Exiles Forum

Lisburn, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland


Has Lisburn theatre mystery finally been solved?

Author finds locations of 17th century stages

Jim McDowell with a copy his book 'Beyond the Footlights'

Jim McDowell with a copy his book 'Beyond the Footlights'

THE MYSTERY of exactly where a theatre was situated in Lisburn in the 1770s may finally have been solved by a local writer.

Jim McDowell was researching his book 'Beyond the Footlights', a history of Belfast music halls and early theatre, when he came across references in newspapers to a theatre in Lisburn in the late 18th century.

And his efforts to track down the site in the city have now yielded not one, but two possibilities.

Jim now feels one may have been located where the Hertford Arms stands today in Market Square while there could have been another in Bow Street.

Jim contacted the Star last year to see if anyone could help him in his research. He was particularly keen to know if anyone had any information about a production of Richard III which was staged in Lisburn in November 1775. Now, thanks to a local historian, he has discovered a book As I Roved Out' by Cathal O'Byrne which refers to Lisburn as 'Linsely Garvin - the 'Gamesters Mount or 'Fort of the Gamblers'. The book, first published in 1946, began as a series of articles and refers to Lisburn as being an area with just 800 homes and a population of just 4,800.

In one of the articles it mentions a threatre in 1813:

"Across the Square yonder at the corner John McComb's Inn the Hertford Arms once stood on the site of the Northern Bank, and in a great hayloft at the rear of the hotel performances were given in the older days by the strolling players who visited the town."

Again in another article it refers to Bow Lane (now Bow Street) at the back of Johnsons public house where another theatre stood. "In the winter of 1804 there came one Robert Owenson an actor his real name as Mal Owen and his company."

Ulster Star