“Ladies and Gentlemen – Let the first public words I have spoken to on Irish ground be words of thankfulness to you for your cordial and generous welcome.”
-Charles Dickens on stage for the first time in Ireland, 23 August 1858
Let’s call a spade a spade – Charles Dickens understood Christmas. Pen in hand, he had a direct line to Christmas spirit and the little things that make yuletide magical. The Jimmy Stewart of 19th Century England.
And guess what? The workaholic wordsmith packed that Christmas cheer and popped over to Ireland for a festive tour of readings way back in 1858.
Curious what he got up to? Interested in following the footsteps of A Christmas Carrol’s chronicler? Yeah, we are, too.
And we promise, no ghosts.
After traveling by ferry from Holyhead on 21 August 1858, Dickens arrived in Dublin and laid his imaginative noggin at what was then Morrison’s Hotel on Nassau Street. An old building recognized by the bright green dome on the roof, it’s now a coffee shop and perfect for a stop-off cuppa.
Dickens was a bit of a Dublin fan claiming he “wandered about it for 6 to 8 hours in all directions” (fit chap obviously). Then again, he did give his feet a break and hired a horse and carriage for a jaunt around Phoenix Park. Today you can still hop on a carriage around St Stephen’s Green.
It wasn’t all long walks and carriage rides for Dickens, though, and on the evening of the 25th (Dickens also gave a reading on the 26th), he walked (loved a walk did Dickens) from Nassau Street to the the top of O’Connell Street to give a readings of The Story of Little Dombey and other selected stories including The Poor Traveller at what’s now the Ambassador Theatre (he even acted out the parts – brilliant). He was big draw at this point in time, and even though the venue held up to 3,000, there were so many desperate to see/hear him that he needed to push through herds of fans just to get inside!
Of his Dublin audience, Dickens remarked;
“Of their quickness as to the humour there can be no doubt.”
Wouldn’t disagree with him there, anyway.
After a train journey from Dublin, Dickens arrived in Belfast on 27 August 1858. Belfast interested him too, noting the “curious people” and their “tremendous houses”! Of his train journey, he gushed;
“Everything looks prosperous; the railway ride from Dublin [is] quite amazing; every cottage looking as if it had been white-washed the day before; and many with charming gardens, prettily kept with bright flowers.”
As well as a reading at the wondrous Victoria Hall, he visited the Giant’s Cradle – a giant, rocking stone in Brown’s Bay near Larne. He took a long stroll (at it again!) “a long way by sea in Carrickfergus”, an dazzling coastal town in Antrim.
Possibly a point of debate, a controversial Dickens felt the crowd was even more responsive in Belfast than in Dublin:
“The success at Belfast has been of equal success here. Enormous! I think them a better audience on the whole than Dublin; and the personal affection [here], was something overwhelming.”
No debate, however, whether he was a hit with the Belfast ladies as confirmed in a letter home to his family;
“Yesterday morning, as I showered the leaves from my geranium in reading Little Dombey, they mounted the platform after I was gone and picked them all up, as keepsakes.”
The old charmer…
On Sunday 29 August, Dickens left on the 3.30pm train from Belfast. He was headed to Cork via Dublin.
Arriving in Cork on Monday 30 August 1858, Dickens stayed at the Imperial Hotel – still there today. This time, he read at the Athenaeum (now the modern Cork Opera House) and once again, it went down a storm.
It wasn’t all work for the author in Cork, either, and he found time during his stay to visit and kissed the Blarney Stone, like any self-respecting celebrity in Ireland.
Of his time in Cork, Dickens reflected;
“Cork was an immense success. We found upward of a thousand stalls let, for the three readings. A great many people were turned away too, on the last night.”
So, his trip to Ireland was a success then.
We’re thinking that yours will be, too.
And if you want to hear more from a genuine no-foolin academic, this cracking little post is laced with fabulous Dickens down-low.
Dublin’s Mill Theatre is running a performance of A Christmas Carol from 8 – 20 December 2011.