Abbey Theatre saga takes new twist


After two decades of plans to, variously, move the Abbey Theatre to the GPO, the Carlton Cinema site and the Dublin Docklands, the long-running saga of the building’s redevelopment has taken a twist with its purchase of a site next door.

A Liffey-facing building, 15-17 Eden Quay, has been bought with a view to redeveloping the national theatre. “at some point in the future”.

The deal comes after it was decided last year the theatre should remain on its current site for the term of the current Government. It followed the rejection of the most recent suggestion - that the Abbey be moved to the GPO - on the basis that it would cost €293 million to relocate to O’Connell Street.

The director of the Abbey Theatre, Fiach Mac Conghail, said it will now begin the early design stages for a building that will house three theatres – of 600-, 300- and 100-seats, as well as a restaurant and other facilities. It will now engage in fundraising in the hope that, along with further capital funding, the sod can be turned on the new building on Easter Monday 2016.

The purchase of the Eden Quay site was funded through existing National Theatre monies. “We are now control of our own destiny,” said Mr Mac Conghail. “It finally lays to rest all the speculation about where we would be going, and it’s no longer a theory.”

He described the buying the offices on Eden Quay, which will remain unused for now because of the cost of renovation, as “a downpayment on the future. We’re creating a legacy.”

“The Abbey Theatre is an iconic building in Dublin city. A theatre has existed on this site since 1834. Taking this opportunity to purchase this site now is a common sense solution to securing the future of the Abbey Theatre.”

For some time, the current Abbey building, completed in 1966, has been considered inadequate for the needs of a modern theatre. Many of its problems stem from its design as much as the space it occupies, although Mac Conghail said that it was “bursting at the seams”.

In 2005 it was announced that it would move to George’s Dock, and when in 2008 Senator David Norris suggested that the GPO would be an ideal new home the OPW examined the cost of such a move. Perhaps the most emotive of all, that idea sparked a lengthy debate before being scotched by Minister for Arts Jimmy Deenihan for last year.

As of 2010, the plans had already cost €400,000 over the term of five culture ministers. In the current economic climate, the cost of future redevelopment could be in the region of €100 million.

An original idea to move to Grand Canal Dock were rejected by the government in 2001. Plans for an 11-storey building near its current Abbey Street site were followed by another for Coláiste Mhuire on Parnell Square that was dropped due to the cost of property.

In 2005 it was announced that it would move to George’s Dock, and by 2009 the OPW was examining the cost of moving to the GPO.

Throughout, the current Abbey building, completed in 1966, has been considered inadequate for the needs of a modern theatre. Recently, the Abbey was forced to relocate its production of The Plough and the Stars to the O’Reilly Theatre in nearby Belvedere College while asbestos was cleared from the building.

Mr Deenihan welcomed the Abbey purchase.

"After years of speculation, I consider that the long term location of the Abbey Theatre is now absolutely settled. The Abbey Street location is now, and will be for the future, the home of the National Theatre," he said in a statement.

"I welcome the acquisition of property beside the existing theatre building as a clear road map for the future, and believe that the fundraising focus of the Abbey must now be on delivering the maximum amount of private support possible to allow for development to take place on this site over time."

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