Gaiety Theatre, Dublin

Coordinates: 53°20′25″N 6°15′42″W / 53.340312°N 6.261601°W / 53.340312; -6.261601
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Gaiety Theatre
AddressSouth King Street
Coordinates53°20′25″N 6°15′42″W / 53.340312°N 6.261601°W / 53.340312; -6.261601
Capacity1,145 (on three levels)[1]
Opened27 November 1871
ArchitectCharles J. Phipps

The Gaiety Theatre is a theatre on South King Street in Dublin, Ireland, off Grafton Street and close to St. Stephen's Green. It specialises in operatic and musical productions, with occasional dramatic shows.


In April 1871, the brothers John and Michael Gunn obtained a 21-year licence to establish "a well-regulated theatre and therein at all times publicly to act, represent or perform any interlude, tragedy, comedy, prelude, opera, burletta, play, farce or pantomime". In favour of the Gunn's licence application was that, unlike the existing theatres, they were not proposing to promote local drama which had acquired something of a reputation with the Dublin Castle administration for stirring up nationalist sentiments.[2]

The city centre site in King Street was 17 metres wide on King Street and 42 metres deep towards Tangier Lane.[3] The Gunns employed the experienced theatre architect Mr C.J. Phipps,[4] One of the theatres Philips had recently completed in 1868 in London was The Gaiety and its name and auditorium layout were adopted for the new theatre in Dublin.[5] The audience capacity was 2000 spread over four floors: the 'parterre' or ground floor pit with 21 rows of seats; the dress circle and upper circle comprising: balcony stalls with 7 rows of seats, the first circle with 6 rows of seats, the amphitheater with 2 rows of seats; and the top floor gallery with 9 rows of seats;[3] plus 14 private boxes.[5] Each class of seats was accessed via its own entrance and stairway. There was a smoking balcony, bars on each floor and a tea-room. The design included tip-up seats (an innovative way of increasing the audience capacity) and fire-safety features such as a 4” water main (for firefighting) and stone (not wooden) staircases.[5] Back stage: the theatre was radically different from others in Ireland. From the outset the Gunns decided that their new theatre would be a ‘receiving house’: that is, it would receive touring companies and would not have its own company of actors or a repertory programme:[6] As a receiving house, there was no need for extensive rehearsal spaces, workshops or storage areas.

The theatre was built for £26,000,[4] and construction was completed in just 28 weeks.[7] The Gaiety was opened on 27 November 1871,[8] with the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland as guest of honour for a double bill which included the comedy She Stoops to Conquer and a burlesque version of La Belle Sauvage.[8]

The Gaiety was extended by theatre architect Frank Matcham in 1883,[9] and, despite several improvements to public spaces and stage changes, it retains several Victorian era features and remains Dublin's longest-established, continuously producing theatre.[10]

Patrick Wall and Louis Elliman bought the theatre in 1936 and ran it for several decades with local actors and actresses. They sold it in 1965, and in the 1960s and the 1970s the theatre was run by Fred O'Donovan and the Eamonn Andrews Studios, until - in the 1980s - Joe Dowling (former artistic director of the Abbey Theatre) became director of the Gaiety.[10] In the 1990s, Groundwork Productions took on the lease and the theatre was eventually bought by the Break for the Border Group. The Gaiety was purchased by music promoters MCD (in turn owned by Denis Desmond and his wife Caroline) in the late 1990s.[11][12] The new owners undertook a refit of the theatre,[8] with the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism contributing to the restoration fund.[citation needed]


Performers and playwrights associated with the theatre have been celebrated with hand-prints cast in bronze and set in the pavement beneath the theatre canopy.[13] These handprints include those of Luciano Pavarotti, Brendan Grace, Maureen Potter, Twink, John B Keane, Anna Manahan, Niall Toibin and Brian Friel.[8]

The theatre played host to the 1971 Eurovision Song Contest, the first to be staged in Ireland, during the Gaiety's centenary year.[14] Clodagh Rodgers (a contestant in that particular contest) later presented her RTÉ TV series The Clodagh Rodgers Show from the theatre in the late 1970s.

The Gaiety is known for its annual Christmas pantomime and has hosted a pantomime every year since 1874,[15] though no production was possible in 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis, with the scheduled panto, The Little Mermaid postponed until 2021.[16] Actor and director Alan Stanford directed both Gaiety productions of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Irish entertainer June Rodgers starred in the Gaiety pantomime for years, until she began to headline the equally established Olympia Theatre panto. The Gaiety's pantomimes have included Irish performers that appeal to homegrown audiences, including a number of Fair City actors.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Venue Hire". Gaiety Theatre. Archived from the original on 2 May 2019. Retrieved 2 May 2019. [A] 1,145 seat auditorium including 16 boxes in the Dress Circle and six boxes in the Grand Circle
  2. ^ "The New Gaiety Theatre". Irish Times. 7 February 1871. p. 3. Retrieved 7 April 2022.
  3. ^ a b "The Gaiety Theatre, South King Street, Dublin, Ireland". Arthur Lloyd, music hall and theatre history site 1839-1904. 8 April 2022. Retrieved 8 April 2022.
  4. ^ a b "Gaiety Theatre, South King Street, Dublin". Architecture of Dublin City. Archiseek. Archived from the original on 1 September 2018. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  5. ^ a b c O'Byrne, Robert (2007). Dublin's Gaiety Theatre: The Grand Old Lady of South King Street. Dublin: Gaiety Theatre. pp. 11–12.
  6. ^ Morash, Christopher (2002). A History of Irish Theatre 1601 - 2000. Cambridge University Press. pp. xv, 104–106. ISBN 978-0-521-64682-6.
  7. ^ Barclay, Andy (24 November 2007), "Grand old dame", The Irish Times, retrieved 27 July 2020
  8. ^ a b c d "A brief history". Archived from the original on 17 January 2010.
  9. ^ "Matcham, Frank - Works". Dictionary of Irish Architects. Irish Architectural Archive. Archived from the original on 20 June 2018. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  10. ^ a b "Gaiety Theatre". Music Hall and Theatre History. Archived from the original on 18 January 2017. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  11. ^ "MCD buys Gaiety for £4m". Irish Times. 18 February 1999. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  12. ^ "Ireland's Rich List 2018 - Denis Desmond and Caroline Downey". Independent News & Media. 15 January 2018. Archived from the original on 20 June 2018. Retrieved 20 June 2018. Denis Desmond (64) and Caroline Downey (56) own MCD, one of the largest music promoters in Ireland [..] Their interests include the Gaiety and Olympia theatres in Dublin
  13. ^ "Tóibín joins hands with Gaiety greats". The Irish Post. 18 May 2005. Archived from the original on 17 November 2007 – via
  14. ^ "1971 Eurovision Song Contest". RTÉ 1970s exhibition. RTÉ. Archived from the original on 28 December 2016. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  15. ^ "Gaiety panto still cream of the crop - oh yes it is! - Irish, Business". 29 December 2011. Archived from the original on 28 February 2012. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
  16. ^ "The Little Mermaid - The Gaiety Panto 2021/22". The Gaiety Theatre. Archived from the original on 26 January 2021. Retrieved 7 June 2021.

External links[edit]

Preceded by Eurovision Song Contest

Succeeded by

53°20′25″N 6°15′42″W / 53.340312°N 6.261601°W / 53.340312; -6.261601