Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Royal

The fourth in a series of five lunch-time lectures on Alfie Byrne's Dublin: Dublin in the 1930s was given by Conor Doyle on Dublin's Theatre Royal in Dublin City Hall on 23 October 2012.

Conor is the son of Chick Doyle, the famous International badminton player in the 1950s and 1960s. He is a nephew of Noel and Ursula Doyle, who performed in the Royal, and godson of Jimmy O'Dea, to whom Ursula was married. So he was more than qualified to do this talk and he told it like a family story, a theatre family, that is.

And there wasn't a dry eye in the house when he was finished.

That was hardly surprising. There was something about the Royal that didn't apply to the other theatres in my time. It was the people's theatre. Dubliners felt a sense of belonging when it came to the Royal, and its passing was like a death in the family. It is the line in Pete St. John's song Dublin in the Rare Old Times that chokes me up every time.

The final version of the Theatre Royal was built in 1935. It was huge, with seating for nearly four thousand people. It attracted a host of international stars in its day. It was barely on the road when WWII broke out and that put an end to the international stars for the duration of the war. But this gave a huge opportunity to a host of Irish performers, who never looked back, even when the international stars started coming again after the war was over.

Conor had a raft of photos to show and stories to tell, and there were more contributions from the audience after the lecture proper. Some of these stories can be heard in the NearFM radio programmes referred to below. For others you will just have to wait and see if Mary Clarke, our city archivist, can persuade Conor to repeat his lecture in the future.

A few personal notes.

This is Connie Connell, one of the Royalettes, who married my mother's cousin Paddy Medlar.

And this is Phyllis Conroy, also one of the Royalettes, who married Paddy's brother John.

I was always a great fan of Jack Cruise, one of the stars of the Theatre Royal. He also did seasons in Butlins in the 1950s, which is where he gave me this autographed copy of his stage character, John Joe Mahockey

Conor, along with Aine Clancy and Susan Tomelty, has produced a four-part, four hour long, radio documentary on the Royal for Near 103.3FM, a Northside community radio station headquartered in Coolock.

Check out an earlier lecture in the Dubliners: One City, One Book series earlier this year.

And you might like to follow up on Alfie Byrne, or on an aspect of his participation in the 1932 Eucharistic Congress, or see the seat in his honour at the junction of Alfie Byrne Road and the Clontarf Road (on the Northside).


  1. The good news is that Conor is giving his talk again in Dublin's Mansion House on 29 January 2013.

    Not sure yet of the time, but you should pencil this unmissable occasion for Dubliners into your diary.

  2. Conor's repeat talk in the Oak Room of Dublin's Mansion House on 29 January 2013 was again fabulous.

    Since the original talk he had obtained a lot of extra material, including footage of the demolition of the Royal.

    Again, the audience was full of people with connections with the Royal. I had cousins there: the husband of one Royalette and two children of another. Also a cousin priest who had once danced on the Royal's stage.

    It was a great occasion and the Lord Mayor gave us all a cup of tea and chocolate biscuits.

    However, the purpose of this comment is to let people know that Conor has been invited by the Knocklyon Historical Society to give the talk again on 13 February 2013 at 7.45pm in the Iona Centre, next to St. Colmcille's parish church. You don't need to book. Just turn up. And if you have any memorabilia bring them along so that Conor can have them photographed or copied for the rapidly expanding Royal archive.

  3. Conor is giving the talk again in the Kingston Hotel in Dún Laoghair on 21 May 2014 at the invitation of the Dún Laoghaire Borough Historical Society.