Abbey Theatre seeks names for 1916 memorial plaque

Abbey Theatre seeks names for 1916 memorial plaque

Did your relative play a role at the Abbey Theatre and in the Easter Rising?

The Abbey Theatre wants to hear from people whose relatives were involved in the Easter Rising and the Abbey Theatre in the lead up to or during the 1916 Rising. It plans to unveil a new and updated memorial plaque on Easter Monday 2016 (28 March 2016) to remember the former staff members, actors and writers who were associated with the Abbey Theatre and who took part in the 1916 Rising.

A plaque currently hangs in the Abbey Theatre foyer to commemorate some of the staff and acting Company members involved in the Rising. This plaque remembers Seán Connolly, Máire nic Shiubhlaigh, Helena Molony, Ellen Bushell, Barney Murphy, Arthur Shields and Peadar Kearney. These Abbey Rebels fought in the Rising and worked and acted at the Abbey Theatre. Some were associated with the theatre for many years before and after the Rising.

Our current plaque was unveiled at the Abbey Theatre by Taoiseach Seán Lemass on 23 July 1966. This plaque, which hangs in the Abbey Theatre foyer today, quotes Cathleen ni Houlihan by W.B. Yeats, the play that would have been performed on Easter Monday 1916 had the Rising not taken place: ‘It is a hard service they take that help me’.

In recent times, the Abbey Theatre has come to learn of other individuals whose names should be remembered, as Abbey Theatre Archivist Mairead Delaney explains:

Through the Abbey Archive collection we are constantly interrogating and mining the Abbey Theatre’s past. The events of the 1916 Rising took place on our doorstep, and involved several staff and members of the acting company. The stories of their involvement are closely woven into the unfolding of the Rebellion and are an integral part of our history. We have recently uncovered more names and stories but in the interest of inclusion, we are seeking to hear from people whose relatives worked at the Abbey Theatre and took part in the 1916 Rising. In 2016 we want to pay tribute to these individuals and to celebrate their legacy”.

The Abbey Rebels

The Abbey Theatre commissioned historian Fearghal McGarry to write an essay entitled The Abbey Theatre and Easter 1916. The stories of the Abbey Rebels commemorated on our existing plaque provide a window into the Abbey Theatre’s colourful past:

Instead of playing their assigned roles for Easter Monday 1916, several Abbey Theatre staff and actors participated in the Easter Rising.

Leading the attack on Dublin Castle, Sean Connolly was the first rebel to take a life in the Rising and was himself the first rebel casualty when he was shot at City Hall.

Fellow actor Helena Molony had spent the night previous to the Rising in Liberty Hall, sleeping on a couch with a parcel of printed proclamations under her pillow.

Arthur Shields served in the G.P.O. during Easter week and was part of the final surrender in Moore Street.

Máire nic Shuibhlaigh had played the title role in Kathleen Ni Houlihan at the opening performance of the Abbey Theatre. A Cumann na mBan officer, she served at Jacob’s Biscuit factory under Thomas MacDonagh.

Ellen (Nellie) Bushell, usherette at the Abbey Theatre and a founding member of Na Fianna, volunteered at Jacob’s Biscuit Factory and carried dispatches between garrisons.

Stage hand and Abbey Theatre prompter Barney Murphy served with the First Battalion ‘B’Company at the Four Courts during the Rising.

Peadar Kearney, stage hand, scenic artist and occasional actor at the Abbey Theatre served with ‘B’ Company and is now more commonly known for his ballad A Soldier’s Song, later to be adopted as the Irish National Anthem.

The Abbey Rebels are the subject of a new book by Fearghal McGarry entitled: The Abbey Rebels of Easter 1916: A Lost Revolution.


The criteria for inclusion on the new plaque is as follows:

1) Was this person a member of staff or the Abbey Theatre Acting company during the years 1904 to 1916?

2) Did this person work at, write for, or act in an Abbey Theatre produced play (as distinct from a visiting performance by another theatre group) between the years 1904 and 1916?

3) Do you have evidence that this person was active in the 1916 Rising?

By way of an example of the criteria in action:

Éamon de Valera acted on the Abbey stage in 1905 in A Christmas Hamper. Because this was a visiting performance by Mr & Mrs. McHardy-Flint’s Dramatic Company and not a play produced by the Abbey Theatre, his name does not qualify for inclusion on the plaque. In contrast, Tomas Mac Donagh’s play When The Dawn is Come premiered at the Abbey Theatre in 1908, and so his name will be included on the new and updated plaque.

Contact the Abbey Theatre at:, on 01 8872200 or at

Abbey Rebels Project, Abbey Theatre, 26 Lower Abbey Street, Dublin 1.

The closing date for inclusion is Monday 29 February 2016 at 5pm.


The plaque will be unveiled at a ceremony at the Abbey Theatre on Monday 28 March 2016 at 11am, by Declan Kiberd, leading academic and co-editor of Handbook of the Irish Revival published by Abbey Theatre Press.

Follow the story: #abbeyrebels #Ireland2016

Notes to Editors

More about the Abbey Theatre’s involvement in the Easter Rising can be seen online at the The Abbey Theatre and The Easter Rising, 1916 Exhibition on the Google Cultural Institute as part of Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme:


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