The fire, which broke out in the Abbey in the early hours of 18th July 1951, claimed the backstage areas of the theatre, meaning performances could not take place on site. A plan to redevelop the site – leading to the building inhabited by the theatre today – progressed in the years that followed. In 1961, Mr Hanly discovered that the surviving façade of the theatre was destined for landfill. In a remarkable act of foresight, he ensured the preservation of the original façade, instructing the demolition team to number the stones and transport them to his garden at San Elmo on Vico Road.
The original Abbey Theatre building.
Stones on the façade were numbered with an ‘x’ to distinguish them from those on the side of Old Abbey Street. This meticulous documentation includes photographic evidence. In addition, the original billboards, the semi-circular canopy, and external railings were all preserved by Mr Hanly. The care given to the preservation of the ‘Abbey stones’ by the Hanly family for over six decades, and their role in ensuring that an important part of Ireland’s built heritage will survive for future generations, is a vital story of forethought, dedication and generosity.
The stones will be moved from Mrs Hanly’s garden into the temporary safekeeping of the OPW.
Mrs Hanly and Minister for the Office of Public Works, Patrick O’Donovan.
Commenting, Executive Director and Co-Director of the Abbey Theatre, Mark O’Brien said: “We are delighted that the remarkable generosity and vision of the Hanlys in saving and being the custodians of the original stones of the Abbey Theatre is being marked at this time. We would like to thank the team at the OPW who have shown the same spirit of generosity in taking these items of such national importance into their care. As we look forward to the development of a new building and infrastructure for Ireland’s national theatre, it is fitting that it will have the resource of its own history available for its future.”