shaw and Wilde spent their careers there, but Yeats fell in love with an English woman of independent means called Maud Gonne who had become passionately involved in Irish revolutionary politics. In 1898 in London a rich widow from Co. Galway named Isabella Augusta Gregory, neé Persse, commonly called Lady Gregory, met William Butler Yeats who was considering opening a little theatre in London for romantic plays in contrast to the contemporary trend towards realistic plays after the manner of Ibsen. Lady Gregory enlisted the help of her neighbour Edward Martyn and also George Moore and it was decided to open the theatre in Dublin instead, to be called the Irish Literary Theatre. Among others who got involved were the ubiquitous Countess of Fingall and Lady Betty Balfour, the wife of the Irish Secretary Gerald Balfour. (Lady Betty’s title came from her father; she was not then Lady Balfour.) The first play produced in the proposed Romantic genre was Yeats’ The Countess Cathleen on the 8th May 1899. At first companies of actors had to be imported from England, but gradually a permanent company was built up. They had to use existing theatres like the Gaiety. Though most of this theatrical group were Protestants, Edward Martyn, George Moore and the Countess of Fingall were Catholics. It was clearly an upper-class movement, belonging to what lower-class Catholic nationalists denounced as ‘the Ascendancy’.
Meanwhile in England a wealthy lady called Miss Annie Horniman was financing plays by George Bernard Shaw and Yeats, and was determined to establish an Irish national theatre. She purchased the lecture theatre in the old Mechanics’ Institute in Abbey Street Dublin, and applied to the Lord Lieutenant for a licence to produce plays (Weekly Irish Times 13 Aug 1904). Despite objections from the existing theatres the licence was granted on two conditions: the patentee should be Irish, and that the capacity of the theatre should not exceed 500. Lady Gregory consented that her name be put forward. Yeats had recruited John Millington Synge the most gifted dramatist in the group, and as customary at the time, advised him to go to the west of Ireland and absorb the national character of Ireland. Synge responded extraordinarily well, but when his most famous play, The Playboy of the Western World, was put on in 1907 a fanatical group of protesters allied with Sinn Fein tried to prevent its production (Warder 9 Feb 1907). The general point of the objectors was that Synge should have learned Irish and gone to live in a Gaelic-speaking region, and that Yeats, as a Connaughtman, should be ashamed of the fact that he spoke no Irish, and that he brought in the forces of British law (the police) to eject the protesters. It was just at this time that Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Brotherhood were beginning to develop.
Though never an outstanding theatre the Abbey Theatre finally gave to Dublin a theatre both sufficiently small and sufficiently large to survive as a theatre for serious plays. A permanent company was recruited which provided a training ground for actors. The repertory system allowed runs of sufficient length to enable the actors to polish their skills, but also provided new plays at regular intervals after the quite small pool of regular theatre-goers had seen the performance. It also allowed playwrights to write new plays with an expectation that they would be produced. Large provincial cities like Manchester, Birmingham, and Liverpool also established repertory theatres at this time. The Abbey was however lucky to survive. It was virtually boycotted after 1907, and Lennox Robinson took over its direction. Though not a first class playwright he wrote and produced plays of sufficient quality to enable the Abbey to carry on (DNB Robinson). Annie Horniman withdrew her subsidy in 1910 at the expiration of her six-year lease on the Abbey theatre, and following disagreements with the directors, went to her real love, developing serious repertory theatres in the big industrial cities to educate the people. Lady Gregory remained a director until her death in 1932. Synge died in 1909. Romanticism in literature and art proved a very shallow vein.
In the provinces there was an old theatre in Belfast in Arthur Square with a stock company which welcomed visits of well-known players. From the 1840s it was called the Theatre Royal. By mid-century the theatre was regularly denounced by strict clergymen. It was rebuilt in 1871. In 1873 the Alhambra variety theatre was opened as a music hall. Serious plays were not very popular in Belfast. In 1895 the Grand Opera House was built to accommodate among others touring companies, and straight theatre revived somewhat (Hewitt, Gray, in Beckett, Belfast). Though there were theatres in many provincial towns in the 18th century they gradually all closed. The Theatre Royal, Wexford, was opened in 1832 and survives to this day. In 1876 a Theatre Royal was opened in Waterford. The Theatre Royal in Cork failed but was replaced by the Athenaeum, later re-named the Cork Opera House. As in the others the local stock company was replaced by touring companies. The operas too were provided by touring companies.
