University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department

The Ulster Theatre Plays

1912 - 1928
Manuscript Collection Number: 335
Extent: 6 items.
Contents: Play scripts.
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: October 1996 by Julie Witsken.

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Table of Contents

Historical Note

The Ulster Literary Theatre was formed in 1902 by David Parkhill and Bulmer Hobson, a Quaker active in the Irish Nationalist Movement before the 1916 Easter Rising. After achieving little success in spreading his ideas and principles through other methods, Hobson decided to try drama as a vehicle of propoganda. He first appealed to W. B. Yeats for permission to use his plays, which had been written for Yeats' Irish Literary Theatre in Dublin. Denied permission by Yeats, who had an aversion to all things "Ulster," Hobson defiantly began his own dramatic society. That company was born the Ulster Branch of the Irish Literary Theatre, and its first production was of Yeats' Cathleen Ni Houlihan, used on the authority of Maud Gonne, for whom Yeats had written the play.

When the secretary of the Irish Literary Theatre forbid the Northern-based company's use of the term "Irish Literary Theatre," the name was changed to the Ulster Literary Theatre in 1904. From that point on, the company (which again shortened its name in 1915 to the Ulster Theatre) developed its own uniquely Northern repertoire and actors.

From 1904 until its demise thirty years later, the Ulster Theatre produced over fifty new Ulster plays by such writers as Lynn Doyle, Shan F. Bullock, Helen Waddell, and Gerald MacNamara, who was also one of the society's prominent actors. While many of its productions were performed in Belfast, where it entertained audiences with depictions of Northern life, the society also toured the rest of Ireland, in England, and eventually in New York City. Its dissolution in 1934 was caused in part by inability to procure its own theater building. In 1940, what remained of the company merged with two other amateur groups--the Jewish Institute Dramatic Society and the Northern Irish Players--to form the Ulster Group Theatre. Although the Ulster Theatre may have ultimately failed financially, it succeeded in creating and cultivating the theatrical tradition in Northern Ireland.


Bell, Sam Hanna. The Theatre in Ulster. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1972.

Hogan, Robert, ed. Dictionary of Irish Literature. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979.

Newmann, Kate. Dictionary of Ulster Biography. Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies, Queen's University of Belfast, 1993.

Scope and Content

The Ulster Theatre Plays contain scripts of six plays by Ulster writers produced by the Ulster Theatre in Northern Ireland in the early 1900s. The collection also includes a photograph of Ulster Theatre members.

The scripts provide a selection of works written and produced in the North after the formation of an Ulster theatrical society. The plays deal with issues of Northern life, which they depict with distinct Ulster jocularity. Although none of the plays produced by the Ulster Theatre achieved the status of those produced by the Abbey Theatre, the national theatre of Ireland, the plays nonetheless stand as testimonies to such creative geniuses of the North as Shan F. Bullock, Bernard Duffy, N. Richard Hayward, and Gerald MacNamara.

The prolific Irish novelist Shan F. Bullock (1865-1935) was born and raised in Northern Ireland but spent his working life in London. He is generally noted for his ability to portray both Catholics and Protestants in his novels with sympathy and open-mindedness not often shown by other Northern writers. Among his numerous books include The Awkward Squads and Other Stories (1893), The Loughsiders (1924), and his autobiography, After Sixty Years (1931).

Bernard Duffy (1882-1952), playwright and novelist, wrote mostly comedies, several of which were produced by the Abbey Theatre. His play The Coiner, included in this collection, was produced by both the Ulster Theatre and the Abbey Theatre. He also wrote two novels: Oriel (1918), a "coming of age in Ireland" story; and The Rocky Road (1929).

N. Richard Hayward (1892-1964), a specialist in Ulster dialect, was primarily a travel writer. He also founded the Belfast Repertory Theatre and co-founded the Belfast Radio Players, produced over one hundred records as a ballad singer, and wrote several plays.

Gerald MacNamara was the pseudonym of Harry C. Morrow (1866-1938). Together with Rutherford Maynes, MacNamara helped found the Ulster Literary Theatre with David Parkhill and Bulmar Hobson. A talented amateur actor and writer, he produced several comedies for the Ulster Theatre and excelled in comic character parts. Though a few of his works appeared in The Dublin Magazine, more than half of them, including No Surrender, have never been published. Despite this, the accomplished playwright Rutherford Maynes called MacNamara "one of the finest comic geniuses that the Irish dramatic revival has produced."

The play scripts, which contain markings regarding stage instructions and appear to be stage copies, are arranged alphabetically by author in six folders.

Contents List

Folder -- Contents

          Production notes from the Theatre in Ulster.
F1        Bullock, Shan.  The Turf Cutters, 1912.
          Ts (carbon) with holographic annotations.  (21 pp)                       

F2        Duffy, Bernard.  The Coiner [1916].
          Ts (carbon) with holographic annotations.  (25 pp)

F3        Duffy, Bernard.  The Old Lady [1916].
          Ts (carbon) with holographic annotations.  (19 pp)
          First produced at the Grand Opera House, Belfast.

F4        Hayward, H. Richard and Abram Rish.  The Jew's Fiddle [1920].
          Ts (carbon) with holographic annotations.  (14 pp)
          First produced at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin.

F5        MacNamara, Gerald.  No Surrender [1928].
          Ts (carbon) with holographic annotations.  (22 pp)
          First produced at the Grand Opera House, Belfast.

F6        S.n.  The Ebb Tide [n.d.].
          Ts (carbon) with holographic annotations.  (32 pp)
          Also includes a photograph of the Ulster Theatre members,including 
          Patrick Denley.  Photograph copyrighted by W. & G. Baird, LTD., Belfast. 
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