Our picture-perfect memories of Cork's Capitol Cinema

As the wrecking ball hits Cork’s Capitol Cineplex, Ellie O’Byrne gets nostalgic with people from the world of film, music, and theatre and hears about some of their visits to the flicks on the Grand Parade

The demolition of the old Capitol Cinema on Cork’s Grand Parade to make way for a €50 million retail development is stirring up more than dust and old film reels — for generations of Cork people, it’s stirring up memories too.

Cinema’s heyday was already over when the Capitol Cinema reopened in 1989 as the Capitol Cineplex, the first multi-screen cinema outside Dublin, a 1,100-seat, six-screen theatre that served the cinema-going public in Cork until its closure in 2005.

In fact, the cineplex had been down-sized and had seated 1,300 in a former single-screen incarnation, which goes to show the huge appeal of cinema in the golden pre-television era. For a period between the ’50s and ’80s, audiences could choose between the Capitol, the Savoy, which seated 2,250 and Cork’s first cinema, the Pavilion on Patrick’s St, as well as smaller theatres like the Lee Cinema on Winthrop Street, The Classic on Washington Street and the Palace on MacCurtain Street.

As the lure of home entertainment in the form of television took hold in Irish society, one by one the iconic silver screens of the second city dimmed, with The Savoy shutting its doors in 1974 and the Capitol shrinking to just 105 seats, known as the “Mini Capitol” in the same year. The advent of video players in the 1980s helped close the rest.

But it’s as the Capitol Cineplex that many will remember the building. The multi-screen theatre, owned by Ward Anderson, re-opened following refurbishment in 1989, showing, among other films, Batman (starring Jack Nicholson as the Joker), Licence to Kill and Karate Kid 3.

From sweaty-palmed first dates to popcorn fights, to being immortalised in song, however disreputably, in the Sultans of Ping’s “Casual Sex in the Cineplex”, the Capitol was a plush-curtained, cavernous palace of dreams for generations of Cork people. The demolition of the landmark building begs the question: if those walls could speak, what tales would they tell?

Stevie G (Stevie Grainger) DJ, producer and RedFm presenter

“My friend’s mother took us to see Police Academy when we were 11 and it was 15s — we were delighted to get in, there were one or two incidents in it that were pretty exciting for 11-year-old males and his mother wasn’t too happy. Everyone used to get sweets and if you were on the balcony you wanted to go to the edge so you could throw sweets at the people sitting below.

Our picture-perfect memories of Cork's Capitol Cinema

“I do remember being humiliated at BMX Bandits; I wasn’t old enough and they wouldn’t let me in. I think it was 12s. I never really recovered from that.

“I remember going to see the Titanic in the Capitol. I was with a girl and I remember we left the film early, it seemed to go on for about seven hours and she had already moved out of home and had a place of her own in town, which is pretty cool when you’re a teenager. Unfortunately we didn’t even last as long as the Titanic; we hit an iceberg early on.”

Another of Stevie’s formative memories is of seeing La Haine (Hatred), the 1995 French film about racial tensions in Paris.

“La Haine was kind of a hip-hop movie, so everyone who was into hip hop in Cork — literally all 30 of us — were at it. There was one guy there with his mother which was kind of cool.

“The Capitol has been an eyesore for a while now; it has a great history but it’s not aesthetically important like some of the iconic former cinemas where I end up working because they’re now clubs, places like the Pavilion and the Savoy. I used to really like the Kino a lot too, so it’s great to see that back in use as a venue.”

Julie Kelleher, Artistic Director, Everyman Theatre

“Some of my earliest childhood memories are of going to the Capitol. There’s a sentimentality to those memories, definitely. It was really old-school there. The ushers wore waistcoats and the sweetshop had boxes of fruit pastilles.

Our picture-perfect memories of Cork's Capitol Cinema

“One of the standout ones for me was going to see Mrs Doubtfire, and I’m not really sure why it’s such a vivid memory. It was snowing and they used to have the screen numbers on a pole outside because you had to queue outside and I remember the anticipation and the snow falling; we were freezing, but really excited.

“Another time myself and a couple of mates were trying to get in to see The War of the Buttons but it was sold out. I’d say we were nine or ten and we were very bold; we bought tickets to see a film called North, which was basically Bruce Willis in a giant bunny costume. Then we doubled back down the corridor after they checked our tickets and went in to The War of the Buttons, and it made a huge impression, both because the ushers were coming around and we thought we’d be caught, but also because it was the first time I’d seen Irish children with Cork accents onscreen.

“When I was a teenager I was going out with a boy and The Capitol was our regular date on a Sunday afternoon. We went to see Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet and we held hands all the way through — I’d say our hands were nearly worn away by the end of the movie just from sitting there and stroking each other’s hands — it was quite genteel and innocent.

“In the number one screen there were double seats left of the aisle, the love seats, and you could have a snog in there in the dark.”

Mick Hannigan, Director, IndieCork Film Festival and former owner of The Kino arthouse cinema

“One strong memory is an olefactory memory. It was the opening weekend of Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins and I went on a Sunday afternoon and what struck me was the warm smell of humanity. It was packed and there were families there from rural Ireland, three generations all packed in together. There were people in there who I suspected hadn’t been in a cinema in donkey’s years. I suspect that lots of the people in the audience that day were from Michael Collins’ home territory in West Cork. It struck me then that the movie wasn’t just cinema, it was living history.

“I remember going to see David Finch’s Se7en on a Friday or Saturday night. Everyone was chatting away. As a real cinephile, I really wanted everyone to shut up but they were chatting away as they do. But the title sequence of Se7en was so jarring, both visually and the soundtrack, that within a few seconds everyone completely shut up.

“The Capitol was, of course, the main venue for Cork Film Festival for many years during my time with the festival. It was a great cinema and I knew all the staff. There were so many characters; one of the projectionists was a home-brew enthusiast but he was obsessed with replicating proprietary brands of beer and stout. He befriended some of the chemists in Beamish and Crawford and they would analyse his beer for him and give him advice on how to make it more similar to the beers he was trying to replicate. Fred was the manager of the Capitol for many years and he was a great man for walking. In between shows you’d see him walking up and down Patrick Street.

“I got to know him and he brought me in to his office, which was essentially a cubby hole in the bowels of the building where the central heating system operated. It’s important to acknowledge the years of service that Fred and others like him put in in the Capitol.”


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Wesley O’ Regan is the General Manager of Popscene in Voodoo Rooms, Cork city. Popscene opened last November and is Cork’s only themed bar that is dedicated to celebrating the best of the 80s and 90s. https://www.facebook.com/PopsceneCork/You've Been Served: Wesley O'Regan, Popscene

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