Connected with theatres and music halls were circuses. These were held originally in fixed ‘alternative’ theatres, but gradually touring companies replaced these. Equestrian displays formed the centrepiece of their performances. These would spend the summer touring towns and villages, erecting a big tent wherever they went, but in winter they could establish themselves in places like the Belfast Opera House. Duffy’s Circus was established in 1775 and Fossett’s Circus in 1888. The travelling circuses which toured Ireland, like Duffy’s, Ginnets, and Fossett’s were always popular when they arrived in a town or village. There was nothing distinctive about their performances which were the same as elsewhere in the United Kingdom. In the 19th century, the heyday of the travelling circus, British and Continental circuses also toured Ireland (Encyc. of Ireland, Circus).
Cinema had a reverse course, as noted above, starting in travelling shows at fairs, but within a dozen years it was so popular that special cinematograph or electric theatres or picture houses were being opened. The law was changed in 1909 to give to local authorities the power to grant licences, and censorship in the film industry was passed from the Lord Chancellor to a Board of Film Censors. In 1917 the Irish MP T.P. O’Connor was made the first president of the Board of Film censors. By 1911 picture houses were opening on a Sunday, in particular one partly owned by the Lord Mayor of Dublin. By 1913 there were several picture houses in Dublin. [Top]
This period marked the Golden Age of Irish literature when George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, and Oscar Wilde were at the height of their fame. Sheridan Le Fanu was coming to the end of his career, and is chiefly remembered for his gothic novel, Uncle Silas, and his collection of short stories In a Glass Darkly. The greatest exponent of the gothic novel was Bram Stoker whose Dracula became one of the classics of the genre. He also worked closely with Sir Henry Irving at the Lyceum theatre in London. Shaw wrote nothing in Ireland, and his genius did not blossom until after his arrival in London. His early attempts at novels were failures but he found his true vocation in writing for the stage. He never returned to Ireland. Similarly, William Butler Yeats commenced writing in London but travelled frequently between London, Dublin and his birthplace in Sligo. When in London he became acquainted with George William Russell. Both of Oscar Wilde’s parents, Sir William Wilde and Lady Wilde, were minor writers. Wilde commenced writing when at Oxford but it was several years before he became an established writer in London. Like Shaw he remained there. Like the other three Russell was a Protestant, but unlike the others he did not go to London. Like Yeats he was interested in theosophy. He wrote under the pseudonym AE. He joined Yeats and Lady Gregory in the Irish Literary Theatre. Persuaded by Yeats he joined Horace Plunkett’s Irish Agricultural Organisation Society and for many years he edited its journal The Irish Homestead making it a periodical of international importance in the co-operative movement.
George Augustus Moore was a Catholic, the son of George Moore the Catholic politician, though he left the Church. He commenced writing novels in London but it took him several years to develop his style. Influenced by Yeats and Edward Martyn he went to Dublin and became involved in the literary movement. He is chiefly famous however for his three-volume autobiography Hail and Farewell which is essential reading for those wishing to study Irish society of the period. ‘The narrative leads him to Coole Park and he meets the hieratic Yeats and Lady Gregory out walking, seeking living speech from cottage to cottage’ (Moore, Hail and Farewell, Ave, xi). James Stephens was an illegitimate child born in Dublin and educated as a Protestant. He received virtually no education, but he was a natural poet. He was encouraged by George Russell, and in 1912 two of his novels were published. Later he lived in London and Paris.
