The cinema has long been a favourite pastime of Irish people, writes Thomas Myler, as he takes a look at the changing face of the ‘picture houses’ in this country


Cinema in Ireland hasn’t lost its power or its magic. According to recent figures issued by the International Union of Cinemas, Irish people visit the cinema more than any other nationality in Europe.
With total admissions across Europe showing a mixed picture, ticket sales here have continued to grow, rocketing to an eight-year peak in 2018. This year Ireland beat its nearest rival, cinema-obsessed France, to top the big screen attendance per capita charts.

Eoin Wrixon, CEO of Wide Eye Media, says, “This demonstrates the incredible impact cinema has had on Irish people. Although we live in an era of streaming and watching on-demand, the cinema never loses its power or its magic.”

The Irish film industry is a healthy state, and growing, having gone from 1,000 people employed six or seven years ago to well over 6,000 in that sector now, and is valued at over £557.3 million.

Individual cinemas may have dwindled in the past 50 years. In the 1950s there were 56 cinemas across Dublin city and its surroundings. Practically every village and suburb had its own cinema, known then as picture houses. Today there are only 12. On the other hand, they have been replaced in the main by multiplexes.

Some of the old buildings, which were often beautiful, still stand. Many have been demolished and replaced by modern office blocks and department stores.

During the great periods of cinema construction in Ireland in the 1920s and 1930s, the exotic names of picture houses, as they were known then, were borrowed from cinemas in Britain.

“Although the movie industry began in America just over a century ago, the names of cinemas in the US have always had local connotations that stayed in the US,” said Caroline Reilly in the Irish Daily Mail.
“On the other hand, the new cinemas that sprung up on this side of the Atlantic often took their names from glamorous spots around the world, like the Rialto bridge in Venice, the Savoy district of northern Italy and the Tivoli near Rome.

“The Odeon was a term used to describe small amphitheatres in ancient Greece. The Stella had its origins in Roman mythology and was derived from the Latin word for ‘star’, an obvious name for a cinema.
“As I say, the Savoy was named after a region of northern Italy. The Adelphi took its name from ancient Greek, meaning ‘siblings’, certainly appropriate today to cinema chains.”

The first cinema in Ireland, the Volta, was opened by James Joyce in Dublin in December 1909.
In the early 1900s, demand for moving pictures was fierce and cinemas were springing up all over the world. After visiting Trieste, Joyce was determined to bring a cinema to Ireland, so after receiving the backing of his Italian friends, he set up the Cinematograph Volta at 45 Mary Street, later known simply as the Volta.

The opening night featured an eclectic program, with the comedy Devilled Crab, the mystery Bewitched Castle, La Pourponièrre, The First Paris Orphanage, and The Tragedy of Beatrice Cency. A popular actor was Charlie Chaplin.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own