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Performing the Northern Athens: Dr. Corry's Diorama of Ireland and the Belfast Riot of 1864

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 January 2020

Michelle Granshaw*
Department of Theatre Arts, University of Pittsburgh


Although sectarian violence characterized life in Belfast for hundreds of years, 1864 marked a shift in how violence played out in the city. Unlike previous conflicts that occurred in open spaces and reflected long-held rural rituals, the riots of August 1864 took place in the city's rapidly developing urban streets. The violence broke out in response to celebrations around the foundation laying for a new statue of Daniel O'Connell, the late Catholic politician, in Dublin. Thousands of Belfast Catholics traveled to Dublin for the celebration. Upon their return to Belfast, ten thousand Protestant loyalists greeted them by burning an effigy of O'Connell on Boyne Bridge and staging a mock funeral and procession that attempted to enter a Catholic burial ground. The resulting violence and rioting continued for ten days on the city streets, where homes and businesses faced destruction on a scale previously unseen. Expelling residents of opposing views, rioters reinforced older ideas of “communal conflict” expressed through “disagreements over each group's place—literally and imaginatively—in the city” and strengthened notions of neighborhood geography based on religious beliefs. As historian Mark Doyle argues, the shifting patterns of violence resulted from “[t]he steady advance of working-class alienation from the state, the growing hegemony of violent extremists in working-class neighbourhoods, the sectarian alliance between Protestant workers and elites, the insecurity of the Catholics and, above all, the polarising effects of earlier outbreaks of violence.” Lasting reminders of conflict lingered as the city recovered, reminding anyone walking the streets of the city's violent past and the likely potential of future clashes.

Copyright © American Society for Theatre Research 2020

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1 T[homas]. C[harles]. S[tewart]. Corry, untitled, in Descriptive Guide Book to the Great National Entertainment, Entitled—Ireland: Its Scenery, Music, and Antiquities, ed. Corry, T. C. S. (Belfast: D. Allen, [1865]), 2Google Scholar, Department of Manuscripts, National Library of Ireland. Corry edited the collection of lecture notes and lyrics from the show published in the guide, but his role in writing the lecture is unclear.

2 For contemporary accounts, see the Belfast News-Letter, Belfast Morning News, and Northern Whig (Belfast), 8–14 August 1864. See also Doyle, Mark, Fighting Like the Devil for the Sake of God: Protestants, Catholics and the Origins of Violence in Victorian Belfast (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009), 161–81Google Scholar; Hirst, Catherine, Religion, Politics, and Violence in Nineteenth-Century Belfast (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2002), 11–13, 164–72Google Scholar.

3 Doyle, 228.

4 Ibid., 161.

5 Thos. Chas. S. Corry, “The Diorama of Ireland,” Liverpool Mercury, 4 August 1866, 7; Black, Eileen, Art in Belfast, 1760–1888: Art Lovers or Philistines? (Dublin and Portland, OR: Irish Academic Press, 2006), 141–2Google Scholar. Theatre companies often used terms such as panorama, diorama, and cyclorama interchangeably in their company names. Many of these companies, like Corry's, performed a combination of moving panorama and diorama. Colligan, Mimi, Canvas Documentaries: Panoramic Entertainments in Nineteenth Century Australia and New Zealand (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2002), xiiiGoogle Scholar.

6 Phelan, Mark, “Modernity, Geography and Historiography: (Re)-Mapping Irish Theatre History in the Nineteenth Century,” in The Performing Century: Nineteenth-Century Theatre's History, ed. Davis, Tracy C. and Holland, Peter (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007), 135–58, at 144CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 Malone, Andrew E., The Irish Drama (London: Constable, 1929), 12Google Scholar. See also Ellis-Fermor, Una, The Irish Dramatic Movement (London: Methuen, 1939), 2Google Scholar; Kosok, Heinz, “The Image of Ireland in Nineteenth-Century Drama,” Perspectives on Irish Drama and Theatre, ed. Genet, Jacqueline and Cave, Richard A. (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1991), 5067, at 50Google Scholar.