Another writer who chronicled life in Dublin was the impenetrable James Joyce whose curious twisting of the English language fascinates some and repels others. Whatever his literary legacy he proved of immense benefit to the tourist trade in Dublin. Though born in Dublin, Joyce spent most of his life on the Continent. Sean O’Casey (John Casey) was another Dublin Protestant. He was poorly educated but he joined the Gaelic League and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He did not commence writing plays until 1916. The first three were rejected by the Abbey Theatre, but though Lady Gregory and W.B. Yeats encouraged him, his first play was not performed until 1923. Like the other great writers he found England more conducive to his art. Lady Gregory wrote much but her writing was not of the first rank.
Of writers of second rank we must notice two clergymen, one Canon Sheehan a Catholic and the other Canon Hannay a Protestant. Canon Patrick Sheehan from Mallow, Co. Cork wrote about life in Catholic parishes in the south of Ireland. The Rev. James Owen Hannay, a canon of St Patrick’s in Dublin, was born in Belfast and was appointed rector of Westport in Co. Mayo, and wrote as George A. Birmingham. His accounts dealt with life among the thinly-spread but on the whole fairly wealthy Protestants of the Church of Ireland in the West of Ireland. He was a humorous writer. One of his books, Spanish Gold, had as its central figure an enthusiastic and loquacious red-headed curate named the Rev. J. J. Meldon. Hannay’s parishioners did not appreciate his humour, and like many other Irish writers he retired to England. Two Irish ladies, Edith Somerville and Violet Martin collaborated to write accounts of the Protestant upper class. Their most famous work is the humorous Some Experiences of an Irish R.M. Somewhat more limited was Leslie Montgomery who wrote as Lynn Doyle, an Ulsterman whose entertaining writings were rooted in their time and place. Amanda McKittrick Ros was a novelist and poet from Co. Down that London critics dubbed ‘the world’s worst novelist’ being the equal of MacGonagle of Dundee, ‘the world’s worst poet’. Katherine Tynan (Katherine Hinkson) was a prolific writer and a friend of W.B. Yeats, but is now chiefly remembered for her autobiography. There were numerous political writers who also dabbled in poetry. Like much of the output of this last class of writer, as of religious writers, it is engaging if one accepts the cause the writer is advocating; otherwise it is dull.[Top]
Architecture, sculpture, and art remained at a high level of technical competency, though no architect of brilliance or originality emerged. Public townscapes perhaps did not have the visual impact of the Georgian streets and squares, but the buildings were more solid. A group of substantial buildings was constructed around Leinster House, the headquarters of the Royal Dublin Society and gave an architectural core to a city that lacked a centre. Around Leinster House were grouped the National Museum, the National Library, the National Gallery, and the Natural History Museum.
The greatest public building of the period was undoubtedly the city hall in Belfast. It was the heyday of the United Kingdom as a great industrial power, and the great manufacturing cities strove to out-do each other in constructing city halls. It was designed by Sir Brumwell Thomas and built between 1902 and 1906 on the site of the old white-linen hall. Belfast was growing rapidly in the second half of the 19th century. The railway terminus of the Belfast-Dublin line, always the most important in Ireland was completed in Italianate style in 1848. South of the white-linen hall on marshy ground Bedford Street was laid out in the 1850s and was lined with three and four storey warehouses. As they had regular facades, the effect was quite imposing. In this street too in 1860 was built the Ulster Hall. The then centre for shopping was Castle Place leading on to High Street. The Georgian houses were pulled down and re-built on a grander scale (Walker and Dixon, Belfast 1864-1880). Besides stations of the railway companies the leading banks built imposing head offices and often passable local branches. The main churches built, or re-built, larger and more imposing churches. Belfast also erected a vast amount of quite acceptable and solid houses for the working classes. Though these were mostly four-roomed houses, they were satisfactory for the time. Life was lived mostly in the open air, the houses during the day being reserved for women. Men and children lived outdoors as far as possible. Men often met in pubs but there were often clubs, many of them temperance clubs, like much of the Orange Order. Or they met in groups at the street corner.
