This picture is a 10 minute exposure taken at a show called Globe in the Liberty Hall Theatre a few weeks ago. I had never been there before although many people had told me about it, and I had always been curious about the place. It turns out that it’s a superb 400-seater theatre housed in a building just adjacent to Liberty Hall itself. Liberty Hall is of course the home of Ireland’s largest trade union, SIPTU, and the theatre itself is owned and ran by SIPTU also.
It’s recently become fashionable in this country to bash trade unions. When the former government frantically cast around looking for scapegoats to distract attention from their disastrous mismanagement of the economy, the trade union movement must have seemed like an easy target, especially as there was a newspaper group, owned by a mega-rich businessman, eager and willing to jump on board and put the boot into the unions and those they represent. While certainly the management of the larger trade unions have to take some blame for the coziness of their relationship with the higher echelons of power, people tend to forget that the union movement as a whole was one of the few prominent public voices that was openly critical of government policy during the boom years. What people also seem to forget is that the statutory rights they enjoy as employees (whether unionised or not, public sector or private sector) are there because the union movement fought for them, long and hard, over a long period of years. The fact that our current difficulties are being used as an excuse to gradually erode and diminish these rights is no cause for celebration.
I was reminding of all this when chatting with the friendly and entertaining production manager at the theatre. I asked him why I don’t hear about that many things going on there and he responded wryly that they have lots of things going on but that they don’t tend to get much coverage in what he referred to as the “right-wing press”. Given that the theatre is subsidised by SIPTU funding they have the luxury of being somewhat selective about what sorts of events and productions they book in, and they tend to favour and support initiatives that chime with the basic principles of the union movement. He told me that over the last year or so they have had both Michael Moore and Jesse Jackson speaking there (the Michael Moore event was scheduled to take place in the Royal College Of Surgeons but Liberty Hall had to quickly step into the breach when the management of the college cancelled at short notice after finding out who Michael Moore actually was). As well as commercial productions, they also have a regular stream of events run by community groups and grass-roots political organisations, who would otherwise not have access to the sorts of professional facilities that Liberty Hall can offer.
Liberty Hall itself is a remarkable building, not just because of its status as the fulcrum of the labor movement in Ireland, but also as a prime example of Irish modernist architecture. It’s not a building which is generally admired by most Dubliners, but this is a little unfair as its look has changed significantly over the course of its lifetime. Originally the outside shell was entirely made of transparent glass. It was completely see-through, with the inner workings revealed to the outside, and this gave it a delicate and fine structure. In 1972, a UVF car bomb blew out much of the original glass and it was all replaced by the silver reflective coating that we see today, giving it a much more boxy and unattractive appearance. The interior of Liberty Hall is also quite striking and my photographer friend, Artur Sikora, who is also an architect, has some wonderful photographs of it, one of which is below.
Artur has recently started a new project involving interior photography of modernist architecture in Ireland. I would encourage you to head over to his blog and take a look at it. I am also indebted to Artur for alerting me to the following documentary about Liberty Hall that was made a few years ago by Paddy Cahill. It goes into great detail about the history of the building and it’s well worth a look.
I do also have some things to say about the Globe show itself that I photographed in Liberty Hall Theatre but let’s leave that until another time.