Monday, November 20, 2017


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Part of the Irish Theatre Archive, reposing in the Dublin City Archive, concerns the Eblana Theatre. This small (?) theatre with a capacity for an audience of about 200 was not untypical of a number of smaller theatres around Dublin city in the sixties and early seventies.

It did, however, have a number of features which distinguised it from the others. It was in the lower level of a central bus station, beside the toilets. It had originally been designed as a newsreel cinema and so lacked a backstage area so vital in a theatre. There was apparently a series of phone booths at that level in which the country people were alleged to have peed.

The Eblana put on a lot of experimental, and some daring, plays and there was an element of experiment and initiative called into play to produce a functioning stage space on the night.

Ellen Murphy

The theatre's archive is now with the Dublin City Archive and it is expected to grow as further research is undertaken into the history of this relatively neglected and now abandoned theatre.

Which brings me to the archivist.

Ellen Murphy is a Senior Archivist with the Dublin City Archive. I have met Ellen on numerous occasions. Either when she was taking custody of the gift of yet another archive donated to the institution for safekeeping, restoring, preserving, cataloguing and finally being made available to the public either in hardcopy on the premises or through the internet. Or when she was launching an exhibition of the final product. Each of these new archives is a major project in itself but, like the iceberg, the public only ever see the tip of it.

So I thought I'd mention Ellen at the outset as she is unlikely to have her name up in lights despite the sterling work she is putting into saving the city's history for the rest of us.

Cormac Moore

Cormac Moore is one of a new breed at Dublin Library and Archive. Dublin City Library has appointed a team of resident historians with the aim of developing their analytical capacity on the history side and bringing their rich store of material to the attention of an even wider public.

Gavin Murphy

And so to the content of today's (18/11/2007) session. Gavin Murphy is an artist with an interest in matters architectural. In the present project he has researched the history of the Eblana in terms of the personnel and the plays they put on. But he also has an interest in the building itself, and we'll come to this.

Des Nealon

Des Nealon is an actor who not only acted in the Eblana. In many ways he is the personification of the theatre having been involved in the running of it with Amalgamated Artists who sub-leased it from Phyllis Ryan in the 1969-71 period.

Gavin, whose Eblana exhibition in Temple Bar was on its last day, gave us a run down on the Busáras building which houses the theatre. It was originally built as a central bus station and office HQ by CIE, the national transport company. It was taken over by the Government to house the Department of Social Welfare and the ground floor and basement were leased back to CIE.

To most Dubliners it is just the central terminus for long-distance buses. In fact, is was a ground-breaking piece of architecture in its day. This was true of its design and the materials used in its construction which were at the cutting edge in the Europe of the time. Many of its engineering features, including a sealed ventilation system, were also new. This feature eventually led to the building being included in a list of Dublin's "sick buildings". Apparently even Le Corbusier, whose work strongly influenced the design of Busáras, also had a problem with his sealed buildings.

Busáras was principally the work of Irish architect, Michael Scott. Scott's career spanned both acting and architecture so it was fitting that this innovative building got to house a theatre.

The Eblana began its life as a theatre in 1959 with Phyllis Ryan's Gemini Productions and it continued into the 1980s, after which there were sporadic performances up to 1995 when it finally closed. It is currently abandoned. This is a shame. Plans to turn it into a left luggage office were fortunately shelved but bringing it back into use as a theatre would be costly. Apart from changes which were considered desirable at the time, such as a separate bespoke entrance from the outside, modern health and safety considerations would add significantly to the cost.

You can see a list of the new Irish plays put on in the Eblana during its lifetime at
Playography Ireland. Many foreign plays were also put on, such as John Osborne's Look Back in Anger.

Des gave us a bucketful of reminiscences from those days, citing some of the more significant productions and throwing out a string of names that probably don't mean much to today's audiences, or to myself, not having been a theatre goer.

I don't know if I'm allowed to say this but he confided that he was the first actor to use the F word on the Irish stage. He expected a backlash, particularly given the repressively conservative tenor of the times, but it apparently went unremarked.

On another occasion, he brought his mother to see Peter Schaffer's Equus. Des was playing the father of a disturbed boy. The boy (played by Derek Chapman) and his girlfriend (played by Maria McDermottroe) appeared nude in one of the scenes and Des was worried about what his mother's reaction might be. And she did give out stink - but only about the bad language.

In the course of his contribution, Des did a marvellous take-off of Micheál MacLiammór. Had I closed my eyes I'd have expected to see Micheál sitting in Des's chair.

During the session we saw an extract from the video that Gavin had made for his exhibition. This included a look over some of the Eblana theatre programmes which were in the building upstairs. Des had done the voice-over commentary for that section of the video.

The whole session was most interesting and it reminded me of my intention to check out the Eblana archive upstairs at the next available opportunity.


I'd just like to finish with a brief reference to my own connections with the Eblana.

Bríd Ní Shúilleabháin

Bríd Ní Shúilleabháin was stage manager for Amalgamated Artists and through her I ended up doing some sound work for them which now allows me to drop some serious names. The productions I was involved in were: The Ginger Man (director Alan Simpson); The Singular Man (director Alan Simpson); Little Red Riding Would (director Chris O’Neill); Look Back in Anger (director Louis Lentin). The photo above was actually taken in the Eblana.

Dearbhla Molloy

Through Bríd I also met Dearbhla Molloy, who is a friend of hers to this day. Bríd asked me to take some photos of Dearbhla for a portfolio and the shot above is one of those.

Dearbhla also appeared in the Eblana, and in many other theatres in town. A list of plays by Irish playwrights in which she appeared is at Playography She eventually emigrated to London where she has had a very successful career.

Dearbhla appeared in one Irish play in the Eblana, The Saturday Night Women by Michael Judge. Bríd is also listed as stage manager in this Playography entry.

I see also that a play by one of my school classmates, Brian Lynch, was put on in the Eblana in 1979.

1 comment:


There were some great Dublin Opinion cartoons about the Busáras building - opinion was very divided about it, and it was seen by many as a pretentious folly. Also of concern was its proximity to the Customs House - but Dublin Opinion later published a cartoon showing Gandon looking at the two buildings from the other side of the Liffey and saying: “... taking it all in all, that young man didn’t do so badly by my Customs House.”