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Superclubs in the Celtic Tiger – the Temple Theatre revisited

While clubbing seems like a far away spectacle in both past and future directions, Mario Bowden muses over one of Dublin’s oddest conversions in the late 90s.
Dj Orbit playing in the Temple Theatre (left) Image via Temple Reunion. St George’s Church (Right), photo taken by Mario Bowden

Ah, clubbing. How I miss it.

The past year of idle inactivity has confronted many people my age with a tug-of-war-like stand-off between the inevitability of growing up and past memories of socialising in basement dance floors with chest-rattling baselines. I prefer the latter.

This trip down memory lane led me to wonder: What was clubbing like in Dublin during the Celtic Tiger era? Was the extravagance of the times retold to me an exaggeration? Or a fever dream? Were they really living it large in ridiculous and experimental ways? As it turns out, yes, yes they were.   

Passing hands

The Temple Theatre was a nightclub in St Georges Church on Temple Street, in Dublin’s north inner city. Set up in 1996, three million pounds was invested in the site to convert it into a music venue and theatre space. The club held 3,000 people, with two bars – converted in the vaults of the former church.

Formally home to the Church of Ireland, St Georges Church dons a triple-tiered steeple. The original architect, Francis Johnston, also designed the GPO on O’Connell Street. The Church’s bells are also of note, having been mentioned in Dublin-writer James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Up and running

After building momentum and enthusiasm from the general public, Temple Theatre became a hit. The club started picking up big names coming into the millennium – Paul Todd, Paul Cox, Green Velvet and Italian DJ Mauro Picotto – to name a few. Temple Theatre always had a host of local DJ’s too, providing space to play to a crowd and promote their work.

But Temple Theatre was not a standalone thing in Dublin in terms of ‘superclub’ stature. Dublin hosted an array of similarly big clubs like The Kitchen in the Clarence Hotel, owned by Irish rock-band U2 and the Spirit nightclub on Abbey Street. What Temple Theatre offered differently was a unique clubbing space – tucked far away from Temple Bar’s jarring bustle.

Of course, when we think of Temple Street, techno is not the first thing that comes to mind. With the children’s hospital a stone’s throw away – an über nightclub club does not seem like the most suitable of neighbours. Loud music, drink and drugs and disobedience all became a fixture outside the place – a ‘rough shop’ one local tells TheCity.

The club used to do “Flash event” promos too – getting a famous person into the club to build a bit of hype. One such celebrity drafted in for the night was former Irish TV host and Big Brother star Anna Nolan. Former journalist Jason O’Callaghan remembers covering a story on Nolan’s appearance – but also remembers the pitfalls the club began to see.

St George’s Church, formally the Temple Theatre, photo by Mario Bowden

“It was a massive club to fill. [There was] no parking and it was hard to get to. So they started letting everyone in to fill it,” says O’Callaghan, speaking to The City.

Alas, Temple Theatre closed its doors in 2003, having its last party in late September. The superclub era was dying, and after seven years, the fire went out. A spokesperson at the time of its closure told The Independent, “superclubs are not happening anymore, and people would rather stay in smaller, more intimate venues.”

Changes to Ireland’s licensing laws for pubs and bars that same year are also noted as a factor in Temple Theatre’s locking up for good. Clubs required an extra music licensing law to stay open longer than 12:30 am. And, at most, they could only stay open until 2:00am at the latest rather than the former time of 4:00am.

Dublin’s clubbing future

As Ireland emerges from its lockdown, nightclubs and music venues will inevitably be among the last things to reopen.  And with Dublin being dug up for rental properties and the hotelier industry, it is unclear what cultural spaces will be available, come the day.

On 26 April, Jigsaw, a cultural and clubbing space on Belvedere Court announced that it was shutting its doors for good.  The spokesperson for the Give Us the Night campaign, Sunil Sharpe, told the Oireachtas that cultural spaces and venues need more protection.

“We are going to need a lot more spaces. We need a clause, a cultural clause,” Sunil says.

“With all the development going on right, there has to be cultural spaces within those buildings. It’s not good enough to let developers do what they like with these spaces,” Sunil continued.

Undoubtedly, Dublin’s music spaces are feeling the heat of the pandemic. Could Dublin’s vast amount of empty properties and spaces be used more creatively? While it was a different time and era, the Temple Theatre proved that just anywhere can be a dance floor.

To visit the Temple Reunion facebook page: click here

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