Expecting the country’s second city to offer a range of entertainment venues comparable to those in Dublin would not be realistic; even the most optimistic of Cork’s boosters and promoters would, we hope, be prepared to accept that as a statement of undeniable fact. It would, though, be fair to ask if it could be improved — and if so, how.
Change, of course, is an inescapable ingredient in the life of cities, and that can, more often than not, mean decay; especially so in free-market economies. The engines of commerce and the capricious winds of fashion and media lay waste to what were once treasured venues and landmarks — dance halls, cinemas, nightclubs, even churches — for a place to meet friends and neighbours, or for a good night out.
As sure as video killed the radio star, television dispatched Cork’s magnificent 2,200-seat art deco Savoy Cinema (1932-1975).
The 900-seat Pavilion was one of the oldest cinemas in Cork, opening in 1921, showing its first ‘talkie’ in 1929, and living on after 1989 as a music venue. The long-lost Arcadia brought many of the best Irish and British bands to Cork.
As recently as 2010 — when The Pavilion was named as Munster’s best live music venue —guide held Cork in high esteem. The city, it declared, was “at the top of its game: sophisticated, vibrant, and diverse”. Could that fairly be said of it now? The sod has been turned for the multi-million euro Cork Event Centre that remains, after eight years of planning and financial wrangles, an embarrassing non-event... and one that might have fed a perception that as an entertainment destination, Cork is not so much a city on the rise, but one in the doldrums.
That would be unduly pessimistic, since there are signs of an uplift. Following the makeover of St Luke’s church as a concert hall, local promoters are adding new music and theatre venues at Cyprus Avenue and the former Kino arthouse cinema. The city is enjoying, too, a summer and autumn packed with festivals.
The ambitious promoters and sponsors of new venues and live events that comprise an attractive mix of entertainment events do face difficulties way beyond their control. Soaring insurance premiums and uncertainty about the provision of essential medical and safety cover are factors that put question marks alongside bold plans. People born and raised in the internet age have become accustomed to getting their entertainment — music and movies — for free; many of them are reluctant to open their wallets and purses for it.
It’s been said that Cork’s opening hours and licensing laws are stingy when compared with those in Dublin and many other European cities, and that the city council needs to shift to a more progressive approach.
These are aspects of the entertainment scene to which councillors should turn their attention, although the enthusiasm for what’s fashionably known as the ‘night-time economy’ should carry with it a warning — in real life, it can come down to large groups of youngsters drinking far more than they can safely handle, turning town and city centres into places from which residents and visitors stay well away.