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Tree cheers for Mulligan’s

One of the greatest actors of the English stage, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, became a good friend of James Mulligan, owner of Mulligan’s (1875-1931).

Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree

Tree toured widely and founded the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in 1904. One of his grandchildren was the film actor, Oliver Reed.

Tree and his daughter, Viola, appeared in plays at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, in November 1904. One of these was a command performance before King Edward and Queen Alexandra.

A silk banner on which the programme is printed is preserved behind a glass mount in Mulligan’s front lounge.

The actual programme itself, which was handed out to audience members, was described in detail in a report in the Freeman’s Journal, 27, April, 1904:

The souvenir programme for Thursday night –”command night” – at the Theatre Royal has been issued. The cover in peacock blue is printed with silver lettering with the Royal arms, and except for the customary satire on the Union – the rose, thistle, and shamrock growing on the one tree- is excellently designed, the curving lines being graceful in form. It is neatly knotted with silk ribbon, which enriches the appearance of the cover. The inside contents are nearly printed. There are first-rate portraits of King Edward and his Queen. In front is a photograph of the find frontage of the theatre. The cast is printed in two columns in large and clear type, and the pieces, as already announced, are “Richard II” the first act of “Trilby” and the first act of “The Last of the Dandies”. Photographs of the company are also given and are artistically grouped. The programme was designed and printed in Dublin.

Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree appearing as Richard II in a contemporary postcard.

Tree’s daughter, Viola, appeared in ‘Trilby’. A report by ‘The Bystander’ of her personality appeared in the Freeman’s Journal on 2 May, 1904, and was less than flattering:

As a child, Miss Tree wilfully expressed her disinclination to go on the stage; and being once asked by a friend if she meant to be an actress when she grew up, answered, with a pout, ‘No, I mean to marry’.

Viola Tree

One day she requested her father to give her a pony. ‘But I can’t afford one, dear,’ he replied gravely. ‘Then, do be quick and learn to act better,’ retorted the little maiden, ‘so that you might be able to buy one.’

Miss Tree’s unusual height makes her a distinguished figure wherever she goes, though in manner she is disposed to be reserved and somewhat silent. A story is told that once at a party, a stranger from the country asked Sir Frank Barnard, ‘Who is the shy six-footer?’ ‘Oh, one of the Trees,’ he promptly replied.

Now you see him…

One of the previous owners of Mulligan’s, James Mulligan, was known to have a very strong connection with the Theatre Royal, which stood opposite the premises. He ran the family business from 1875 until this death in 1931.


Among papers found in Mulligan’s, one is a playbill announcing the appearance of a world-famous magician, Louis (Ludwig) Döbler. The notice dates from August 1842 when Döbler performed at the Theatre Royal.

Courtesy of the Cusack families

This suggests, but does not prove, that there may have been a connection between the premises and the Theatre Royal going back to the mid-nineteenth century.

Döbler was an Austrian engraver-turned-magician. He first applied electricity to magic, opening his act in spectacular fashion by using concealed wires to ignite simultaneously the turpentine-soaked wicks of the 100 candles that lit the stage.

Women should really know better!

The exhibit of old Theatre Royal playbills in Mulligan’s includes one for Peter Pan. The performance comprised most of the cast from the original production in London. While the play received rave reviews in Dublin, one theatre-goer had other things on his mind or rather on his back.

The potential murder weapon


This is a transcript of a letter sent by a Dublin Playgoer who believed a woman had tried to kill him while he was attending a performance of the play.

Was he talking through his hat? Should the play have been renamed Peter Pin? Do we have an absence of man laughter in the face of dubious manslaughter?

Now read on…

(Freeman’s Journal, 5 April, 1907)

Sir–Might I ask the courtesy of your columns as a means of warning the selfish, stupid, or callously indifferent against a most dangerous practice now not uncommon in Dublin theatres.

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I attended the Wednesday matinee of the delightful ‘Peter Pan’ at the Theatre Royal, and arrived just after the play had begun when the house was in darkness. Taking my seat in the Parterre, I was almost instantly sensible of a sharp pain at the base of both lungs. I sat straight in my seat for a moment and the pain ceased; leaning back, it occurred again, and was repeated some four times. I endeavoured to stand up, but found my coat was caught and, in an effort to release it, it was torn in two places and my hand slightly lacerated.

Two known uses for a hat pin. One to keep one's hat in place, the other to fend off an over zealous lover.
Two known uses for a hat pin. One to keep one’s hat in place, the other to fend off an over zealous lover.

I then discovered that a person occupying a seat immediately behind had, as a means of disposing of her hat pins, thrust them through the back of the seat before her- the one which I had booked and that the pins projected on my side three or four inches quite sufficient to enable them to reach the lungs, if not the heart, of the person occupying the seat.