The nineteenth century was a great one for church-building. Almost every one of the 1,000 Catholic parishes in Ireland built or enlarged one or more churches. Perhaps the greatest of all the new Catholic cathedrals was that in Armagh. The architect J. J. McCarthy adopted a bold and impressive French Gothic style. However the ornamentation of the interior was given to Italian artists whose expertise did not match that of the stone carvers without. Belfast too decided to have a new cathedral despite the fact that the diocese already had two. It is an impressive Romanesque building of no particular architectural merit. Though work commenced on it in 1899 it was not completed before the commercial prosperity of Belfast declined and work continued on it until long after World War II. A cathedral was built in Cork for the diocese of Cork and another in nearby Queenstown for the diocese of Cloyne. These cathedrals were built on a scale not seen in Ireland since the Middle Ages, but stone vaulting was never attempted.
The building or enlargement of great country houses continued but on a reduced scale. Agriculture and rents recovered quickly after the Famine, and from 1850 to 1870 there was agricultural prosperity. After 1880 the various land acts combined with imported food slowly reduced the income of the great landowners, nor did industry outside Belfast develop to the same extent as it did in England to compensate. Nevertheless some great houses were built like Killyleagh Castle, Co Down, Dromore Castle, Co. Limerick, Belfast Castle, and Ashford Castle in Co. Mayo (de Breffney and ffolliot, Houses of Ireland, 211-231).
All over Ireland development could be observed. Every town got a railway station. Rivers had to be bridged to bring the tracks, and in places large viaducts had to be constructed. Every town of reasonable size got its own bank. Often shops increased in size. Churches were everywhere enlarged and improved. The advent of steam meant that mills and factories left the river valleys and moved into towns. In the Catholic parts of Ireland almost every town acquired a convent attached to schools, hospitals, or poor houses. As the functions of local government increased and its structure was changed, municipal and county offices had to be provided. Gas companies multiplied and with them the local gas works. Proper sewage and rubbish disposal systems had to be provided. Belfast and Dublin led the way in constructing vast new docks and quays, but all the other lesser ports were improved. Hotels too appeared all over Ireland. Hotels were often upgraded inns, but also appeared in places where there previously had been no inns. The railways developed the markets and fairs, so dealers had to have some place to stay. Also, where angling or sea-bathing was developed hotels sprang up.
Much of the building was commonplace and carried out by a local builder from his own ideas of what was required. But for the more important buildings local architectural and engineering firms developed, able to design buildings equal to those anywhere else. Local tradesmen were used. [[Top]
As with architecture Irish art in its various forms was competent, and in general followed trends in art from abroad. There were several painters of note, Nathaniel Hone, Roderick O’Connor, Walter Osborne, John Butler Yeats, Sir William Orpen, and Sir John Lavery. Hone had studied in France with realist painters like Millet and was the greatest Irish landscape painter of this period. Walter Osborne was more influenced by the Impressionists though he did not follow them closely. O’Connor was influenced by post-Impressionists like Gauguin and van Gogh. Yeats, Lavery, and Osborne specialised in portraiture. Jack Butler Yeats was the younger brother of William Butler Yeats. He is regarded as an Expressionist, a painter seeking to express emotions through his paintings. He was a nationalist and, like his brother, tried to express romantic nationalism. As artists in Germany, Russia, and Italy showed, ideology rarely produces great art. Sarah Purser was a painter, who was also a patron of art, who wrote on art, organised exhibitions, was one of the founders of a stained glass studio, and assisted Hugh Lane the collector of modern art (Arnold, B., Irish Art, 115-140; Harbison, Homan, Sheehy, Irish Art and Architecture, 209-216).
Belfast had a smaller school of artists. Rosamund Praeger was a sculptor, though to earn a living she turned to writing and illustrating children’s books. But William Conor was Belfast’s own artist, and the recorder of life on its streets (Beckett, Belfast, 94-97).
