Hibernicons: An Irish Variety Show

 Come Irishmen, to the Hibernicon come,

 And see the loved scenes of our Green Island Home.

 These scenes that will steal O'er your heart with delight,

 As we wander again through dear Erin tonight,

 See her temples, her towers, and castles that stand.

 In ruins magnificent, throughout the land,

 As monuments, glorious, of days that are gone,

 When Erin in freedom and chivalry shone.

 Excerpt from a broadside for MAC EVOY'S Pictoral, Musical & National Entertainment.

The John Mac Evoy Family

This is a complimentary ticket to Charles MacEvoy's Original Hibernicon, 1870, from the collection of Sue Truman.

It started with the John Mac Evoy in the early 1860s.  In addition to his moving panorama of Ireland with an accompanying lecture and piano, he added Irish instrumentation (e.g. Uilleann piping, fiddle and harp), Irish stepdancing, comedy skits and song to provide more of an Irish variety show. The shows became very successful. Before too long, there were others producing similar shows, some even using the Mac Evoy name. John's son Charles started his own Hibernicon company in the 1870s. He inserted "Original" into the company  name,  Charles Mac Evoy's Original Hibernicon, to set them apart from others (see admission ticket).

Michelle Granshaw, a pioneer in the research of these shows, named them "Hibernicons" after the name that the Mac Evoys used. For a much "deeper dive" you can read her 381 page dissertation published in 2012  The Hibernicon and Visions of Returning Home: Popular Entertainment in Irish America from the Civil War to World War I

 

Charleston, SC Hibernian Hall March 21-26?, 1870 "MacEvoy's Great Pictorial, Musical, and National Entertainment, "The Hibernicon! "Representing a Tour in Ireland... "The Great Jerry Cohan as Barney the Guide. "Marie D. MacEvoy as Norah. "Miss Kate Halpine as Mrs. O'Callahan and the Wodow. "Charles MacEvoy, Musical Director and Lecturer. Image from the Library of Congress

General Description of the Shows

HIBERNICONS were an Irish-American variety show performed from Civil War times up to World War I.  The centerpiece was a moving panorama featuring iconic scenes from Ireland with accompanying narration.  In addition, the shows included some or all of the following:   instrumental music (i.e. Ullean piping, fiddling, harp or piano)  stepdancing, songs and comedy skits.

The following description comes from an unknown writer who reminisces about his experience with Hibernicon shows of the past.

 

The panorama itself used to be set up on the stage a short distance from the back drop (that is, near the back wall of the stage).

 

The panoramas consisted of a series of paintings about five by eight feet. They were attached to two upright spools and the operator usually was a boy who sat out of sight beside one spool and wound it up as the other spool unwound. There was a curtain in front with an opening just large enough to make a frame for the picture.

 

Among the most popular of these panoramas were those with a special appeal to the Irish people of whom there were many immigrants in those days. In connection with the showing of the panorama and its accompanying lecture, a number of specialty performers took part. The lecturer usually played the part of the head of a small party of tourists taking in the beauties of the Emerald Isle. There would be an Irish comedian active as a guide who would break into a song or a dance at the slighest provocation.'

 

This description appeared in the  Plattsburgh, N.Y. Daily Press in 1939.  More information at WhitmerPipes.com

The Story Line

Barney is wooing Nora. Little does he know, Nora's mother has excellent hearing. Sheet music by Charles Mac Evoy, 1871. From the Library of Congress.

The general story of the shows is this:  a group of tourists leave New York harbor on a steamship, headed for Ireland. The group visits popular attractions such as St. Patrick's Cathedral and Blarney Castle as well as Ireland's beautiful lakes, waterfalls and countryside. Then they board the steamer and return to America.

Along the way, the tour guide Barney meets Nora and falls in love. This creates opportunities for song and for comedy. Will Nora give Barney the boot?  Will Nora's mother  give Barney a hit over the head?

Hibernicon Moving Panorama Scrolls

The Scenery and Antiquities of Ireland, published in 1842, contained engravings on steel of iconic places in Ireland along with descriptions, historical information and poems. From the collection of Sue Truman.

Unfortunately, none of the Hibernicon moving panorama scrolls survived. We can get a glimpse of what they might have looked like from programs, newspaper reviews, advertisements, souvenirs, broadsides, songsters and travel books!

Michelle Granshaw writes that some artists used travel books as source material for the moving panorama scenes. McGill and Strong's Mirror of Ireland show used some of the 

The Cove of Cork. This card was presented to the lady patrons of McGill & Strong's Mirror of Ireland as a souvenir. Currier & Ives, hand-colored lithograph, Library of Congress. Michelle Granshaw writes about this in her 2012 dissertation.
This travel poster was painted by French painter Hugo d'Alesi (1849-1906). Coincidentally, he went on to paint the epic Mareorama moving panorama which was shown at the 1900 Paris Exposition.

This gorgeous travel poster was painted by French painter, Hugo d'Alesi who was known as the "Father of the Travel Poster."   It shows a couple out for a drive in a Jaunting car by the beautiful Lakes of Killarney, a popular scene in Hibernicon moving panoramas. Could travel posters also have been an inspiration for moving panorama artists?

 

McGill's Mirror of Ireland - Scenes from the Program

McGill's Mirror of Ireland, from the 1870s. I am searching for more information.

Dissecting a couple sections of the  Program for McGill's Mirror of Ireland.

Part 1.

