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Olympia Theatre Dublin: More Than a Stage

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Established in 1879, the elegant surroundings of the Olympia Theatre on Dame Street hark back to a glamorous era in Dublin. Here we meet Maureen Grant, who started working behind the theatre’s bar way back in 1949...

Olympia Theatre Dublin: More Than a Stage

With a career behind the bar spanning six decades, 89 year-old Maureen Grant has plenty of stories to tell about Irish theatre life. Casting her mind back to 1949, she recalls how she came to be employed at the theatre. “It was by accident that I got the job,” she laughs. “I wouldn’t have known one end of a pint from the other, but I told the manager I’d worked at another bar previously.” Though the job was initially supposed to last just three weeks, Maureen was kept on because – according to the manager – she was “a bloody chancer!”

Until 1973, a law known as the ‘marriage bar’ in Ireland prevented married women from staying in public service jobs, a stance that was also adopted by many independent institutions. However during her tenure at the Olympia Theatre Dublin, Maureen not only concealed the fact that she had a husband, but also that she gave birth several times.

“Married women weren’t allowed to work,” Maureen remembers, “and especially pregnant women. I was finding it very hard to get someone to look after my children, and I couldn’t afford it anyway. I actually got away with eight pregnancies here. I’d leave my son Jimmy [now the Olympia’s general manager] swinging in his blanket on the back of the toilet door. I’d keep an eye on him through the glass.”

Beautiful shows

Though she clearly had her hands full with full-time job and family, Maureen always loved the work.

She remembers the Dublin theatre scene in the fifties and sixties. “Illsely & McCabe, who took over the Olympia in 1952, brought beautiful shows like the Sadler’s Wells ballet and operas.”

Opening nights were particularly glamorous. “The seats in the front would be reserved and the cars would pull up outside with the ladies in their beautiful dresses. It was gorgeous,” she says. “The ushers had to parade in the front hall. We’d stand there and be inspected. If the seam on your nylons were crooked, you’d be sent to fix it.”

Olympia Theatre Dublin: More Than a Stage
Olympia Theatre Dublin: More Than a Stage

My favourite

Sitting in her bar surrounded by hundreds of signed pictures from actors through the ages, Maureen has a clear favourite – “My Kris!” – that’s Kris Kristofferson to the masses. She also recalls Laurel and Hardy. “Oh, they were fabulous,” she smiles. “We had them here for two weeks. They used to come down with their wives, two lovely women. They were just normal guys.” She adds with a laugh, “They loved my children, and wanted to adopt half a dozen of them!”

Laurel and Hardy aren’t the only famous duo with a soft spot for Maureen. She tells us, “Liam Neeson was having coffee with Pierce Brosnan a couple of years ago in New York. Pierce was coming back to Ireland and Liam told him, ‘Make sure you have your photo taken with Maureen in the Olympia and tell her I still love her!’"

Though she doesn’t work behind the bar anymore, Maureen is an avid fundraiser and visits every night. “I’m not able to go in and do the work I used to do. But I go from bar to bar here every night, and even if it was the king himself, I’d say, ‘You’re not leaving without giving me €2!’ I handed over a cheque for €15,000 to the cancer ward in Beaumont Hospital recently.”

Proudest moment

Her proudest moment at the Olympia was when staff unveiled the famous Maureen’s Bar sign. “I always used to joke that I’d love to see my name in lights,” she says. “One night at the end of a show, I was called up on stage and they put a blindfold on me. When they took it off, the cast were all sitting in the stalls and they told me to look up at my bar. There it was – my name in lights.” She adds, smiling, “I love it here. It’s my life.”

Olympia Theatre Dublin: More Than a Stage