Sculpture continued at the same high level that it had attained in the first half of the century. Three of the sculptors who worked on the Albert Memorial in London (1861) were Irish. The most important of these was John Henry Foley (1818-74) who was responsible for the bronze statue of Prince Albert, and the group of figures representing Asia. He was also noted for his equestrian statues. Patrick MacDowell (1799-1870 from Belfast was responsible for the Europe group. Samuel Ferris Lynn, also of Belfast assisted Foley with the Albert Memorial. The statue of Daniel O’Connell in O’Connell Street Dublin is by Foley, but the figures around its base are by Thomas Brock from England a pupil of Foley’s who finished several of his projects. John Hughes carved the statue of Queen Victoria which stood outside Leinster House until it was removed by nationalists. Sir Thomas Farrell carved the statues of Archbishop Murray and Cardinal Cullen in Dublin’s Catholic pro-cathedral. He was also responsible for panels on the Wellington Memorial in the Phoenix Park, Dublin (Encyc. of Ireland, Farrell). In the early 20th century Oliver Sheppard was the most important figure. Besides statues and monuments, stone carving was used to a considerable extent for ornamentation on buildings.
There was a notable revival in the production of stained glass in Ireland. Stained glass became popular with architects in the second half of the 19th century. In churches, the Anglican High Church and the Catholic Church favoured stained glass. In 1864 the stained glass studio of Earley and Power was established in Dublin. In 1903 Sarah Purser and Edward Martyn established a co-operative stained-glass studio inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement in England. Each artist was to be responsible for every stage in the design and production. The medium appealed especially to women artists. One of the earliest women to be attracted by Purser was Wilhelmina Geddes of Co. Leitrim. Another woman was Ethel Mary Rhind who was more noted for her mosaics. The most famous artist in stained glass was Harry Clark. He was involved in the Honan Chapel at the chapel in University College Cork. This was supposed to be an example of artistic work in the style of a Celtic revival and especially of Celtic Romanesque. Though in keeping with the spirit of the Irish Literary Revival Celtic Romanesque proved to have no life and was quickly dropped by Irish artists, though motifs from it were long treasured by nationalists as supposed emblems of their imaginary origins. [Top]
In this section there is clear evidence of the cultural nationalism which was growing among educated Protestants at this time. It was quite different from the crude political nationalism which was growing among middle and lower class Catholics and whose aim was simply to dispossess the Protestants. It was a feeling that Ireland possessed an ancient and deep culture as valuable as that of the English, the Welsh, and the Scots, and that this ancient patrimony should be preserved and developed.
Private circulating libraries were quite numerous in Ireland in 1850 especially in the North of Ireland. Public libraries were gradually established in Ireland in the second half of the 19th century. Adams describes the numerous booksellers in the towns and villages of Ulster in 1846. Any town with a population of over 4,000 was likely to have a specialist bookshop. Belfast had 18 such bookshops. Other shops sold books along with other goods, especially stationery, and there were chapmen and pedlars who sold printed matter, usually pamphlets. In towns which had libraries they were often attached to reading societies (Adams, Printed Word, 119-135). Towards the end of the 19th century, the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society tried to establish local libraries in connection with the local co-ops. A problem arose when members of the Gaelic League tried to hi-jack the co-operative libraries for their cause (Homestead 17 Nov.; 1 Dec. 1900).
