Reeling in the years: Film recalls golden age of rural cinemas

The Cosey, Broadway, The Arch — names that evoke recollections of bygone nights at the silver screen have been resurrected for a special documentary on cinema-going memories of movie fans in rural Cork towns, writes Joe Leogue

Last October, a call went out for Cork movie-goers to share their experiences with Movie Memories, a film funded by Creative Ireland through Cork County Council and UCC’s College of Arts,Celtic Studies, and Social Sciences.

Generations of cinema-goers from across the county were interviewed for the film, which was produced by Gwenda Young, co-head of film and screen media at UCC, and Dan O’Connell who is practitioner-in-residence in film and screen media at UCC.

“The idea came from myself and Dan as we’re very interested in cinema culture and especially histories of filmgoing, of cinema theatres,” said Ms Young.

This existing interest was also further piqued by our knowledge of, and involvement in, the Fastnet Film Festival Schull, which is a festival held in a village without a screen.

“So, that’s also why they got the premiere of the film and some of those involved in that festival are interviewed in the film.

“We were especially interested in the experience of those living in villages and towns, where the theatres would be more modest, sometimes makeshift, as opposed to the impressive city theatres already documented in John McSweeney’s book, The Golden Age of Cork Cinemas.”

The newly renovated Regal cinema which has just opened in Youghal, Co Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

While cowboy movies and horror films are remembered throughout the film, most of the recollections documented focus on the venues themselves, and the occasion of going to the cinema more than what played out on screen.

The film features tales of ingenuity sparked by the silver screen; how Huckleberry Finn inspired some young boys to craft a makeshift raft from household doors, and how frightened young girls scoured the ground for lollipop sticks on their way home from seeing the latest Hammer Horror, in order to make crosses to keep Dracula at bay.

The social aspect of going to the cinema is explored; the courtships, the matinees, the travelling cinemas, the ‘gods’ and the ‘flea pit’ seats.

General manager Scott Wilson in the newly renovated Regal cinema which has just opened in Youghal, Co Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

One contributor explains how, on sell-out nights, one cinema operator would call to neighbouring homes, borrow kitchen chairs, and seat patrons down the aisles in a time when health and safety was not a concern.

“We found that especially among a certain generation, usually older, the memories were more about the experience of going to films, the ‘event’ of it, the still vivid memories of that experience, and also how it’s now remembered as a time when you could escape an often dull reality of small town, rural life — many of which were economically depressed or a bit insular at the time they remembered, such as the 1940s, 1950s, et cetera,” said Ms Young.

“We found that all interviewees, regardless of age, saw going to the cinema as a kind of rite of passage; a chance to escape into another reality or to live it up with pals.

We really wanted to capture that sense of how magical it was when no one had Netflix, DVD, or even VHS and how the memory of it now is both warm and tinged with some sadness.

That sadness is most evident in the interview with Michael O’Riordan of the Cosey Cinema. Falling attendances and the prohibitive cost of changing from 35mm film to digital film projectors saw him close the door of the cinema in Kanturk — something he described as like a “death in the family”.

The Cosey in Kanturk, where interviews for ‘Movie Memories’ took place. Closing the cinema was like a death in the family, said the owner Michael O’Riordan.

While other cinemas featured in the documentary have been refurbished and occupied with new tenants, the Cosey remains, and the shut-down theatre, cobwebs woven between the seats, provided a perfect setting to film interviews.

We were truly lucky to be able to film in the Cosey in Kanturk,” said Ms Young.

“Initially, we filmed in a hired ‘new’ cinema venue, the Cameo cinema up in the Montenotte hotel, but one of the first people we interviewed, Mary Crowley, put us in touch with the O’Riordan family and they very generously opened up their cinema to us and gave us a whole afternoon of their time.

Mary Crowley put filmmakers in touch with the O’Riordan family from the Cosey in Kanturk.

“As you will see, Michael O’Riordan ends the film with what is, in my opinion, the most powerful moment of the film. Filming in the Cosey was marvellous. I can’t overstate how much it contributed to the film,” she said.

Movie Memories received a special screening in UCC in June, and further screenings of the film are due to take place in Waterville, Co Kerry, on Sunday, August 26.

The producers say they intend to screen it in Youghal and Cobh, and other venues and festivals.

- There will be regular updates on Twitter (@corkmoviememory) and on

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