The people, places and things that make Dublin special.

Most 4-year-olds are almost as digital savvy as their parents, and there’s a high probability that your average toddler knows his or her way around an iPhone better than you do. It’s still something of a surprise, then, to discover that the touchscreen generation can be as enthralled by a visit to the Lambert Puppet Theatre as their parents ever were.

Maybe we shouldn’t find it that unexpected at all. Puppetry is one ancient art form that still fascinates in the CGI era, perhaps more so than ever. Its ability to captivate and entertain was something that Eugene Lambert, a man who dedicated his life to creating magical memories for children, very much appreciated. Originally from Sligo, Mister Lambert made his first puppet aged 8, and had trained himself to be a talented ventriloquist by the age of 12. Pursuing his childhood dream saw him build a theatre devoted to puppetry, the oldest in Ireland and the only purpose-built one, in the back garden of the Lambert family home in Monkstown in 1972.

If you grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, the Lamberts owned children’s TV in Ireland. Affection still runs deep for Wanderly Wagon, starring Eugene and on our screens for 15 years, and then there’s Bosco… The red-haired rapscallion, originally voiced by Eugene’s daughter Miriam (another daughter Paula eventually took over) finally came out of the box in 2011, confessing after years of speculation that he was, in fact, a boy.

Crafting at Lambert Puppet Theatre

It’s always been a family affair at Lamberts, and Eugene’s son Liam took over the theatre some years before his father’s passing in 2010, at the grand old age of 81. Just how beloved the Lamberts was made apparent last year with the outpouring of sadness and anger after an arson attack caused terrible damage to the theatre. Some of the puppets lovingly handcrafted by Eugene were destroyed; others were badly smoke damaged, with the smoke’s acidity causing organic material to inevitably fall apart. A display area, with puppets dating back to the 1800s in glass cases, had to be completely rebuilt.

As with most shows at Lambert Puppet Theatre, there’s a happy ending. With the family’s hard graft – and the help of model makers and art students from the Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and The Lir Academy – the theatre was back in business in time for its Christmas Show, Aladdin.

If you’re a Dubliner, chances are that at some point you’ve gone on a school tour that took in a show at Lambert’s. And, if you’re very lucky, you’ve been treated to (or attended) a birthday party there. This particular Dublin Treasure is all about creating childhood memories that will remain, long after the lyrics from ‘Let it Go’ have been forgotten. Long may it continue.

Claire is a Dublin-based journalist who contributes to a wide range of publications including The Irish Independent and Image magazine. She occasionally reviews restaurants, and loves a good crime novel.

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