On December 14, 1822, a “bottle riot” takes place at a performance of Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer at the Theatre Royal in Dublin. Among those in attendance is the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Richard Wellesley, the brother of the Duke of Wellington. Wellesley is quite unpopular at the time among Orange Order members in the city, owing to what they perceive as his role in stopping an annual ceremony at the statue of King William of Orange on College Green, and other perceived concessions to the Catholic population.
The statue is the location for annual rituals organised by loyalist elements in the city, with events held in July and November being flashpoints on the Dublin calendar. Heavily criticised by Daniel O’Connell and other nationalist voices, Dublin Castle distances itself from the ceremonies, but it is the eventual banning of the November ceremony which infuriates the Orange Order into action.
Following clashes at the event in July 1822, a decision is made by Marquess Wellesley, in his capacity as Lord Lieutenant, to seek a ban against the November event. A heavy military presence prevents the traditional loyalist display. This decision causes great resentment towards Wellesley from loyalists in the city, as would other actions such as appointing a Catholic lawyer to a position of importance in the courts. A visit by him to the Theatre Royal is seen as an opportunity to show that discontent. The Theatre Royal on Hawkins Street is relatively new at the time, having only opened the previous year. The announcement that the Lord Lieutenant would be attending the theatre causes considerable excitement in the city.
Six men meet in a tavern on Wednesday, December 11, all members of the Orange Order. John and George Atkinson, James Forbes, William Graham and Henry and Matthew Handwith drink to “the glorious, immortal and pious memory” of King William of Orange, plotting a protest against the Lord Lieutenant which would grab the attention of the city. On December 13, a meeting of Lodge 1612 of the Orange Order on Werburgh Street decides to fund the purchase of twelve pit tickets for the upcoming play, with the aim of creating a scene which would embarrass the Lord Lieutenant.
The trouble begins inside the theatre with the tossing of pamphlets with the slogan “No Popery” upon them, most of which drift towards the stage. There are some cries of “No Popish Lord Lieutenant,” and the Lord Mayor of Dublin is also subject to ridicule. The play begins as planned, only to be interrupted throughout. A series of items are thrown in the direction of the Lord Lieutenant. The event comes to be known as “The Bottle Riot” in Dublin, owing to the missiles thrown. While the Lord Lieutenant is never in any real physical danger, the incident is hugely embarrassing for the authorities, with mob rule taking centre stage at one of Dublin’s most prestigious venues.
Several days later, the behaviour of the Orangemen is the subject of a protest meeting in Dublin. This meeting is significant as it is addressed by some hugely influential figures, including the Duke of Leinster, Daniel O’Connell, Henry Grattan, Jr. and Arthur Guinness II, son of the famous brewer. Guinness denounces the men as a “mischievous faction” and calls for them to be opposed “by the severe but wholesome discipline of the laws.”
While the instigators of the affair are brought in front of the courts on two separate occasions, both cases collapse causing much anger. Lord Chief Justice of Ireland Charles Kendal Bushe remarks to the jury in his summation that “an audience may cry down a play, or hiss, or hoot an actor,” but that riotous behaviour is not permitted. One effect of the mini-riot is the outlawing of the Orange Order for a period, when the Unlawful Societies Act of 1825 comes into being.
(Pictured: Undated postcard showing the monument of King William of Orange on College Green)