9 Phelan, 135–40; see also Morash, Christopher, A History of Irish Theatre, 1601–2000 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002)Google Scholar; Trotter, Mary, Ireland's National Theaters: Political Performance and the Origins of the Irish Dramatic Movement (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2001)Google Scholar; Watt, Stephen, “Late Nineteenth-Century Irish Theatre: Before the Abbey—and Beyond,” in The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century Irish Drama, ed. Richards, Shaun (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 1832CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 Byrne, Ophelia, The Stage in Ulster from the Eighteenth Century (Belfast: Linen Hall Library, 1997), 1119Google Scholar; McFetridge, Stewart, Overture and Beginners Please: A Peek at Belfast's Old Music Halls and Theatres (Austin, TX: Abbey Publications, 2004), 312Google Scholar. McFetridge frames Belfast theatre in a similar manner in his opening pages. He expands the conversation about Belfast theatre to music halls, even though his study is confined primarily to the major theatres, in line with Byrne's approach.

11 Phelan, Mark, “‘Irish Nights’: Paratheatrical Performances of Melodrama on and off the Belfast Stage,” Theatre Survey 59.2 (May 2018): 143–68, at 144CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12 Scholar Richard Kirkland's work provides the first general overview of the entertainment's history and Corry's life. He traces the show's genesis, success, and international travels over a roughly twenty-five-year period and argues that it helped both to establish a training ground for Irish performers and to teach a more natural, as opposed to caricatured, performance of Irish identity. He touches on a range of themes that this essay explores in more depth, such as Corry's fascination with the United Irishmen and his capacity to be unionist and proud of Ireland. Kirkland, Richard, “Dr. Corry's National Diorama of Ireland and Irish Performance in Nineteenth-Century Urban Popular Culture,” New Hibernia Review 19.4 (2015): 1431CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Unlike Kirkland's work, the present essay focuses primarily on the performances and theatrical culture in Belfast and analyzes the performances, their images, songs, and transformation from iteration to iteration in detail. Kirkland states that the show's beginnings occurred when Corry purchased Connop's paintings, but I place Corry's inspiration for the show in the context of his trip to the United States and Canada and the wildly successful phenomenon of the hibernicon, an Irish American moving panorama and variety show (see note 28).

13 In this essay, liberal unionism is defined by its meaning in local political life in Belfast and Ulster pre-1886 and draws on historian John Bew's definition of liberal unionism as “three shared assumptions: that the Union guaranteed financial prosperity; that the logic of history entailed the triumph of liberal values; and that British institutions were superior to any of the alternative systems of government on offer in Europe.” This liberal unionist strain is before the break in the British Liberal Party that resulted in the 1886 formation of the British Liberal Unionist Party in opposition to William Gladstone's support of Home Rule. Bew, John, The Glory of Being Britons: Civic Unionism in Nineteenth-Century Belfast (Dublin and Portland, OR: Irish Academic Press, 2009), 166Google Scholar.

14 Farrell, Sean, Rituals and Riots: Sectarian Violence and Political Culture in Ulster, 1784–1886 (Lexington: University of Kentucky, 2009), 128Google Scholar.

15 Tuathaigh, Gearóid Ó, “Ireland under the Union: Historiographical Reflections,” Australian Journal of Irish Studies 2 (2002): 121, quoted in Bew, xviGoogle Scholar.

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18 Hughes, Amy, Spectacles of Reform: Theater and Activism in Nineteenth-Century America (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2012), 41CrossRefGoogle Scholar; italics in the original.

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20 Kalba, 674; Kareem, Sarah Tindal, Eighteenth-Century Fiction and the Reinvention of Wonder (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 47CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

21 Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry, 1864 (Dublin: Alexander Thom for HMSO, 1865)Google Scholar; Doyle, 181–4; Budge, Ian and O'Leary, Cornelius, Belfast: Approach to Crisis—A Study of Belfast Politics, 1613–1970 (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 1973), 82–4Google Scholar.

22 Phelan, “Modernity, Geography and Historiography,” 136. As Phelan notes, the tendency to see Belfast and Ulster theatre as barren demonstrates how successful W. B. Yeats was in shaping ideas of theatre and modernity through his notions of literary theatre. Phelan, 136–9. In John Gray's short subsection on theatrical entertainments (103–5), he singles out Corry's Diorama of Ireland as helping make Belfast “the birthplace of one of the most successful” moving panoramas. Gray, John, “Popular Entertainment,” in Beckett, J. C. et al. , Belfast: The Making of the City, 1800–1914 (Belfast: Appletree Press, 1988), 99110, at 105Google Scholar. Jim McDowell's book provides a catalog of major theatres and music halls in Belfast with brief historical information about each venue. McDowell, Jim, Beyond the Footlights: A History of Belfast Music Halls and Early Theatre (Dublin: Nonsuch, 2007), 7112Google Scholar. Roy Johnston and Declan Plummer's book details Belfast's music scene, and they touch on how it intersects with theatrical culture. Johnston, Roy, with Plummer, Declan, The Musical Life of Nineteenth-Century Belfast (New York: Routledge, 2017)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

