1662: Smock Alley Theatre
The second purpose-built theatre in Ireland, Smock Alley on Exchange Street Lower dates back to 1662. In its original form (as the Theatre Royal), renowned international stars performed; English actor and playwright David Garrick first played Hamlet on this Dublin stage. In the early nineteenth century, the theatre was bought by a priest, and converted into a church. In 1811, it was the first Catholic bell to ring in nearly 300 years. The church closed in 1989, and 20 years later, an archaeological excavation began in the area, which revealed that in fact the original theatre hadn’t been completely demolished. The foundations from 1662 were found intact, as well as 229 artefacts including wine bottles, some mosaic tile pieces, a tobacco pipe and even an actor’s wig curler! Following a six-year renovation, the theatre reopened as Smock Alley, one of the many jewels in cultural quarter Temple Bar’s crown.
1775: Casino, Marino
Designed by esteemed architect Sir William Chambers, the Casino (no not that kind, the word means ‘little house’ in Italian!) in north Dublin suburb Marino is a true work of art. A stunning example of eighteenth century neo-classical architecture, it served as a ‘pleasure house’ for James Caulfield, the First Earl of nearby Charlemont. Though from a distance it appears to be a small, one-storey building, this is a clever architectural optical illusion, and there are actually 16 beautiful rooms inside. Feature highlights include angled windows that can’t be seen through, decorative urns on the roof that are in fact chimneypots, and a very intriguing series of underground tunnels. Historians have speculated down through the years as to why Chambers built the tunnels, the longest of which originally linked to the main house. Others vary in length from 10 to 20 feet, and have an array of mysterious alcoves, rooms and carvings in their walls. Some scholars argue that the house was actually a Masonic lodge; and the star on the entrance floor would certainly seem to support this theory. Another rumour is that the tunnels were used by the Republican side during the Irish War of Independence, (1919–1921), and that iconic revolutionary leader Michael Collins was at times hidden there from British authorities. Whether these stories are true or not, the Casino is a fascinating space, and well worth a visit.