The Regal Cinema in Youghal, Co Cork, first opened its doors in 1936. Director John Huston used it as a base to review footage while filming Moby Dick in the town.
It closed in 2010 and reopened in 2018 after a full refurbishment and the addition of a café and wine bar.
We spoke to general manager Scott Wilson, who is originally from Edinburgh.
How long has the cinema been in existence?
There has been a cinema on the site here, owned by the Hurst family since 1914.
So 1914 to 1935 was the original cinema, which was the Hurst Picture Palace; it burned down in 1935. They knocked it all down and built the Regal in the same spot in 1936.
It stayed under the ownership of the Hurst family until 2010, when it closed its doors during the recession.
It was purchased by the present owners, Redbarn Cinema, in 2017 and they spent a year refurbishing it and rebuilding it, and it reopened in July 2018.
The parent company is Redbarn Construction; it is very much a passion project for them.
What led them to buy the cinema?
David O’Rourke, an owner-director of the firm lives in Kildare, and his relatives are from Youghal.
He remembered the cinema as a kid. They were driving by one day when the building was derelict. His wife said ‘You guys should buy that, you could do something special with it’.
They thought about it and decided they had the team and the tools in place.
The original intention was buy it, get it up and running and then sell it.
But once they started in the building and realised its significance to the town and its people, and the memories and the history that comes with it, they decided to push the boat out and do something special with it.
How did you come on board?
I had no experience in cinema at all. I bought a house in Youghal from
Redbarn Construction and through that got to meet one of the other owners, Nick Eagles.
My background is in hotels and hospitality and at the time, I was working as operations manager in the Cork Airport Hotel.
We had moved to Youghal just around the time of the Beast from the East and I was commuting back and forth in that really bad weather.
I bumped into Nick one day in the estate and asked him if he had any jobs, that the commute was killing me.
He said they were opening a cinema and to come down and have a look. I went down and it was just a shell but the unbelievable sense of nostalgia and history just hit me as soon as I walked in the door.
What is the cinema’s USP?
From day one, it has been all about reintroducing customer service and genuine hospitality to the cinema, where the staff are well-dressed, and they thank you for coming and you know they appreciate you being there.
I really want people to walk out of the Regal and say ‘I really want to go back there again’.
The feedback about the team has been incredible since we opened. For me, that has been the biggest win.
What has the reception been like since the reopening?
When we first opened, we were concerned about our catchment area, would people come from afar.
But people are coming, from all directions. And more importantly, they’re coming back. We do food here and you can bring a glass of wine into the movie.
I’d say our demographic really would be about 75% middle-aged women who like to drink wine.
We do a lot of family movies, so I guess the rest of it would be that. Sci-fi and action movies don’t do too well; it’s definitely Mamma Mias, the Rocketmans, the Bradley Cooper films that are our biggest draw.
Obviously, the new Downton Abbey movie will be massive.
What do people want now from the cinema experience, especially given the rise of home entertainment and streaming?
At one point in this town, there were two cinemas opposite each other and there were lines down the street every weekend.
It was very much a social hub, a meeting point, a community event. Another part of our ethos is to return the cinema back to the community.
So we do a lot of work with charities. We introduced Wild West Wednesdays for the older generation, singalong musical Sundays, anything that can get people out of their house away from their TV.
Obviously in the challenging months like September, when the kids go back to school, we have to become more creative.
So that’s when the fun really starts. We have a Halloween fancy dress party coming up.
We do family Christmas parties with Santa, when people can come along in their PJs and onesies.
Any challenges in running a cinema?
I am on a personal mission at the moment in terms of trying to get people to be more aware of their surroundings… you wouldn’t believe the things we have found after screenings.
I once found a full rotisserie chicken in the cinema, next to a pair of socks. [Laughs] I still can’t work it out, it’s like an X File.