23 See amusement advertisements in the Belfast News-Letter, Belfast Morning News, and Northern Whig (Belfast) in the 1860s and 1870s; McDowell, 11–13, 124–5; Johnston, Roy, “‘Here Will We Sit’: The Creation of the Ulster Hall,” in Music and British Culture, 1785–1914: Essays in Honour of Cyril Ehrlich, ed. Bashford, Christina and Langley, Leanne (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 215–32, at 229–30Google Scholar. Although the working and middle classes could possibly attend Corry's performances, the show still remained out of reach for many in the working class. At one point, a “Working Man” requested that Corry reduce his prices further to allow more working-class people to attend. Belfast Morning News, 9 March 1870, 3.

24 Colligan, ix–xiii, 9–11, 16–18; Huhtamo, Erkki, Illusions in Motion: Media Archaeology of the Moving Panorama and Related Spectacles (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013), 172–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

25 Kirkland, 17.

26 Colligan, 6–9, quote at 8–9.

27 Ibid., 7–8; Huhtamo, 264.

28 Black, 141; Kirkland, 15; McDowell, 73–9; Morash, 104, 106, 147. For more on the previous panoramas of Ireland in Belfast, see Belfast News-Letter, 3 April 1863, 3 and 1 October 1863, 2; Rockett, Kevin and Rockett, Emer, Magic Lantern, Panorama and Moving Picture Shows in Ireland, 1786–1909 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2011), 138Google Scholar. For more on panoramas of Ireland, hibernicons, and international tours, see Granshaw, Michelle, “Performing Cultural Memory: The Traveling Hibernicon and the Transnational Irish Community in the United States and Australia,” Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film 41.2 (2014): 76101CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

29 Gallagher, Lyn, The Grand Opera House Belfast (Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 1995), 13Google Scholar; “Opening of a New Bridge at Londonderry,” Illustrated London News, 10 October 1863, 368; “Painting of Derry,” Belfast Morning News, 26 October 1863, 7; “Great National Diorama of Ireland,” Belfast News-Letter, 20 December 1864; “The New Diorama of Ireland,” Belfast News-Letter, 26 December 1864; “Panorama of Ireland,” Belfast Morning News, 29 December 1864, 3; Black, 138–9; Kirkland, 17–18.

30 Corry, “Diorama of Ireland,” Liverpool Mercury, 7. Black (141) as well as Rockett and Rockett (138) briefly mention the other Irish panoramas that stopped in Belfast.

31 Corry, “Diorama of Ireland,” Liverpool Mercury, 7.

32 Northern Whig (Belfast), 30 January 1865.

33 Even with the name change in 1869, many newspapers continued to refer to the production with its original name, Diorama of Ireland. For selected news reports about Corry's productions in Belfast and throughout Ireland after 1864, see Belfast News-Letter, 2 January 1865, 22 February 1865, 12 April 1865, 11 April 1868, 9 November 1869, and 17 January 1880; Belfast Morning News, 24 February 1865, 18 December 1867, 6 January 1868, 13 April 1868, 10 December 1869, 10 January 1870, and 9 March 1870; Irish Times, 18 February 1865; The Era, 28 August 1868, 12 September 1869, 6 March 1870, 8 May 1870, 6 November 1870, 5 May 1872, 3 November 1872, 16 February 1873, 20 April 1873, 21 June 1874, and 13 December 1874. See also Kirkland.

34 For more on the hibernicon, see Granshaw, Michelle, Irish on the Move: Performing Mobility in American Variety Theatre (Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 2019), 101–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Granshaw, “The Hibernicon and Visions of Returning Home: Popular Entertainment in Irish America from the Civil War to World War I,” (Ph.D. diss., Theatre History, Theory, and Criticism, University of Washington, 2012); Granshaw, “Performing Cultural Memory.”

