The Mad Hatters of Beaver Row

pg 8 mad hatters courtesy of friends of donnybrook

Beaver Row in Donnybrook is a location with a unique history. And so it was only fitting that such a unique history bequeathed such a one-off event as that which takes place on this very road on the weekend of August 29th and 30th.

A heritage week event for the Wesleyans and Hatters of Beaver Row was open to the public on this particular weekend, but this was no traditional re-enactment.

The background for the heritage event was the establishment of a beaver hat factory set up by Mr Joseph Wright, who also built a row of cottages for his workers. In the modern realm, the public were invited into 9 Beaver Row to bear witness to a Mad Hatters’ Tea Party and a re-enactment by actors of Mr Joseph Wright recruiting workers for the hat factory in the 1800s.

The concept is obviously adapted from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’, with a cast of ensemble actors playing various roles: Glenda Cimino as Mad Hatter, James Martinez as Dormouse, Rebecca Flynn as Alice, who are then rudely interrupted by the Red Queen, played by Rebecca Blomfeld.

There is a trans-dimensional component to this scene as the real life hatters of Beaver Row often suffered neurological damage and other symptoms due to exposure to mercury from the hat-making process. This, in effect, made them “go mad”, and it is this link that ties the fantasy world and the real world together.

However, the first scene is then cut short by the arrival of the union man Jeremiah (played by John Kavanagh), who bursts in from another reality. Your NewsFour correspondent and other members of the public were then carted off to meet Mr Wright (Noel Joyce) and his friend the Protestant Minister Rev Gideon Ouseley (Dick O’Leary).

We were then invited to apply for a job and, when hired, invited to join the Donnybrook Felters Union of 1813 and to take a union card away as a souvenir, interspersed with Rev Ouseley’s analysis of the state of your immortal soul!

Glenda Cimino, an actor, writer and director, has lived on Beaver Row since 1974 and it was herself who organised the event. She was inspired to do so to contribute to this year’s Industrial Heritage theme after attending their open day in Dublin Castle.

“My interest in the hatters goes back to 1974, when I made this cottage my home,” Cimino said. I learned a lot also from the older residents of the row, who have now all passed on, and I wrote a historical essay about the Wesleyans and hatters for a local history course in Maynooth a couple of years ago. I was inspired by the lecturer, Seamas O’Mathieu, who wrote a wonderful little book on Donnybrook Fair, the famous fair that ran from 1204 to about 1855, when the Authorities succeeded in buying the patent and shutting it down.”

Cimino was also very clear on what she wanted people to take away from the Mad Hatters’ Tea Party and the historical context in which it came to light.

“We want people to be entertained. When they walk down Beaver Row we want people to look and say that’s the street where the hatters lived in the 1830s. Everything in the show is as true as we can make it.”

By Craig Kinsella