Pictures of celebrities, musicians, stars of television, screen and stage line the wall in the small bar at the back of the Olympia theatre and they all share one thing in common.
Smiling out from each of them is Maureen Grant, one of the true legends of Irish theatre, who worked in the Olympia for almost 70 years.
Maureen’s story began in 1949 when as a young married mother in need of work she went down to Liberty Hall with her mother-in-law to look for a cleaning job not knowing that fate had a different line of work in mind.
She was offered a three-week job with the Olympia Theatre to cover for a woman who was sick. She started that night working upstairs in the gallery bar, an old-fashioned place lined with spittoons.
She quickly fell in love with the job and was sad to leave when her three weeks were up but the very next day got a card asking her to call back to the Olympia as the woman for whom she was covering had decided not to come back.
Although Maureen was delighted at the news she was also worried because she had a secret. She had told no one that she was not only married but pregnant in case she would lose her job.
Luckily, she had some friends who were willing to help out.
Hiding babies in cloakrooms
“After nine weeks there I told Billy (the manager) I had to go out sick,” she explained. “I went down to the hospital and delivered himself, Jimmy. Then I used to sneak him in at night and use a hangar to hang him off the back of the cloakroom door.
“I’d a friend outside the theatre who kept an eye on the pram and when the interval was over we’d leave and away over Capel Street bridge. That’s how they were all reared!”
And something of the theatre must have stuck with the children as many of them went into the business themselves with Jimmy eventually becoming the manager of the theatre.
The regime when Maureen started was a lot stricter than it is now.
“The way it worked was you’d come in, clock in and you’d go out on parade,” she remembers. “Everything had to be just so. You had a white blouse and a skirt, black shoes and stockings. You had to make sure you kept the seams of your tights dead straight or you wouldn’t be allowed out on the floor.”
Over time conditions improved for women in the Olympia, due in no small part to Maureen who got heavily involved in the trade union and remains a trustee for the branch.
Meeting Laurel & Hardy
As the years went by Maureen became the manager of the Circle Bar with everyone who performed at the Olympia wanting to get their picture taken with her. She fondly remembers meeting those great comedy stars Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
“I used to take the child for a walk in the Phoenix Park,” she said. “They heard me talking about it and said they’d love to see it. So they got the car and I put herself in it and away we went. They were mad about my baby!”
Laurel and Hardy are among the hundreds of pictures on the wall, joining others like Bono, REM, Tyrone Power, Brendan Gleeson and too many more to name.
Now 91, she is still working at the Olympia and keeping busy as a fearsome fundraiser for Beaumont Hospital’s cancer ward, never losing an opportunity to sell a raffle ticket!
In a way, leaving the Olympia, you can’t help but feel that we have it the wrong way round. It’s not Maureen who was lucky enough to meet so many famous people, you can’t help but think maybe it was they who were lucky to meet her.