I was born in 1946 and grew up in Heytesbury Street in Dublin, just off the South Circular Road. We were within walking distance of so many cinemas that we went to the pictures at least three times every week, and sometimes twice that! Our nearest cinema was the De Luxe in Camden Street, and it showed three different programmes every week – one Monday to Wednesday, another Thursday to Saturday, and another on Sunday. The programmes usually consisted of two films, one a ‘B’ movie and the other a new release. Along with that there could also be a travelogue, usually about some historic or scenic town in Britain, and there was always the newsreel, either Movietone or Pathe. There were also trailers of coming attractions, so a night or afternoon at the pictures lasted much longer than they would today.
We were also within walking distance of the Princess, known locally as ‘the Prinner’ in Rathmines, which had a beautiful canopy out the front, and where you could pay with jamjars. It was sixpence to go in, and they would allow twopence for a two pound jam and one penny for a one-pound jar, so we children often went up with paper bags clinking and hoping not to break any of the jars on the way.
Rathmines also had the Stella, which always smelled of pee, so we didn’t like that so much! Further afield, we could go to the cinema in Rialto, Kenilworth or Terenure, but for that we usually went on the bus. Around town, the Stephen’s Green and Grafton cinemas were within easy reach, and then there were all the cinemas in the centre of town.
There were the Corinthian and the Astor on Eden Quay, with the latter often showing foreign films, which my parents were really keen on, and which were often quite unsuitable for a child of my tender years – of which more later! Then there were the Metropole and the Capitol, both of which had lovely restaurants where we often ate either after or before the show, and the Savoy and Adelphi, which were really huge to my childish eyes.
The Capitol was actually a perfectly classical opera house, with no seats being too far away from the stage, and they also put on variety shows which we enjoyed immensely before the showing of the film. The Ambassador at the top of O’Connell Street always fascinated me, as I was born in the Rotunda Hospital next door, and I used to sit in the cinema and try to imagine that babies were being born in the adjacent building.
The Royal, which also had variety shows and star acts, and the Regal Rooms were side by side in Hawkins Street, and as I went into my teens and rock ‘n roll reached Ireland, I saw my first American rockers in the former, with crowds of screaming girls there to see the likes of Conway Twitty and Freddie Cannon – on that night I lost both of my slip on shoes as the crowd heaved one way and another and I was actually lifted off my feet.
Memorable moments from all the films I saw in those days included lots of horror films from the House of Hammer with Vincent Price, and the terrifying ‘Beast of Five Fingers’ with Peter Lorre. I also remember a film about the stealing of radium, which terrified me – at the time the Cold War was in full swing and we in Europe lived under the constant threat of the atomic bomb.
Another film that I didn’t like was ‘Ace in the Hole’ with Kirk Douglas – I found it frightening. As two boy cousins lived in our house for a while with their parents, I also had a fairly constant diet of both cowboy and war films, and ‘the Dam Busters’ with Richard Todd and ‘Reach for the sky’ with Kenneth More stand out as sterling British examples of the WW2 genre.
Anything with Audie Murphy in either cowboy or war mode was essential viewing, but I can still remember my mother’s absolute disgust with ‘The Quiet Man’ and its depiction of Ireland. There weren’t that many Irish films to see – I remember ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’ with Jimmy O’Dea, so beloved of the Dublin theatre-going public. Also remember ‘Home is the Hero’ , ‘Shake Hands with the Devil’ with James Cagney, and ‘The Rising of the Moon’.
I may add that when we weren’t in the cinema we were often to be found in the theatre, which in those was affordable for the vast majority of Dubliners, whether it was straight plays, variety, comedy, ballet, opera or Spanish dancing.
We were a very musical family and so I loved musicals – my grandfather generally brought me to the first nights of films such as ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ and ‘Oklahoma!’ I also recall going to see ‘Blue Skies’ with Bing Crosby in the Regal Rooms on a hot Bank Holiday Monday afternoon when there was a big fire somewhere in the centre of the city. As I grew older, my favourite films were ‘Funny Girl’ with Barbra Streisand, which I saw over 20 times, and ‘Bullitt’ with Steve McQueen, which I also overdosed on, but never get tired of seeing, and yes, I did notice the car being wrong the first time I saw it.
As I said, many of the films I saw with my parents were not at all suitable for me, and I remember vividly being in the Astor cinema at a French film and my father whispering to me “Don’t look at this next bit”. I asked why, and he said that it was going to show a man being hanged, and I wouldn’t like it. So, of course, that made me want to see it, and it was horrible, and I had nightmares for some time afterwards. But that was not unusual, I was generally having nightmares about some film or other that I’d just seen – I remember especially ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ because there was small window just at the side of my bed and when I looked up there at night I could see the Phantom, with a knife in his mouth, getting ready to come in and get me!!
But what was probably the most upsetting piece of cinema I ever saw was when I was 12 years old and my uncle who had lived in our house for some years was killed in an air crash over Nettuno, near Anzio, in Italy. All the Irish newspapers were full of the news for quite some time due to the delay in bringing his remains back to Ireland, and my aunty decided she didn’t want my cousins to see them, so they didn’t hear much news, as we had no televisions in 1958. One afternoon during this time, I was asked to bring my younger cousin, who was ten years old, to the pictures in the afternoon to distract him, and when we went we actually saw newsreel footage from Italy showing the bodies of those who had been killed being carried into the town hall in Nettuno. It was shocking for both of us, and in fact I blocked it out for many years till my cousin reminded me of it. In fact, he was able to buy the footage a few years ago and we have watched it since.
I have so many memories of the cinema and different films that I could probably write for weeks, but I think for Dubliners then it was a real night out – with small bags of popcorn and ice pops on sale in the interval, and the glow of all the cigarettes as people took a pull.
My most embarrassing moment was when I was about fourteen and risked going to the De Luxe on a school night when I was supposed to be in a friend’s house. I wasn’t supposed to have a boyfriend, and certainly not a 20 year old, but in I went, and to my horror discovered that we were sitting in the seats directly behind my parents. However, I was pretending to the boy friend that I was older than I was, so wasn’t going to explain why I should have left the cinema immediately, so just toughed it out and kept my head down on my knees when the lights were up!!
A couple of years later, my first date with my now husband of 41 years was also in the De Luxe, at ’Rob Roy’ starring Richard Todd, and while I enjoyed the film, etc, immensely, it was really embarrassing when the it was over and we discovered that he had taken off his shoes and one of them had disappeared. He’d pushed it out of his way and it had travelled towards the front by being kicked away by other people.