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Abbey Theatre playbills and related materials

Identifier: MSS 0475

Scope and Content Note

The Abbey Theatre playbills and related materials comprise one hundred and six playbills for Abbey Theatre productions that took place between 1909 and 1955 and in 1994. The playbills document the works of important Irish writers, including Lady Augusta Gregory, W. B. Yeats, J. M. Synge, Lennox Robinson, George Bernard Shaw, Padraic Colum, and Sean O'Casey. The specific plays produced were often important first-time productions. The collection includes playbills for productions of The Rising of the Moon (Gregory), The Jackdaw (Gregory), Spreading the News (Gregory), The Gaol Gate (Gregory), Hyacinth Halvey (Gregory), The Hour Glass (Yeats), On Baile's Strand (Yeats), Kathleen Ni Houlihan (Yeats), A Pot of Broth (Yeats), Riders to the Sea (Synge), and In the Shadow of the Glen (Synge). A small number of the playbills contain related newspaper clippings.

The collection includes other materials associated with Abbey Theatre productions. A program from 1907 lists plays performed during a visit of the company to Cambridge, England. One pamphlet collects the opinions of the London press regarding the Second Company of the Abbey Theatre. The collection also houses an original poster from the production of Frank O'Connor and Mary Manning's The Saint and Mary Kate and a playbill from a 1994 touring production of Jimmy Murphy's Brothers of the Brush.


  • Creation: 1907-1955, 1994


Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections Department, University of Delaware Library,

Historical Note

The Abbey Theatre was established in Dublin in 1904 as a venue for Irish playwrights. It developed out of the Irish Literary Theatre, which had been founded by William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory in 1899. In 1902, that organization was taken over by the Irish National Dramatic Society and in 1903 became the Irish National Theatre Society. Yeats enlisted financial assistance for the Abbey from Edward Martyn in exchange for producing several of Martyn's plays. Yeats found further monetary patronage through Miss Annie E. F. Horniman, an English woman interested in the work of the Irish National Theatre Society. It was she who provided the funds to purchase the building in which the Abbey Theatre was established. The Theatre officially opened on December 27, 1904, with productions of On Baile's Strand by W. B. Yeats and Spreading the News by Lady Gregory. J. M. Synge joined the other two as co-director.

During the 1900s and 1910s, the Theatre was plagued with financial troubles, which were accentuated by World War I and the Irish Rebellion of 1916. Artistic disputed between Yeats and his backers also almost cut short the life of the theatre. However, the Theatre continued to produce and, in 1924, it became the first state-sponsored theatre in the world. As a result of their lifelong commitment to Irish theatre, the Abbey nurtured the careers of such influential playwrights as Lennox Robinson, Sean O'Casey, J. M. Synge, George Bernard Shaw, and Padraic Colum.

In 1928, a smaller theatre, the Peacock, was opened in a building adjacent to the Abbey. This theatre was to serve as a forum for experimental productions. In July 1951, fire destroyed the entire back stage area of the Abbey and all performances were transferred to the Queen's Theatre. The Abbey Theatre did not reopen until 1966. It was rebuilt on its original site with the Peacock Theatre installed on the basement level.

While Yeats preferred to maintain absolute control over Abbey productions, as he and Lady Gregory advanced in age, he employed a series of carefully selected managers to handle the day-to-day affairs of the Theatre. After the death of Lady Gregory in 1932 and Yeats in 1939, the Abbey Theatre continued to mainly produce the works of Irish writers.

Kavanagh, Peter.The Story of the Abbey Theatre. New York: Devin Adair Co., 1950. Welch, Robert.The Abbey Theatre, 1899-1999: Form and Pressure. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.


1 linear foot (1 box)


The Abbey Theatre collection comprises playbills and a small number of additional items for productions of the Abbey Theatre, established during 1904 in Dublin as a venue for Irish playwrights.


The materials in the collection are arranged chronologically in each of two series: I. Playbills, 1909-1955, 1994 and II. Other materials, circa 1907-1994.


Purchase, 2000. Gift of Bernard McKenna, September 2007.

Related Materials in this Repository

MSS 0313, Proscenium Press records

Shelving Summary

  1. Box 1: Shelved in SPEC MSS record center cartons
  2. F109: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (18 inches)


Processed by Theresa Hessey, December 2001. Encoded by Debra Johnson, 2007.

Finding aid for Abbey Theatre playbills and related materials
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2006 March 29
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

181 South College Avenue
Newark DE 19717-5267 USA