Karl O’Neill recalls the history of the many places of entertainment bearing the regal moniker


Walking recently in Dublin, alongside Trinity College on my way to Pearse Street, I stopped to look across to Hawkins Street and the huge new high-storey building complexes that have shot up there in the last couple of years, and I could only wax nostalgic for what was missing in front of me – the Screen at College Green Cinema.

I remembered in the 1980s going to see Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources there, and Zefferelli’s film of Verdi’s opera Otello, among many others. An older generation might perhaps remember it as The New Metropole, or its predecessor, The Regal.

And of course, towering behind the cinema, before being replaced by Hawkins House (said to have been the ugliest building in Dublin) was the enormous Theatre Royal, which had a capacity of 3,700 seats and 300 standing, almost twice the size of the present Bord Gais Theatre.
Everyone played the Theatre Royal, from Judy Garland to Gracie Fields, and every Irish star of the day. It had its own orchestra and troupe of dancers, The Royalettes, and many a tear was shed when it closed its doors on 30th June, 1962.

That Theatre Royal was in fact the 5th in Dublin to bear that name. The first Theatre Royal was opened in Smock Alley three hundred years earlier, in 1662, and the moniker ‘royal’ implied a royal patent. Before this, the Puritans had shut down all theatres of course, their idea of a fun night out being not to have a fun night out.

Here I am reminded of my own childhood in 1960s Armagh where our local council playgrounds had the swings and see-saw (the see-saw!) padlocked every Sunday.
With the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, theatres re-opened and Smock Alley retained the name of Theatre Royal until 1788 when it passed on the baton to a theatre in Crow Street under the management of Frederick E. Jones – he of the famous Jones’ Road by Croke Park.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own


Photo by National Library of Ireland on The Commons – Theatre Royal, Hawkins Street, Dublin, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48081323