35 Descriptive Guide Book, 2; Ireland: Its Scenery, Music, and Antiquities, ed. Corry, T. C. S. (Dublin: Hodges, Smith, 1866)Google Scholar [hereafter Ireland: Its Scenery (1866)]; Ireland: Its Scenery, Music, and Antiquities, ed. Corry, T. C. S. (Belfast: D. Allen, 1868)Google Scholar, National Library of Ireland [hereafter Ireland: Its Scenery (1868)]; Ireland in Shade and Sunshine, playbill, 1869, Belfast Central Library; T. C. S. Corry, Phelim O'Toole's Travels (London: T. C. S. Corry, n.d.), Linen Hall Library; T. C. S. Corry, Squire O'Hagan's Dinner Party (London: T. C. S. Corry, n.d.), Linen Hall Library; Belfast Morning News, 6 January 1868, 2 and 24 February 1869, 2.

36 Phillips, Philip, A description of the grand moving diorama representing Ireland, during the visit of her most gracious majesty, Queen Victoria, H.R.H. Prince Albert and the Royal Children (London: 1850)Google Scholar, National Library of Ireland; “MacEvoy's New Hibernicon,” broadside (Boston: F. A. Searle, n.d.), American Broadsides and Ephemera Series I, 10F455D54A460CF8.

37 Kirkland, 16.

38 Bew, xv.

39 Ibid., 166.

40 Ibid., 163–93; Doyle, 110–16; Hepburn, A. C., A Past Apart: Studies in the History of Catholic Belfast, 1850–1950 (Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation, 1996), 3, 7, 143–4Google Scholar.

41 Bew, 163–93; Doyle, 110–16; Hepburn, 143–4.

42 Times (London), 24 August 1864.

43 Doyle, 228. For more on the history of riots in Belfast and how they tied to neighborhood segregation, see also Farrell, 139–43.

44 Doyle, 182.

45 “Commission of Inquiry,” Belfast News-Letter, 3 and 6 December 1864.

46 “Present Duty of Protestants—the Belfast Commission,” Belfast News-Letter, 6 December 1864.

47 Doyle, 182; Wright, Frank, Two Lands on One Soil: Ulster Politics before Home Rule (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1996), 264–8Google Scholar; Belfast Morning News, 19 August 1864.

48 “Present Duty of Protestants.”

49 Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry, 6.

50 Ibid.; Doyle, 180–4.

51 Ulster Observer, 13 August 1864; Belfast Morning News, 19 August 1864.

52 Dolan, 7.

53 Kalba, 672.

54 Kareem, 38.

55 Ibid., 38; italics in the original. As scholar Tiffany Werth notes, “when struck by astonishment or wonder … an audience might be more easily roused to belief.” Werth, , “Wondering in Henry VIII or All Is True,” in Historical Affects and the Early Modern Theater, ed. Arab, Ronda, Dowd, Michelle M., and Zucker, Adam (New York: Routledge, 2015), 111–23, at 111Google Scholar.

56 Dolan, 13.

57 Hepburn, 234; Phelan, “Modernity, Geography and Historiography,” 142.

58 Connolly, S. J., “Belfast: The Rise and Fall of a Civic Culture?,” in Belfast: The Emerging City 1850–1914, ed. Purdue, Olwen (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2012), 2548Google Scholar; Brian Lambkin, Patrick Fitzgerald, and Johanne Devlin Trew, “Migration in Belfast History: Trajectories, Letters, Voices,” in ibid., 235–69, at 245–6.

59 “Panorama of Ireland,” Belfast Morning News, 27 December 1864, 3.

60 T. C. S. Corry, “Success to Belfast,” in Ireland: Its Scenery (1868), 29.

62 Descriptive Guide Book, program front matter.

63 Ibid., 2.

65 Descriptive Guide Book, program front matter.

66 See Colligan, xiii.

67 “New Diorama of Ireland,” Belfast News-Letter, 26 December 1864.

70 Descriptive Guide Book, program front matter. The Donegall Place diorama was added to the production several weeks after its initial premiere. “The Diorama,” Northern Whig (Belfast), 18 January 1865.

71 “Diorama,” Northern Whig (Belfast).

73 Bew, 166.

74 “Diorama of Ireland,” Belfast Morning News, 7 February 1868, 3.

75 Ireland in Shade and Sunshine, playbill.

78 “Ireland in Shade and Sunshine,” Belfast Morning News, 10 December 1869, 3.

79 “A New Painting,” Belfast Morning News, 14 January 1870, 3.

