Jim McDowell with his book Beyond the Footlights.
A GOOD theatre mystery is always popular, but a former Lisburn
head teacher has come up with a real life cracker.
Jim McDowell, who was principal of Old Warren Primary School for
21 years, is asking local historians to help him solve the
mystery of the location of a Lisburn theatre over 230 years ago.
Jim was researching his book 'Beyond the Footlights - a History
of Belfast Music Halls and Early Theatre' when he came across
advertisements for a theatre in Lisburn in 1775.
But as a teacher and researcher Jim has never come across any
other mention of the theatre and is keen to find out more.
I was following a trail of references to Belfast Mill Gate
Theatre 1768-1788," he said. "I knew it had fallen on hard times
and was looking for an advertisement indicating its reopening.
"I was trawling through microfilm in the Newspaper Library when
I found it in the Newsletter of November 14 1775. Then my eye
caught an advertisement immediately below for a theatre in
The advertisement read: 'Tomorrow evening will be performed the
historical tragedy of King Richard the Third to which will be
added the crime come Opera of the Padlock.' Following the custom
of the time, and rather like the cinema days when there was
always a B film added to the Big Picture, the Lisburn theatre
followed suit with two productions," he said.
"Interestingly on November 7, 1775 it was a pantomime
entertainment the 'Enchantress' or 'Harlequin Triumphant.'"
Jim's new book looks at the beginnings of theatre in Belfast
from 173 to the present day. Packed with personal anecdotes it
details of unusual happenings and mentions the greats who came
to perform including th young Charlie Chaplin and a youthful
Julie Andrews. But the mystery the Lisburn theatre remains to be
"There must be a local historian who can help me," said Jim.
"There must be a story there."
What Jim also does know is that the theatre was described as
state of the art, well established and well distinguished
building and in a September 7, 1775 edition boasted of good
Anyone who think they can help asked to ring Mary Magee on
92679111 or email