Smock Alley was the first Theatre Royal built in Dublin. John Ogilby opened it in 1662 as part of the Restoration of the British monarchy and King Charles II in 1660, along with the London's Drury Lane (1662) and the Lincoln's Inn Fields (1661). It was the first custom-built theatre in the city and still remains in substantially the same form, making it one of the most important sites in European theatre history. Smock Alley was the first theatre outside London to receive the title of Theatre Royal, but because it had been built on land reclaimed from the Liffey, the building was unstable and the gallery collapsed twice, being rebuilt in 1735.
In the mid-1740s, Thomas Sheridan took on the role of manager of Smock Alley and made many improvements to it. While it was in operation as a theatre, it gave the world the plays of George Farquhar, Oliver Goldsmith, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and the brilliant performances of Peg Woffington, Thomas Sheridan, Spranger Barry, and Charles Macklin. It was on this stage that David Garrick, the greatest actor of the 18th century, first played Hamlet.
The theatre closed in 1787. The building was then used as a whiskey store until Fr. Michael Blake bought it to set a church that would work between 1811 and 1815. When the bell tolled in 1811, 18 years before the Catholic Emancipation, the first Catholic bell to ring in Dublin in nearly 300 years was heard. The facade boasts ornate stained glass windows and the original ceiling plasterwork remain in the Smock Alley as a witness of this time.
In 1989, the church was deconsecrated due to falling numbers of parishioners. It was then redeveloped into the 'Viking Adventure,' as part of the Temple Bar rejuvenation scheme, closing down in 2002. After a six-year renovation, Smock Alley Theatre reopened its doors as Dublin's oldest newest theatre in May 2012. Besides recovering its old purpose, Smock Alley is also the new home of The Gaiety School of Acting – The National Theatre School of Ireland.
For more than a century, Smock Alley put Irish theatre on the European map, acting as the very core of an Ireland striving to find its own voice. If we are to ask historically what makes theatre such an important part of culture today, we would need to go back more than two centuries before the founding of The Abbey Theatre, to the Smock Alley Theatre of the 17th century.