By Richard T. Cooke
The Royal Theatre in Dublin was opened in October 1662 and had the distinction of being the first purpose-built Restoration-era theatre in the British Isles. The Royal Theatre became known as the 'Smock Alley Theatre' from the name of the street in which it stood. The Smock Alley Theatre was in existence for over a century.
At the dawn of the eighteenth century, a group of enthusiastic Corkonian theatre lovers came together and purchased a spacious malt-house situated on the north-side of a narrow cobblestone passageway called Dingle Lane, off North Main Street, in the heart of the medieval city. In 1713 its doors opened to the public (in a city with a population then of about 45,000) thus becoming Cork's first theatre — only 23 years after the Siege of Cork in September 1690.
During its lifetime, of over 30 years, the theatre accommodated visits from many companies, such as the very popular Smock Alley Companyand staged some of the finest Shakespearean productions performed by world-class players who delighted their Cork audiences with Richard III, Othello and comedies. The success of the Dingle Lane Theatre encouraged more theatres to open in the growing city of Cork.
The second half of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineeenth century saw the Wide Street Commissioners (1757-1851) reshaping the medieval walled city and its surroundings, including reclaiming the prehistoric march lands and its waterways for new thoroughfares and buildings; the ruinous city wall was cleared away; and there were wholesale demolitions and widening of old streets. Thus, in the early 1840s (with a population of about 90,000), the Dingle Lane buildings, and the lane’s strong boundary wall along its southern side, along with the adjacent old Potato Market (on its south side) were cleared away and incorporated into a new street called Kyle Street, named after the Reverened Samuel Kyle (1770-1848), Bishop of Cork (1831- 1848).
From the rubble of Dingle Lane, including cobblestones and limestone from the demolished buildings that stood on its northern side, including Cork's first theatre (malt-house) building and the southern boundary wall, all went into the foundation of the new street and the erection of new buildings including Theatre Tea Houseon Kyle Street. Documentary evidence shows that this Theatre Tea House rests on the site of the old Dingle Lane Theatre.
Kyle Street’s Theatre Tea House, although elegantly renovated recently, still retains its old-world charm, an atmosphere of energy created from the many 19th and 20th century proprietors who performed their business there over 170 years. As you sit on the exquisite Tudor-style seats sipping tea, with its elegant theatrical Tudor ceiling gazing down and embraced by ancient limestone and cobblestone walls, you could almost hear ancient voices saying “Welcome good people of Cork”in Shakespearean intonation.
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Cork City Library: Maps/Plans/Street Directories