80 Descriptive Guide Book, 8.

82 Ollerenshaw, Philip, “Industry, 1820–1914,” in An Economic History of Ulster, 1820–1939, ed. Kennedy, Liam and Ollerenshaw, Philip (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985), 62108, at 89–90; Doyle, 170–81Google Scholar.

83 “New Diorama of Ireland,” Belfast News-Letter, 26 December 1864; T. C. S. Corry, “Ireland,” in Descriptive Guide Book, 12. Kirkland, 21, also cites this quote. [Note: All quotes from Corry are quoted for the first time in this essay unless otherwise noted in Kirkland.]

84 Kirkland, 21.

85 T. C. S. Corry, “The Irish Sutler Girl,” in Ireland: Its Scenery (1866), 23. A sutler is a provisioner, delivering food or supplies to an army.

86 T. C. S. Corry, “Derry,” in ibid., 23–4, at 24. It is noteworthy that Corry mostly refers to the city by its Irish name and not its official British one, Londonderry.

87 Beiner, Guy, “Disremembering 1798?: An Archaeology of Social Forgetting and Remembrance in Ulster,” History and Memory 25.1 (2013): 950, at 10CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

88 Tone, Wolfe, Life of Theobald Wolfe Tone, 2 vols., ed. Tone, William Theobald Wolfe (Washington: Gales & Seaton, 1826), 1: 128Google Scholar.

89 Beiner, 12; Dickinson, H. T., “The Irish Rebellion of 1798: History and Memory,” in Reactions to Revolutions: The 1790s and Their Aftermath, ed. Broich, Ulrich et al. (Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2007), 3160, at 35Google Scholar.

90 Beiner, 12.

91 Ibid., 13; Patterson, James G., In the Wake of the Great Rebellion: Republicanism, Agrarianism and Banditry in Ireland after 1798 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008), 13CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

92 Beiner, 11. See also Musgrave, Richard, Memoirs of the Different Rebellions in Ireland from the Arrival of the English (Dublin: Robert Marchbank, for John Milliken and John Stockdale, 1801)Google Scholar; Beiner, 16–17; Dickinson, 48. In addition, see Collins, Peter, Who Fears to Speak of ’98?: Commemoration and the Continuing Impact of the United Irishmen (Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation, 2004)Google Scholar.

93 Beiner, 20.

94 Corry, T. C. S., Irish Lyrics, Songs and Poems (Belfast: D. & J. Allen, 1879), 53–4, at 53Google Scholar, Belfast Printed Books (BPB) Collection, Linen Hall Library.

95 Beiner, 26.

96 Corry, “The Battle of Antrim,” Irish Lyrics, 17–24.

97 Kirkland mentions Corry's preoccupation with the United Irish, but not within the context of this history of remembering 1798 in Belfast and Ulster. Kirkland, 16.

98 See Stewart, A. T. Q., The Narrow Ground: Patterns in Ulster History ([1977] Belfast: Pretani Press, 1986), 258–69Google Scholar; Thuente, Mary Helen, The Harp Re-strung: The United Irishmen and the Rise of Literary Nationalism (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1994)Google Scholar.

99 Descriptive Guide Book, 1. Kirkland, 24, also cites this quote.

100 Hepburn, 5.

101 Descriptive Guide Book, 4.

102 Ibid., 7.

103 Ibid., 6.

104 Ibid.

105 Bew, 206. Johnston's Ulster newspaper, The Downshire Protestant (1855–62), advocated for this viewpoint.

106 Descriptive Guide Book, 9.

107 Ibid.

108 Ibid., 1.

109 Ibid., 2.

110 Corry, “Ireland,” in ibid., 12.

111 Quoted in Brown, Katie, “‘The Tone of Defiance’: Music, Memory, and Irish Nationalism,” in Memory Ireland, vol. 2: Diaspora and Memory Practices, ed. Frawley, Oona (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2012), 149–60, at 150Google Scholar.

112 Ibid.

113 Descriptive Guide Book, 7.

114 Ibid., program front matter.

115 Ireland in Shade and Sunshine, playbill.

116 “The New Diorama of Ireland,” Belfast News-Letter, 13 December 1869. [The same headline had been used in the same paper five years earlier; see note 29.]

117 Corry, “Ireland,” 12. Kirkland, 21, also cites this quote.

118 Descriptive Guide Book, program front matter.

119 Corry, “Derry,” 23.

120 Ibid.

121 Corry, “Awake! A Song of 1798,” Irish Lyrics, 53.

122 Ibid., 54.