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The Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival is Europe's oldest specialized theatre festival. It was founded by theatre impresario Brendan Smith in 1957 and has, with the exception of two years, produced a season of international and Irish theatre each autumn. It is one of a number of key post-World War II events established to foster tolerance and cultural understanding between nations. Over the past five decades, the festival has become a crucial part of Irelandmarker’s cultural landscape.

It has played a dual role as a window to world theatre, having presented almost every great theatre artist of the late 20th century, and as a champion of Irish writing on the world stage

The Festival is unique in its ability to stage major international theatre of scale, and has hosted productions by the world's most highly regarded artists, while also premiering work by Ireland's leading playwrights.


The Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival was founded by Brendan Smith, who also ran the Olympia Theatre and the Brendan Smith Academy of Acting. In the 1950s, the Irish Tourist Board was interested in helping to finance events on what was termed "shoulder months" of the tourist season - May, June, September and October. Brendan successfully sought a grant and the Festival began operating in 1957.

The policy was - and remains - to bring the best available international theatre to Dublin and to balance the programme with Irish productions, especially new plays. There was controversy in the very first year when, after some complaints, the Director of Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo at the tiny Pike Theatre was charged with presenting "a lewd entertainment". The run of the play was not interrupted and the judge rightly threw out the case. The 1958 festival was then cancelled due to Seán O'Casey withdrawing permission to stage the world premiere of The Bishop's Bonfire.

Since then, the Festival has thrived and is regarded as the oldest established specialist theatre festival in Europe. Unlike Edinburgh, opera, music and dance do not form a major element of the programme. Brendan Smith continued as Director until 1983 when he was succeeded by Lewis Clohessy (1984-89), Tony Ó Dálaigh (1990-99), Fergus Linehan (2000-04) and Don Shipley (2005 - 06). The current Director is Loughlin Deegan, previously Producer with Rough Magic Theatre Company.

In the past the Irish programme has included artists and been made up of events by some of Ireland’s most respected artists including:
  • Seamus Heaney
  • Roddy Doyle
  • Brian Friel
  • Neil Jordan
  • Tom Murphy
  • Gavin Friday

Many of the shows that begin their lives at the Festival regularly go on to play all over the world and an increasingly important part of the Festival is the contribution by the new generation of Irish writers led by:
  • Conor McPherson – The Weir
  • Martin McDonagh – The Beauty Queen of Leenane
  • Enda Walsh – Disco Pigs
  • Mark O’Rowe - Intermission
  • Marina Carr – The Bog of the Cats

The international programme is made up of the finest companies and artists from all parts of the world including:

  • Vanessa Redgrave
  • Neve Campbell
  • James Cromwell
  • Tom Waits
  • Geoffrey Rush
  • Pete Postlethwaite
  • Tom Conti
  • Aidan Quinn

Presenting work from countries from around the globe including:Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Peru, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, South Africa, Switzerland, UK and the US.

References: Interactions: Dublin Theatre Festival 1957-2007 being Volume 3 of Irish Theatrical Diaspora by Nicholas Grene, Patrick Lonergan and Lilian Chambers, edited by Nicholas Grene and Patrick Lonergan. Published by Carysfort Press, Dublin, Ireland 2009. ISBN 1904505368, 9781904505365


  • Loughlin Deegan - Artistic Director and Chief Executive
  • Stephen McManus - Director of Programme & Production
  • Tríona Ní Dhuibhir - General Manager
  • Shauna Lyons - Marketing Manager
  • Gemma Duke - Development Manager
  • Jessica Hillard - Administrative / Research Coordinator

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