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Review of new book by Emeritus Prof Nial Osborough

‘The Irish Stage: A legal history’, a new book by Emeritus Prof Nial Osborough

 W.N. Osborough is emeritus professor of jurisprudence and legal history at the UCD Sutherland School of Law. He is the author of numerous books on Irish legal history including ‘ The Law School of University College, Dublin (2014)’, widely recognised as a remarkable work tracing the history of law teaching back to the universities of twelfth century Italy and emphasises the grounding values of humanitas which informed their teaching of law.  His latest work is a fascinating read for those interested in the history of the Irish theatre and the many legal issues faced by playwrights, theatre owners, and indeed their audiences, through the years.

Drama, opera, ballet, circuses, concerts and puppet-shows have all faced innumerable legal issues in Ireland and these challenges are the focus of this unique book. Professor Osborough reviews the law as it related to theatres in Ireland over four centuries, from the Irish Mastership of the Revels, first conferred in 1638 by Thomas Wentworth, and the regime of theatre patents inaugurated in 1786, to censorship both earlier and later.

Assorted venues encountered episodes of censorship and of riot. Safety of buildings, performers’ contracts, dramatic authors’ performing rights, liquor licensing all merit attention too, as, indeed, necessarily must the issue of the lawfulness of any ‘theatrical’ activity itself.  The infamous ‘Playboy Riots’ are referenced as is the hissing of the audience when Maud Gonne attends Lady Gregory’s play ‘Gaol Gate’ with WB Yeats.  Also described is the circumstances of the 1822 ‘Bottle Riot’ by the Orange faction at the Theatre Royal at the performance of ‘She Stoops to Conquer’.

This engaging study draws on the legislation and law reports of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Britain and the United Kingdom. Spectres of the Smock Alley Theatre, the Theatre Royal and the Queens in Dublin, the Vaults in Belfast and Limerick’s Assembly House, among other well remembered names, make their appearance, as do the going concerns that continue to entertain in cities and towns across Ireland.  The Times Literary Review has described this book as ‘richly rewarding’ and said that it will prove ‘An invaluable resource for future researchers of Irish dramatic history’.

The late Adrian Hardiman, in a review of this book, said of the distinguised author, ‘…this reviewer remembers with appreciation his vivid treatment of the law of torts in University College Dublin in the early 1970s. But his distinguishing feature is that his cultural hinterland is much broader than that of the average lawyer or law teacher and to my mind his legal insights are much the sharper and the more realistic for that.’

Prof Nial Osborough will give a talk about the History of the UCD Law School at the UCD Festival on June 18, 2016 at 3.30pm.  To register, please click here  http://www.ucd.ie/law/newsandevents/events/schooloflawtohostfoureventsincludingbrexitdebate/

The Irish Stage: A Legal History, by WN Osborough, Four Courts Press in association with the Irish Legal History Society, 324 pp, €55, 

UCD Sutherland School of Law

University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.