Holloway, Joseph (1861–1944), theatre critic and diarist, was born 21 March 1861 at 71 Lower Camden St., Dublin, where his father ran a bakery. One of two children, he was educated at St Vincent's College, Castleknock, Co. Dublin. In January 1874 his father died, and for the next two years Holloway went to various schools and lived with sundry relations, finally moving with his mother and sister to a house on Northumberland Road, Dublin, where he lived for the rest of his life. After studying at the Dublin School of Art, in 1890 he entered the office of T. T. O'Callaghan, architects, in Kildare St., Dublin, and in 1896 began practising in a sole capacity, which he was to continue in a desultory fashion till the first world war, when, as he told Sean O'Faolain (qv), quite happily it seems, ‘the war killed for the time domestic architecture and my work ceased to exist’.
Before abandoning architecture, however, he had remodelled the Mechanics’ Hall in Dublin as the Abbey Theatre for Annie Horniman (qv) and W. B. Yeats (qv). A small private income enabled him to devote all his attention to theatre, and he became an enthusiastic supporter of the Irish Literary Theatre and its successor the Irish National Theatre, attending practically all rehearsals and first nights. In his lifetime he accumulated a vast collection of material relating to Irish theatre, which adorned every inch of his house, including programmes, playbills, prompt sheets, and paintings and sketches of theatrical personalities. More significantly, he kept a diary or journal in which he wrote over 25,000,000 words on Dublin's theatre world. He also contributed frequent reviews to the Irish Playgoer in the 1900s and edited the section on Irish plays and playwrights in A guide to books on Ireland (1912) by Stephen Brown (qv). Holloway believed that ‘literature must take a back seat to the dramatic effectiveness of the work performed’, and his standard of judgement for acting was a faithfulness to reality. Deeply religious and socially conservative, as a critic he was often narrow-minded and amateurish. Disliking what he saw as the ‘cult’ of ‘presenting the Irish character on the board’, he despised ‘The playboy of the western world’ by J. M. Synge (qv), believing it to be inaccurate and malicious, and described Synge as an ‘evil genius’; he regarded the drama of Sean O'Casey (qv) as debasing patriotic ideals. A strong advocate of censorship, he believed the sole aim of the Irish Academy of Letters, formed in 1932 to resist censorship, ‘is to do away with the censors and give all a free hand to flood the state with filth’.
Despite this, his knowledge of theatre was vast enough for his opinions to be taken seriously, and his devotion to the area was purposeful and methodical rather than eccentric. He was generally believed to be a shrewd judge of actors (rather than playwrights and plays), and many actors believed his judgements were an accurate barometer of public opinion. Holloway's diaries, full of entertainment, gossip, and observations of actors, and entitled ‘Impressions of a Dublin playgoer’, were written in a semi-legible scrawl with little attention given to style, spelling, or punctuation. Frank O'Connor (qv) disparagingly referred to them as ‘that donkey's detritus’ and Sean O'Casey maintained they were ‘an impossible pile of rubbish’. None the less, their encyclopaedic nature have made them an invaluable tool for historians of the Irish theatre. Holloway, who did not marry, died in Dublin on 13 March 1944. All his material was deposited in the NLI.