The original Gaff (1821-1916)
The Gaff takes itʼs name from, and pays homage to, a popular playhouse which entertained the working people of Limerick for almost a hundred years.
The original Gaff was a small theatre located at Charlotte Quay, Limerick and opened by the Courtney family in September 1821. Know officially as ʻCourtneyʼs Theatreʼ and later ʻCourtneyʼs Harp Theatreʼ and ʻCourtneyʼs Showʼ, the building was soon christened ʻthe Gaffʼ by its patrons and was known by that name for nearly a hundred years. While the more elegant Theatre Royal in Henry St. presented opera, grand concerts and visiting theatre troupes, the Gaff offered a rotating programme of melodrama, variety shows and pantomimes all presented by a resident company. The venue was popular with locals from St. Maryʼs parish and Garryowen, as well as with soldiers from the four British Army barracks then situated in the city. Patrons of the Gaff were noted for their rowdiness and comic interjections. While melodramas like East Lynne and Murder At The Red Barn where mainstays of the company, Shakespeare was also popular. It was during a production of Richard III that the line, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse”, was greeted by a shout from the balcony, “would an ass do?” When the laughter subsided, the quick thinking Richard III responded with, “yes, will you please step onstage!”
The building was later managed by the Ferguson family who renamed it, ʻThe National Theatreʼ but this didnʼt stop the locals continuing to call it ʻthe Gaff.ʼ During this period Carrie Ferguson was the companyʼs popular leading lady while her male counterpart, Bert Deval became so renowned for his death scenes that whenever he died onstage, an encore was called for and he would be compelled to die all over again! The near hundred year reign of Limerickʼs most populist theatre came to an end in 1916 when the Gaff was converted into the Tivoli cinema. Locals soon christened it ʻthe Tivo.ʼ The Gaff was also the name of a music venue in the basement of the Cecil Hotel, in the early 1980s.
Mike Finn, Nov. 2016