Legislation was brought into England in 1850 and extended to Ireland shortly afterwards by the Public Libraries (Ireland) Act (1855), but in Ireland it long remained ineffective. A public library was however opened in Dundalk in 1858 though it is not clear how it was financed. In Belfast and Dublin there seems to have been considerable opposition to putting them on the local rates. By 1884 Dublin agreed to fund city libraries from the rates and two public libraries were opened. Belfast put the matter to a vote of the ratepayers who massively supported the idea. It was decided to build a public library worthy of a great city. The design of William Henry Lynn of Belfast was accepted, the foundation stone was laid by Lord Spencer, the Lord Lieutenant, and the building was completed in 1888. Most of the users were book-keepers and clerks, not mechanics or factory workers, as some supposed, followed by students, schoolboys and apprentices. It was noted that since the library was established there was a steady decrease in crime in the city. Of the books lent 66% was prose fiction, followed by juvenile literature at 14%; then came history and biography, useful arts and natural history, geography, voyages, and travel. Irish history and biography forms the chief single topic. A museum and art gallery were combined with it (Weekly Irish Times 1 Feb. 1901). The Public Libraries (Ireland) Act (1894) allowed all urban districts, no matter which of the three Municipal Acts they were under to strike a library rate. It had been intended to extend the privilege to rural districts but there were difficulties with the rating districts. After the establishment of county councils in 1898 an Act in the first year of Edward VII allowed all towns to benefit from the 1894 Act (New Irish Jurist 22 Nov 1901). The Public Libraries (Ireland) Act (1902) enabled rural districts to open libraries. Oddly enough, it was not until after 1921 that counties were made library authorities, though they were to take over the managing of the libraries of rural districts. The Newry No. 2 (Armagh) rural district was the first to take advantage of the Act, coming to an agreement with the manager of a school to use his premises ((New Irish Jurist 26 June 1903; Weekly Northern Whig 29 March 1924). In Cork, the corporation set about establishing a public library. The newsroom was opened in 1892 and the reference and lending library in 1893. At that date it had 3,500 books, a figure which had risen to 10,200 in 1905. The Lord Mayor of Cork approached Andrew Carnegie in 1902 and the latter offered £10,000 and laid the foundation stone of the new building in 1903. It was opened in 1905 (Warder 16 Sept. 1905). Eighty local authorities were able to get assistance from the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust.
There were other private libraries in Ireland, attached to institutions but admission to them was severely restricted. The largest library, that of Trinity College, Dublin was closed to undergraduates, who had to make do with an Undergraduate Collection. Lending or subscription libraries became quite common, and one of the reasons given for the delay in opening a public library in Belfast was the excellence of the lending libraries. A famous private library in Belfast was founded by the Belfast Reading Society in 1788 and became known as the Linen Hall Library. It survives to this day with a collection of 200,000 volumes, many relating to Ireland, besides local ephemera. Similar libraries in Cork and Kilkenny failed and their collections were absorbed into the local public libraries. The library of the Royal Dublin Society was transferred to the National Library. The Royal Irish Academy held on to its own library.
In various discussions regarding the future of the Royal Dublin Society it was envisaged that its collection of books should form the nucleus of an Irish National Library. A private collector, Dr Jasper Joly, added his collection of 23,000 volumes to the Royal Dublin Society’s collection in 1863, and in 1877 the National Library took over the bulk of the collection, the British Museum Library being asked to adjudicate what books should be left with the Society.
The Library was part of a grand scheme that had been mulled over since the 1840s that various institutions in Dublin should be rationalised. This developed into a plan to establish on the grounds of the Royal Dublin Society’s Leinster House a National Museum of Science and Art, a Museum of Natural Science, a National Library, a National Gallery, and a School of Art (White, Royal Dublin Society 120-122). (This excellent plan was spoiled when the Free State Government took over its centrepiece, Leinster House itself, as the seat of the Free State parliament, and the unity of the site was shattered.) Some of the institutions, such as Marsh’s Library and the Royal Irish Academy refused to co-operate and retained their own collections. The Royal Dublin Society, from the nucleus of what was left to them, again developed its own collection, and by 1950 had 170,000 volumes which members of the Society could borrow (White, op. cit. 139.)
The National Library, the National Museum, the Irish Natural History Museum were formally established by the Dublin Science and Art Act (1877) and placed under the Department of Science and Art (Kensington, now Imperial College). Control passed to the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in 1900 (Warder 13 April 1901). Besides the cost of the salaries of the staff it was allowed £1,000 a year for the purchase of books. Contracts were placed for the construction of buildings in the grounds of Leinster House, and the main reading room, circular as in the British Museum Library, opened in 1890 (Encyc. Of Ireland, Libraries, National Library). The National Library and National Museum, facing Kildare Street, are matching buildings of uninspired design by Sir Thomas Deane II. On the opposite side of Leinster House are the National Gallery and the Natural History Museum.
