Friday, March 18, 1994

Cinema in Athy

An eight sided perforated aluminium disc with the words "Athy Picture Palace Limited" on one side and stamped "9d" and the number "244" on the reverse is the only memento I have of the early days of cinematography in Athy.

Nicholas O'Rourke-Glynn, the former Manager of a travelling show called "Peppers Ghost" is generally acknowledged to have held the first Magic Lantern shows in Athy on a regular basis. Travelling showmen had called to Athy on and off and gave displays of their wonder machine in the Town Hall but the first resident proprietor of the Lantern Shows was O'Rourke-Glynn who settled in Athy in 1916.

Early purpose built commercial cinemas were confined to the larger cities and it was not until about 1925 that the then Captain Hosie established Athy's Picture Palace. It was located in Offaly Street on the site of a former Malt House and the site of the present Mount Offaly Press. Billy Kelly, an electrician in Duthie Larges in Leinster Street was the projectionist. Captain Hosie, an English Army Officer, later to be promoted to the rank of Colonel is now best remembered for establishing the foundry business known as "the I.V.I." in the mid-1930's.

The Picture Palace was in time sold to a Mr. Holmes of Portlaoise and he in turn sold it on to the Roscrea Cinema Company. Difficulties with the local Urban Council which was the licensing authority led to the closing of the cinema for almost twelve months during the 1940's. When it re-opened it was to a renewed lease of life and an eager audience which each night made its way up Offaly Street to view the very latest cinematic offerings.

Growing up in that same street throughout the 1950's I can recall the activity coming up to opening time as the picture goers made their way to the darkened palace of fantasy. In those days one went to the "pictures" - movies were an invention of a later period and did not then form part of our vocabulary.

Kitty Webster's sweet shop on the corner of Butlers Row did a good business with the picture goers. Even in those leisurely days, ever alive to commercial opportunities there was a break in the programme to enable the audience to stock up with the latest offerings of Cleeves toffee, ice-cream and fruit. No popcorn or canned drinks in those days. The more energetic, unwilling to join the queue at the cinema shop made the short journey to Kitty Websters. In time however the picture house proprietors ensured a greater turnover at the cinema shop by the simple expedient of not allowing anybody out once the pictures had started. It is a wonder we never questioned this arbitrary restriction on our freedom. Maybe it was the knowledge that any objection to the practice might lead to ones exclusion from the picture house - a fate not to be envied in pre-television provincial Ireland.

I can still recall the pangs of withdrawal symptoms when with a few young friends we were barred from attending our normal Sunday afternoon offerings of the latest Hopalong Cassidy episode. Our crime, the stoning of the picture house Manager when he unluckily came into our line of fire during a pitch battle with a neighbouring gang on Church Road. Having suffered for four or five weeks we had no option but to proffer our abject apologies before we were again allowed to spend our modest pocket-money in "Bob's Picture House".

The opening of the Grove Cinema in 1957 saw Athy with two cinemas where before it had only one picture house. The terminology had changed, the comfort and standards expected were improved and in time the old favourite in Offaly Street was to close its doors for the last time. Even the Grove Cinema has now gone, the building standing in mute testimony to the changing times when every house is now a picture house where the very latest movies can be viewed in the comfort of ones home. A far cry from the heydays of the Picture Palace.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I love this post about my great grand father. Sometimes you find more about your family from papers than relatives.