George Frideric Handel (who had lived in London for many years) decided to visit Dublin. He also had received an invitation from the British Viceroy of Ireland, the Duke of Devonshire in Dublin. At the time, Handel apparently was somewhat discontented with recent London reviews and with the treatment of some of his works, as a result he decided to visit Ireland.
He had completed writing a new Oratorio just before he left for Ireland. It was destined to become his most renowned work. He arrived in Dublin on 18 November 1741. His time in Ireland was immortalised in April 1742 when he directed the world premiere of his new work, ‘Messiah’ at the Great Musick Hall in Fishamble Street in Dublin. A London born musician, Matthew Dubourg who at the time had been Master of the State Music of Ireland for almost twenty-years led the orchestra for the premiere performance which was in aid of both Mercer’s Hospital and several prisons in the city. Apparently around 700 people crowded into the Musick Hall for the event, which was highly successful.
Handel gave performances of several of his other works at various venues in Dublin, including a revised version of his ‘Serenata or operetta’ called, Hymen (Imeneo). However, only two performances of the Messiah were given, the premiere in April and another in June. He was very pleased with the standard of the musicians and the reception he received. He also visited Cork in early June 1742, where he had friends. While in Ireland he wrote a song called — Der arme Irische Junge (The Poor Irish Lad), based on an Irish music theme. A copy of the music is held by the British Library in London. Handel returned to London in August 1742. He had indicated that he planned to revisit Ireland, but unfortunately that never happened.
One small memento of Handel’s visit to Dublin remains — the arched white centre entrance way to the Great Musick Hall is still extant and can be seen by visitors today, in its original location in Fishamble Street in Dublin.
Handel’s visit to Ireland lasted almost ten months and it had the effect of really putting Dublin on the map for European musical artists of all types. It also set the tone for musical life in Ireland for the next 100 years or more.