It was recognised in the second half of the nineteenth century that all collections of artefacts relating to antiquity were in private hands, so it was decided to establish a nationally owned collection, and the National Museum was established by the Act of Parliament of 1877. It began to collect its own material too especially of antiquities of the ancient Near East such as was possessed by museums in London, Paris, and Berlin. Material from the collections of the Royal Dublin Society and the Royal Irish Academy were added, and the collections installed in the new building in Kildare Street.
The original nucleus of the material in the Natural History Museum was the two collections of the Ordnance Survey and the Geological Survey. These were brought together in 1845 and in 1853 were called the Museum of Irish Industry. Following the reorganisation of the Royal Dublin Society and the Royal College of Science the displays were transferred to the Natural History Museum. The collection was moved to its present building facing Merrion Square in 1857 and became part of the National Museum in 1877. In 1911 the Royal College of Science was added to this complex.
The National Gallery was established in 1854 following a successful exhibition of pictures organised by William Dargan during the Dublin Great Exhibition in 1853. A permanent gallery was built in 1859 on Leinster Lawn facing Merrion Square. (Following three extensions the present National Gallery is four times the size of the original building.) Its collection of pictures owes much to Sir Hugh Lane the fine art dealer.
Sir Hugh Lane, a nephew of Lady Gregory, established himself as a fine art dealer in London. She introduced him to the other members of the Irish Literary Revival, and he decided to do something about the visual arts. He came to Ireland to establish a Gallery of Modern Art, i.e. paintings not ante-dating 1850 and including the Impressionists. Lady Fingall took him under her wing and fed him as he was spending all his money on pictures. He then helped her to refurbish Killeen Castle, her residence. She then had to do fund-raising for his gallery. Lane had his eye on a property belonging to Lord Iveagh (Edward Cecil Guinness) but when the latter heard that the gallery would be controlled by Dublin Corporation he refused to give the property. The Dublin Corporation gave Lane a temporary building in 1906 but then refused to approve a new building designed by Sir Edward Lutyens. (Apparently the reason was that Lutyens was not Irish.) Lane thereupon took back his loan of pictures and bequeathed them to the National Gallery in London. He travelled to America and died on the ill-fated Lusitania. He had added a codicil to his will, restoring his pictures to the Dublin gallery, but the codicil was not witnessed. This led to a long dispute between the two galleries. The gallery in Dublin is now the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art.
In Belfast the Ulster Museum and Art Gallery was put together from several collections which were taken over and re-housed by the city corporation.
Literary periodicals included the Irish Quarterly Review and the Dublin University Magazine (1833-77). Studies, managed by the Jesuits appeared in 1912. With the growth of nationalism some short-lived publications like the All-Ireland Review and the Irish Review were started. But the Irish market was too small to support a periodical devoted solely to any of the arts, like music, theatre, or art.
Other Societies and Clubs
An enormous number of societies and clubs sprang up, a great number of them connected with sport. There were numerous temperance societies, many connected with churches. The Orange Order and the Ancient Order of Hibernians had numerous branches, and where these branches had a local hall, as many of them did, it served as a focus for recreational activities as well. The ubiquitous Gaelic Athletic Association formed the focal point for leisure activity in many parishes, so that if a person was excluded from the association, and lived in a rural area, he had no other focus for group leisure activities. Irish parishes did not have parish halls, so private halls were very important. Mutual benefit societies like the National Foresters could have their own halls as well. The Gaelic League which was formed as a cultural society rapidly became a political organisation.
For the more leisured classes there were clubs like the Belfast Ramblers Sketching Club. In various counties archaeological societies were formed which organised lectures and field trips. Scouting for young people, developed after the Boer War, was introduced into Ireland in 1908, and rapidly spread in the Dublin area. It is hard to decide if the Freemasons were primarily a social organisation, a benevolent one, or a business one. In the British Isles it was not a revolutionary one. In rural areas the local foxhunt was the recreational and social focus for a certain class in society.[Top]
Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.