New York City and Harbor. Steamer "Hibernia" floating the Green Flag, steaming down the bay.

A Gale. A Storm. Terrific Thunder and Lightning on the Atlantic. The very popular  "storm at sea" scene. It was a great crowd pleaser with lighting effects. In addition, sound effects were commonly used such as a hand-cranked wind machine, thunder sheet or rain box.

The storm subsides. The Moon breaks through the Clouds. Moonlight scenes were also popular.   The moon shape in the scroll may have been made of a lighter colored material or more transparent material which could be illuminated from behind by means of a candle or limelight.

The St. Patrick's Cathedral scene may have looked like this when illuminated.

Part 1 (continued) 

ST. PATRICK'S CHURCH - ILLUMINATION

This scene might have shown the church as more of a dark silhouette image. The windows would be white or a lighter color so when lit from behind, it would look like light shining through stain glass windows.

Part 2 - SPENDID ILLUMINATION!

The word "illumination" is mentioned often in this program. It usually referred to special lighting effects to the scroll. However, Errki Huhtamo, moving panorama and magic lantern historian, points out that "illumination" could also refer to magic lantern slides which were popular at this time. A few magic lantern slides could have been shown in parts of the program when they were switching moving panorama spools.

Harrigan's Double Hiberian Company - Advertising Strategies

Harrigan's Hiberian Tourist's Songster, published 1885, 32 pages. A picture of the jaunting car on the cover.

Another popular company was Harrigan's Double Hiberian Co. who performed in the 1880s.  They held elaborate parades to advertise their shows. This proved to be successful as written in about the Watertown (NY) Times newspaper, April 1, 1886. 

Harrigan's Tourists arrived in the city yesterday morning, and were soon arranging their trappings, ponies, jaunting car, musicians, pipers, etc., for a street parade. At 12'oclock everything was in readiness, the lightning drum major gave the order, "Forward march," the band struck up, the pipers played, flags were thrown to the breeze, a small boy screamed with delight and the entire troupe, seventeen in number, commenced their tour of the city. Up to this time, there had only been a moderate sale of seats, many believing the entertainment was similar to the old-time panorama, but when the troupe's strength became known, the sale increased and last night the opera house was crowded...

The sentence above is telling, the popularity of the old-time moving panorama shows had certainly waned by the 1880s. Audiences favored more variety. Combining the moving panorama with world class musicians such as Patsy Touhey (mentioned below) and showman/stepdance master  Jerry Cohan (father of George M. Cohan)  is one of the reasons the Hibernicon shows carried on after most of the "old-fashioned" moving panorama shows died out.

"Harrigan's" with Uilleann Piper Patsy Touhey

Patrick (Patsy) and Mary Touhey who was a stepdancer.

Patrick (Patsy) Touhey (1865-1923) was one of the greatest Uilleann pipers of that time and is still an inspiration to musicians today.  In his early 20s, he played in Harrigan's Double Hiberian Co. in the 1885/1886 season. This was his first "theatrical" performing experience.

For more information about Patsy Touhey's playing with Harrigan's Hiberian Co.,  visit the website of piper and pipe maker Nick Whitmer Patsy Touhey's Earliest Known Tour.

 

Ogdensburg, NY, Advance & Democratic, October 28th, 1886.

Not only did Harrigan's Hiberian Co. have Patsy Touhey playing the pipes,  they also had Jerry Cohan (father of George M. Cohan "Give My Regards to Broadway" fame) as the Barney "tour guide". Cohan was a master showman and stepdancer and performed with other shows including Mac Evoy's. Seeing Patsy Touhey playing for the stepdancing of Jerry Cohan must have been electric. Kind of like Ronan Browne playing for Michael Flatley.

The bagpipe playing of Pat Toohey and John Hagan was a revelation to many who have thought they have heard the bagpipes before, while while the reels and jigs of Jerry Cohan were the poetry of motion and have never been eclipsed on our stage.

The Drowsy Maggie set, from the collection of Richard Twomey.

Although we will not get to see one of the 19th century Hibernicon moving panoramas (unless one is rediscovered in an attic or museum) we can hear a bit of the music. There exists a few  recordings of singers and musicians who played in the shows.     In 1919, towards the end of his life, Patsy Touhey recorded a three 78s.  I have used one of those recordings in the crankie below.   Enjoy!

I created this crankie as a tribute to Hibernicons and piper Patsy Touhey who plays three reels on this 78: Drowsy Maggie, Scotch Mary and The Flogging. The crankie scroll contains machine cut and hand cut Tyvek images and torn tissue paper glued to a white Tyvek scroll. Thank you to Richard Twomey for use of the 78 recording and Michael Twomey for filming. Nov. 2017.

Hibernicons in America and Beyond

John Fuller's Myriorama Through Ireland was popluar in Australia. This show featured magic lantern slides instead of a moving panorama which in 1898 were considered to be more modern than the moving panorama. Find out more at RelativesMatter.com

There were many more Hibernicon Companies than those mentioned on this page. Nick Whitmer's website lists at least thirty different companies. Some toured up into Canada and over to Ireland, England, Australia and New Zealand.

Thanks and Gratitude

A hand made thank you card to four Hibernicon friends!

Special thanks to Michelle Granshaw, Nick Whitmer, Suzanne Wray and Erkki Huhtamo for sharing their research, images and encouragement. 

 

 

This page started in 2018. Almost finished in 2019. Sue TrumanHeart