Rooms for Antient Concerts

U 6.180: Antient concert rooms. Nothing on there.

Bloom is driven past the Antient Concert Rooms at No 42 Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street), and “the bleak pulpit of saint Mark’s” next-door, on his way to Paddy Dignam’s funeral. The Antient Concert Rooms were so called as the home since 1842/3 of the Society of Antient Concerts, originally founded in the 1830s.1 The Rooms became one of the important smaller venues for concerts and other entertainments in Dublin. James Joyce and his father performed there, as did many of the multitudinous denizens of the Dublin entertainment world in Ulysses. Amongst others the Misses Flynn used to hold their annual concerts there, the tenor Bartle McCarthy sang there, Myler Keogh (“Dublin’s pet lamb” U 12.962) fought there on boxing nights during the 1890s, and Marie Dubedat performed in the Rooms before she left Irish shores to seek her musical fortune in North America. Joyce used the Antient Concert Rooms as the setting for his Dubliners story “A Mother”.

Flann O’Brien gives us a summary history of the Rooms from the perspective of 1939:

The Antient Concert Rooms in Brunswick Street […] is a picture-house now, of course […] The Palace Cinema, Pearse Street. Oh, many a good hour I’ve spent there too.

A great place in the old days, said Lamond. They had tenors and one thing or another there in the old days. Every night they had something good.

And every night they had something new, said Shanahan.

At Swim-Two-Birds (1977 printing) pp. 193-5

The Freeman’s Journal of 23 August 1904 mentions the layout at the time in slightly more detail, describing:

[…] the hall of the extensive premises known at the Antient Concert Rooms - comprising, as they do, about a dozen apartments, three of them capable of accommodating large assemblages. (p. 6)

Bloom notices that there is “nothing on” at the Antient Concert Rooms on Thursday 16 June, 1904. Newspaper evidence from the time suggests that this is accurate. In fact, unlike the regular theatres and music halls of Dublin, and at variance with O’Brien’s idyllic memories, the Antient Concert Rooms did not put on concerts and other shows every night, though the warren of buildings certainly remained in regular use.

Henry Shaw's Dublin Pictorial Guide & Directory (1850)

The following schedule lists the events taking place at any of the various locations at the Antient Concert Rooms noted as advertised or reported in the Irish Times and Freeman’s Journal from May to August 1904. There may well have been other events which were not advertised here.

Tuesday 3 May: Christian Science lecture by Judge Septimus J. Hanna.

Friday 6 May: Grand Concert with Lillian Forde and others.

[Monday 9 – Saturday 14 May: Phœnicia Bazaar and Fête at the Rotunda, Dublin.]

Wednesday 11 May: Extraordinary General Meeting of the Dublin, Wicklow, and Wexford Railway Company. The Antient Concerts Rooms were often the venue for shareholder and other meetings. This meeting had been scheduled for the Railway Company’s offices at the Westland Row terminus but, as too many members turned up, they relocated to the Antient Concert Rooms site.

Monday 16 – Saturday 21 May (10 a.m. – 6 p.m.): Feis Ceoil, the annual celebration of music in Ireland held in Dublin since 1896/7, with performances and competitions (widely advertised and reported in the newspapers of the day; full programme in Freeman’s Journal 7 May, p. 12).

Monday 23 May – Saturday 4 June: mammoth “18,000-up” billiards match between Charles Dawson and H. W. Stevenson, following on from their titanic struggle earlier in the month in Glasgow.

Wednesday 25 May: the regular property sales auction held by Corrigan & Co.

Thursday 26 May (8 p.m.): the annual “inter-debate” between the University College Literary and Historical Society and the Solicitors Apprentices’ Debating Society, two prominent Dublin organizations. The evening’s proposition was “That the social environment of the Irish peasant is largely responsible for emigration”.

Monday 30 May (evening): the Solicitors and Solicitors’ Apprentices were back for a regular meeting, including the motion “That this meeting of solicitors and solicitors’ apprentices views with alarm the overcrowding of the solicitors’ profession in Ireland [etc.].”

Tuesday 31 May (4.30): General Meeting of the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

[Tuesday 31 May – Monday 6 June: rival attraction – the Mirus Fête and Bazaar at Ball’s Bridge, Dublin.]

Wednesday 1 June: first public meeting for the Auxiliary Fund Appeal by Dublin, Glendalough, and Kildare Diocesan Councils.

Saturday 4 June: completion of Dawson-Stevenson billiard match, with victory to Stevenson by over 2,000 points.

Wednesday 15 June: the regular property sales auction held by Corrigan & Co. (executor sale: Michael Cashin, deceased).

[Thursday 16 June: no events advertised or reported]

Monday 20 June: Annual General Meeting of Edward and John Burke Ltd.

Thursday 30 June: Annual General Meeting of the Scottish Legal Life Assurance Society.

Monday 27 July: the regular property sales auction held by Corrigan & Co.

Friday 19 August: Ordinary General Meeting of the Dublin Distillers’ Co. Ltd.

Monday 22 – Saturday 27 August: [Horse Show Week] Exhibition of Irish Industries, with concerts at the Antient Concert Rooms every afternoon and evening. “James A. Joyce” sang in the Grand Concert on the Tuesday afternoon (24 August):

Irish Revival Industries Show. Last Night’s Concert […] Mr. J. A. Joyce’s fine tenor was heard to advantage in 'Down by the Sally Garden' and 'My Love She was born in the north Countree'. He was warmly applauded.

Freeman’s Journal (1904) 25 August, p. 12

He also sang (“the possessor of a sweet Tenor voice”) alongside the celebrated John McCormack in the Grand Irish Concert on the Saturday evening (27 August) (see also Richard Ellmann James Joyce (1982), p. 168).

Tuesday 30 August: annual dinner of the Dublin Cowkeepers’ and Dairymen’s Association.

Wednesday 31 August: the regular property sales auction held by Corrigan & Co.

The schedule shows that the Antient Concert Rooms were busy with the Feis Ceoil in mid to late May, overlapping with the spectacular Dawson-Stevenson billiards match, and then again in late August, when Joyce joined McCormack and others in two Grand Concerts celebrating Irish Industries (as he would well remember).

Edmund Sharp was advertising his business designing and selling “Crosses, Monuments, Headstones” from the “Antient Concert Buildings” throughout this period (“the only house possessing the new Italian Air Pressure Machinery for Cutting and Carving Marble”).2 In early May the Phœnicia Fête and Bazaar was on at the Rotunda, and in early June the Mirus Fête and Bazaar was taking place in another part of town.

But on the day Bloom went past the Antient Concert Rooms and St Mark’s Church there was “nothing on”.

John Simpson


1 Patrick J. Stephenson, “The Antient Concert Rooms”, in Dublin Historical Record (1942), vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 1-14. Stephenson’s article covers the early history of the Rooms, until the Society was disbanded in 1864.

2 Freeman’s Journal passim (e.g. 17, 23, 30 June 1904).

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