The Nativity Play in Kilkenny 1904 – Objections by Catholic Bishop and Clergy


Gaelic League, Kilkenny, 26th Dec. 1904


Sir – With reference to a communication, signed by the Rev R. Aylward and the Rev James Brady, appearing in your columns of the 23rd inst., forwarding a protest by the Catholic clergy of Kilkenny, endorsed by his Lordship, the Catholic Bishop of Ossory, against the rumoured performance of a Nativity Play in Kilkenny, we trust that, in justice to those who were interested  in organising the production, you will kindly publish the following statement of facts:-

Dubhghlas de hÍde    -  Seosamh Mac Suibhne Ealaíontóir

  • The Play in question is a Nativity Play, written in Irish by Dr. Douglas Hyde, and translated into English by Lady Gregory.
  •  Strictly speaking it can hardly be called a play, but it is rather a series of beautiful tableaux illustrating the Journey to Bethlehem and the Visit of the Shepherds and the Magi, and just sufficient dialogue to explain the tableaux and bring out a well-known and beautiful Irish legend relating to the Nativity, the whole performance not occupying quite half an hour.
  •  Anyone who reads the play (it is published by Messrs Gill and Son) will, we are sure, be satisfied that the subject is treated with the greatest delicacy and reverence. This Nativity Play has already been performed on several occasions in convents, and the last occasion that was mentioned in the public press was in Monaghan in November of this year when it was enacted in the presence of his lordship the Most Rev. Dr. Owens, the Catholic Bishop of Clogher, and a large audience of clergy and laity. On that occasion certainly it was not considered that “Such a play was an unwarrantable and dangerous liberty.” Not that “would wound the most cherished feelings of our Catholic people and tend to degrade religion.”
  • It is evident, however, from the resolution passed by the clergy on this occasion  that what specially called forth the protest was the fact that the special sanction of the clergy had not been obtained, and that some of those taking part in the representation are not members of the Roman Catholic Church, also that it is to take place in a theatre. Those interested in the production are members of the Gaelic League, and their object was, in the first place, to present to the people of their town a very beautiful religious Mystical Play; thinking that anything tending to promote beauty cannot but be of benefit, more especially so when it is Irish in its origin, and given in our national language.
  • The performance during the Christmas Holidays was decided upon at our committee meeting, composed of the usual members, including the two Catholic Priests who are members of the committee.
  • It was never intended to treat it as an ordinary theatrical performance. The curtain and usual stage appliances were to be removed, nor was it intended to advertise it in the ordinary way, but the following circular to announce the play was drawn up early in December, and was already printed before the public protest referred to was issued:-



An Craobhín Aoibhinn do scríobh



Written by Dr Douglas Hyde,




To be enacted by Members of the Gaelic League, Kilkenny,

On the 5th January, 1905.


The Play will take about half an hour to perform.


The Play opens in the night with the meeting of two countrywomen, who recount an old Irish legend of how the Blessed Virgin and St Joseph came to them seeking help, shelter and food, and how they refused it.

  • This is followed by the entrance of four kings from the East and four shepherds from the West – the former guided to the spot by the star, the latter by the flight of birds.
  • The kings and shepherds pass up together to the door of the stable. The kings bring rich gifts in their hands.
  • The youngest king and the youngest shepherd open the door of the stable. The Holy Family is seen within. The Blessed Virgin calls to the two grief-stricken women to draw nearer.
  • The dawn breaks, and angels, with harps, proclaim Peace, Good-will and Joy.
  • The whole concludes with a chorus of unseen choir of angels.
  • From the above it will be seen that the presentation of this Nativity Play is altogether apart and distinct from any theatrical representation. It is the aim of those taking part in it to represent it in the deepest spirit of reverence, and although compelled by the necessities of the production to present it in a Theatre, it is hoped that, assisted by the reverent attitude of the audience, there may by nothing to mar the harmony and quietness, which is so essential, if such a representation is to fulfill its purpose.
  • It is therefore earnestly requested that those attending will endeavour to maintain silence after entering the Hall, and on no account to applaud.
  • There will be four representations given, viz, one at 6 o’clock p.m.; one at 7 p.m.; one at 8 p.m.; and one at 9 p.m.  The first and last performance will be in Irish, and the second and third in English. The Hall will be cleared between the performances.
  • The price of entrance will be 6d to the floor of the Theatre (children, half price) and to the balcony, 1s.
  • Books of Dr. Douglas Hyde’s play, in Irish and English, price 6d, can be got at the door of the Hall.”
  • This circular will, we think, suffice to prove that every precaution was being taken to ensure a reverent attitude, not only on the part of the performers, but also of the audience. The chief cause for censure seems, however, to lie in the fact that some intending to take part were non-Catholics.

We regret that the Bishops and clergy should consider this so objectionable, as it was one of the chief sources of satisfaction to those concerned that in perfect harmony and in deep reverence, Irish men and women of different churches could meet together for this common purpose. That this should be so is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the Gaelic League, and, as we venture to think, of Christianity.

 In conclusion, we desire to add that the very first news that we received, either directly or indirectly, that what we contemplated deserved the censure of the Bishop and clergy, was contained in the letter appearing in the columns of the Dublin Press – to give it the widest publicity – on the morning of the 23rd instant and published in your issue of 24th. We desire lay special stress on this fact, otherwise it might be imagined that the public protest in question was only a last resource to which they were driven by our refusal to regard private remonstrance’s. No protest or objection of any sort was conveyed to us privately or in any way. No questions were asked or information sought, as to the nature of the intended performance from anyone connected with it.

 Need we say that we should have been only too happy to give any information required or to answer any questions asked; and even now to clear away the misconceptions that have arisen, we are quite prepared to give a private rehearsal in presence of the body who have condemned it prior to  its public performance.

                                                James O’Sullivan, Hon. Sec.

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