Had I thrown myself back heavily in the seat this would probably have occurred and the stupid offender might probably have had the opportunity of explaining the death to the City Coroner. I do not know if the offender can be traced, and whether the law will give redress, but I intend to try, for it is a public duty to punish a person so blindly indifferent to the safety of others.

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I may add that I got the pins withdrawn only on calling the attention of an attendant to the unjustifiable and outrageous conduct of the offender.

When the lights were turned up I saw that several ladies had fastened their hats to the back of the seats in front of them with their hat pins although I am, of course, unable to say whether this was done in a similarly dangerous way.


Men place their hats under the seat, why not women? If they cannot be trusted to take them into a theatre without becoming a common danger, the sooner they are deprived of them at the doors the better

Yours truly,


Dr Faust and Mulligan’s


The ‘curse’ of Faust has found its way on to the walls of Mulligan’s pub. First, however, a little more about the ‘spell’…

We have all heard that the Shakespeare play, Macbeth, is supposed to be cursed. During rehearsals, actors, who believe in such things, avoid saying the name of the play referring to it as ‘The Scottish Play’. It is the same before and during intervals, even the lines are not repeated. If an actor speaks the name ‘Macbeth’ in a theatre prior to a performance, he or she is required to leave the theatre building, spin around three times, spit, curse, and then knock to be allowed back in.

The story of Faust, who sells his soul to the devil for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures, carries a similar burden.

Hector Berlioz

The story by Goethe formed the basis of an opera by Berlioz. Its first performance at the Opera-Comique, Paris, on 6 December 1846, did not meet with critical acclaim; the public was apathetic, and two performances (and a cancelled third) rendered a financial setback for Berlioz: ‘Nothing in my career as an artist wounded me more deeply than this unexpected indifference’, he remembered.

Berlioz’s bad luck extended to his love life. He became smitten with an Irish actress Harriet Smithson, a Shakespearean leading lady from Ennis in County Clare, but she wasn’t interested.

Charles Gounod

The story was used as the theme for an opera by Charles Gounod who also met bad luck. His Faust was rejected by the Paris Opera, on the grounds that it was not sufficiently ‘showy’, and its appearance at the Théatre-Lyrique was delayed for a year because another interpretation of the drama was playing elsewhere in the city. When it was eventually staged, the manager of opera house decided to cast his wife as Marguerite and insisted on various changes during production, including cutting several numbers.

Gounod’s Faust was not initially well received.

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Terry Gilliam

The misfortune surfaces in our own times. Four years ago, it was announced that Terry Gilliam was to direct Faust (Berlioz) at the National Opera in London. This is how one writer greeted the announcement:

 We love Terry Gilliam, we really do. It’s just that every announcement of a new project from the unlucky filmmaker comes with a virtual guarantee that something awful is about to happen (flash floods and herniated discs on the set of his aborted The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, the death of Heath Ledger during the production of Doctor Parnassus, etc.). Now the Guardian says Gilliam will direct the English National Opera’s production of Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust next summer.


And so to the silk playbills mounted on the wall in Mulligan’s front lounge. One refers to a production of Faust (Gounod) at the Theatre Royal on Thursday, 3 May, 1906.

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Newspaper advertisement of the production of Faust at the Theatre Royal, Dublin. Similar details of the production are to be found on the silk playbill displayed in Mulligan’s

The Irish Independent opened its review of the production by telling readers that during the opera the safety curtain fell on Faust’s head – ‘it caught him lightly on the back, and both he and Mephistopheles only escaped a nasty knock by their agility’.

Irish Independent, 5 May, 1906.

The same reviewer was unimpressed saying that the opera was ‘obviously too ambitious’ for the cast. Of the singer in the lead role, the newspaper commented: Mr Patrick O’Shea has been heard to greater advantage than as ‘Faust’ last night.’

Live broadcast in Dublin in 1883? Yes, it’s true!

In the centre of this photograph can be seen the mount in which eight silk theatre programmes are set. They are well over a century old and each has a tale to tell
In the centre of this photograph can be seen the mount in which eight silk theatre programmes are set. They are well over a century old and each has a tale to tell

On the 1st and 2nd of May, 1883, just seven years after  Alexander Graham Bell secured patent for the telephone, people in Dublin decided to give the new-fangled contraption a go.

An actor portraying Alexander Graham Bell speaking into an early model telephone.

A connection was set up between the Gaiety Theatre and a charity bazaar at the Coombe hospital to all visitors so they could hear a live opera.

Barton McGuckin (1852-1913) tenor, who was born in Dublin and whose performances in Italy, London and the United States were received rapturously.

One of the singers, whose voices was heard over the telephone, was Barton McGuckin whose name appears on the programme in the top right of the mount at Mulligan’s lounge bar. (This programme refers to a different performance, Faust, at the Theatre Royal).

The Freeman’s Journal reported on the event in its edition of 24 April, 1883:

The different airs , choruses and the music from the orchestra were distinctly audible while the noisy gods (people in the audience) …were also to be clearly heard.