The former Grove Cinema presents a forlorn sight as it waits for the bulldozers to put the final imprimatur on the local Council’s recent decision which effectively deprived the town of its only cinema. I was a teenager when the Grove first opened its door in 1957. Our local cinema for years was “Bobs” in Offaly Street, so named because its manager was Bob Webster who lived just a few doors away from my home on the same street. “Bobs” was where as youngsters eagerly aspiring to be adults before our time, we learned whatever it was we had to learn about the charms of the opposite sex. No it wasn’t anything on the screen which gave us that knowledge, rather the opportunities presented to eager young lads when the lights went down on the latest cinematic treat.
Ones young years can be measured in terms of the different ways in which pleasure and enjoyment is earned. For instance, the simple joy of having, in the early 1950’s, a penny to buy a bar of toffee which we nurtured and sometimes shared through the long hot summer afternoons. For the pennies if they came always seem to arrive in the afternoon, never ever in the morning time.
The next stage in ones enjoyment of life came with the “pictures”, long before they became “movies” or “films”. Going to the “pictures” was a weekly ritual. The Sunday matinee in the darkened emporium which was “Bobs” enriched our young minds as we watched the gun slingers of the wild west in action. Oh how we envied their uncanny accuracy with pistols as they shot with practiced ease a gun from a “baddy’s” hand at forty paces. As young aficionado’s of the wild west we practiced for hours with our own guns and holsters which always arrived at Christmas time in the 1950’s. We were by then well beyond the world of snakes and ladders as we pursued the more manly task of chasing indians who could be shot within impunity even if the cowboys could only have their guns shot from their hands. Racism had no part in our young lives.
Hopalong Cassidy was the King. He followed in the footsteps, or should that be the hoof marks of Tom Mix and shared the screen of our imagination with Roy Rogers and his wonder horse Trigger. But somehow or other, Hopalong always seemed to have the edge over the wholesome singing Cowboy Roy as he cut a dashing figure, clad all in black astride his white horse. Never far behind was his faithful side kick Gabby Hayes. We sat in “Bobs” mesmerized by the agility and athleticism of these cowboys and as we later emerged blinking into the day light of Offaly Street, we did so in our best cowboy manner, our hands never moving far from the imaginary holstered guns strapped to our ungainly legs. The feeling of invincibility which accompanied us as we departed from “Bobs” on those Sunday afternoons always seemed to have evaporated by the time we reached home. “What’s for tea”, was and still is a reassuring indication of ones involvement in the present which does not permit of maintaining fanciful notions of cowboy dreams.
Time advanced and we left behind the wild west trail as we wandered off in search of pathways never before trodden by our young feet. The prize was that most horrible of creatures - the female. At least we had thought of them as horrible just months before but as we got older, they had taken on a sheen and a glamour which our young teenage years had never before encountered. Peer pressure, as in every element of life, galvanised a lot of us teenagers into action when it came to forming relationships with the opposite sex. Not that the word had any significance for us in those pre-television days when our experiences were measured and tailored by the narrow confines of our encounters outside the family home. Initially we knew girls to see only because they lived in the same street or were acquaintances of our friends. They might as well have been part of the street furniture for all the attention they got from us fellows, still cradled as we were in the land of Rogers and Cassidy. But all of that was to change. How, even I cannot now say. But change it did and the weekly visit to “Bobs” took on an even more important role in our lives than that of revisiting and re-inventing the world of the wild west in which we had spent our younger teenage years. Now the picture itself (“film” to you and me these days) was of little importance. The screen no longer had our undivided attention although truth to tell, it still got a quick look or an over the shoulder glance every now and then so that our report at the kitchen table as to what the film was about could be made with some degree of accuracy. The real business of our later teenage years spent in “Bobs” was to do with the female species. The lights out at the start of the matinee resulted in a quick change of seating arrangements and the commencement of a learning process embracing many skills which as prospective adults, we were enjoined to do for our own future benefit. And how well we fumbled our way through many an afternoon’s matinee eager to learn and willing to please but ever mindful of the dire warnings of our teachers in the Christian Brothers as to the dangers of keeping company.
I am reminded of the delightful times spent in “Bobs” as I look at the opening souvenir for the “Grove Super Cinema Athy” which was opened in 1957. It of course led to the closing of “Bobs” in Offaly Street. More correctly called The Picture Palace, “Bobs” had served as a cinema and a meeting place for Athy folk for upwards of thirty years. It could not however hope to compete with the Grove Cinema which was built by a local contractor George Nash to accommodate upwards of a thousand patrons. Equipped with the latest projection equipment, its screen could accommodate the requirements of full cinemascope. Even better still, the plush seats were more comfortable than those in “Bobs” and when it came to viewing or smooching, ones comfort was all important. No wonder that “Bobs” went the way of all good things.