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As Abbey Theatre looks ahead, it is asking for help fulfilling its mission

By Ed Forry, November 2, 2012

Abbey Theatre in Boston: Director and CEO of the Abbey Theatre, Fiach Mac Conghail, Shelly O’Neill, the Irish actor Bosco Hogan, the Irish actress Brid Ni Neachtain, Tom O’Neill, and Bryan McMahon, chairman of the board of the Abbey Theatre.Abbey Theatre in Boston: Director and CEO of the Abbey Theatre, Fiach Mac Conghail, Shelly O’Neill, the Irish actor Bosco Hogan, the Irish actress Brid Ni Neachtain, Tom O’Neill, and Bryan McMahon, chairman of the board of the Abbey Theatre.Officials and two artists from The Abbey Theatre were in Boston last month for the launch of a support group for a charitable foundation to support the enterprise.

The Oct. 18 launch was held at the Beacon Street home of Tom O’Neill, who has been named the first president of the Boston Irish Abbey Theatre Association as the Dublin-based theatre approaches its 110th anniversary next year.

The Abbey Theatre Foundation is a New York-based 501 © (3) non-profit organization that supports the work of the Abbey Theatre in Ireland and in the United States.

“We are delighted to be here with you this evening,” said Fiach Mac Conghail, director and CEO of the theatre. “Three remarkable visionaries, W. B. Yeats, Lady Augusta Gregory, and Edward Martyn founded Ireland’s national theatre, the Abbey Theatre, before the foundation of the Republic itself. They created a theatre ‘to reflect the deeper emotions of Ireland,’ and founded a theatre tradition in Ireland that would have a lasting impact throughout the world.” He was joined in his Boston visit by Bryan McMahon, Abbey Theatre chairman of the board.

“We remain true to their vision today, and continue to create world-class theatre, nurture new talent, and bring artists and audiences together,” Mac Conghail said. “Boston has been very important to the Abbey Theatre at key points in our history and tonight is another important moment in that history. We look forward to sharing some of our many stories with you this evening.”
In brief comments to some 30 invited guests, Tom O’Neill said, “We are delighted that so many neighbors and friends could join us tonight to welcome the national theatre of Ireland, the Abbey Theatre, to Boston to reestablish the kinship between our great city and this historic theatre. Rich in history and culture, the Abbey Theatre is committed to the vision of its founders and its tradition of preserving the arts.

“Over the summer, our family had the opportunity to visit the Abbey and see an outstanding performance of “The Plough and the Stars” by Seán O’Casey. An Irish classic, this was staged brilliantly by the Abbey Theatre. Please join us in welcoming our friends from the Abbey Theatre to Boston and we hope you enjoy this special performance.”

Two members of the theatre’s ensemble, Brid Naiughton and Bosco Hogan, gave a performance in the O’Neill’s parlor, reading a series of letters exchanged among Yeats, Lady Gregory, Martyn, and others detailing the founding of the Abbey.

The Abbey Players gave their first performance in Dublin in 1904. Their first international tour brought them to the United States in 1911, and the first American performance took place in Boston on Sept. 23 of that year, at the Plymouth Theatre on Eliot Street, now part of Stuart Street in Boston’s theater district.

During that first Boston visit, the Abbey performed 18 plays, including works by J.M Synge, George Bernard Shaw, Lady Gregory, and W.B. Yeats. Before sailing home in March 1912, the company returned to Boston and performed four additional plays.
In a mission statement posted online at, the foundation explains its goals:

“Today, under the leadership of Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, the artistic imperative for the Abbey Theatre in the 21st Century remains that of the vision and ambition of our founders with their manifesto ‘to bring upon the stage the deeper emotions of Ireland.’ To initiate and participate in a national conversation is what W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory achieved and what we aspire to sustain.

“Our mission is to create world-class theatre that actively engages and reflects Irish society, and to place the writer and the theatre artist at the heart of the Abbey Theatre. The Abbey produces an annual programme of diverse, engaging, innovative Irish and international theatre and invests in and promotes new Irish writers and artists.

We do this by placing the writer and theatre-maker at the heart of all that we do, commissioning and producing exciting new work and creating discourse and debate on the political, cultural and social issues of the day. Our aim is to present great theatre art in a national context so that the stories told on stage have a resonance with artists and audiences alike.

“Over the years, the Abbey Theatre has nurtured and premiered the work of major playwrights such as J.M. Synge and Sean O’Casey as well as contemporary classics from the likes of Sebastian Barry, Marina Carr, Bernard Farrell, Brian Friel, Frank McGuinness, Thomas Kilroy, Tom Mac Intyre, Tom Murphy, Mark O’Rowe, Billy Roche, and Sam Shepard. We continue to support new Irish writing at the Abbey through our commissioning process and our New Playwrights Programme.”

If you wish to support the Abbey Theatre Foundation please contact –, Abbey Theatre Foundation, 420 Lexington Avenue, Suite 356, New York, NY, 10170-0247