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Back to the Future: A look at Dublin Cinemas Part One

Back to the Future: A look at Dublin Cinemas Part One – In this two part article Shane Adlum takes a look at Dublin’s old Cinema’s, some are still there, some are lost, and gone forever

The Ambassador

165 Parnell Street,  Dublin 1

Located on Parnell Street, The Ambassador dates all the way back to 1764. It was called the Rotunda’s round room originally as it sat adjacent to the Rotunda Hospital. From 1897 it was occasionally used as a cinema but this proved to be so popular it opened as a full time cinema in 1910. It could accommodate 736 people with its fairly basic layout, mainly consisting of wooden benches. It was renamed the Ambassador in the 1950’s after major redevelopment work. The capacity was significantly increased to 1,200, which included a 500 seat balcony and several private boxes. With its new luxurious layout the Ambassador gained a reputation for presenting elaborate roadshow films like My Fair Lady, Cleopatra and Ben-Hur. Oliver and Love Story both enjoyed tremendous success there with each film running for an incredible sixty-eight weeks.

In 1977 the Ambassador briefly closed as it became more difficult to get distributors to supply films to a single screen cinema. The Green Group, one of the country’s leading film exhibitors, then took it over and ran it until it closed in 1988. In 1994 it reopened but failed to attract the big audiences that once flocked to the cinema and it  officially closed in September 1999. From 2001 to 2008 it operated as one of the country’s most popular music venues with the likes of Green Day, Arctic Monkeys, Biffy Clyro and Bloc Party all performing there. Currently the Ambassador operates as an exhibition hall and event centre.

The site of the Fountain Cinema Today

The Fountain Picture Palace or the Lyric Cinema

36 & 37 James’s Street, Dublin 8

I couldn’t write about the old cinema’s of Dublin without mentioning the Fountain Cinema, just a stone’s throw away from us at The Fountain Resource Group. Operated by the Fountain Picture House Company, the cinema opened in February 1923 on James’s Street. It takes its name from the obelisk fountain, one of the area’s best known landmarks, which was built in 1790. Nicknamed ‘The Bowery’, it was one of the cheapest cinema’s around Dublin and like many other cheaper cinemas it attracted a lively crowd. In 1939 it was sold to Associated Picture House Company and renamed the Lyric Cinema.

The Lyric Cinema – James Street in the 1950s

The cinema closed its doors in June 1962. For many years It was used as a warehouse for an upholstery importer before its eventual demolition in 2002. The site has since been developed into ninety-two apartments by the Oaklee Housing Trust.



207 – 209 Lower Rathmines Road, Dublin 6

In the 1920’s the Stella Picture Theatre Company was set up with the intention to build a deluxe cinema with a dancehall in  Rathmines. The cinema was officially opened in January 1923 and could hold around 1,000 patrons between the stalls and the circle . The first film to be shown there was The Imperfect Lover starring Violet Hopson and Stewart Rome. The original granite facade was later replaced with a metal grille frontage complete with a neon and plastic sign. In the early 1980’s the large single screen auditorium was separated into two different screens . By the early 2000’s the cinema had become dated and fell behind the new modern cinemas in terms of both comfort and technology. Another victim of the modern multiplexes, it eventually closed in 2004.

In recent years the Stella has been restored to its former glory and reflects its 1920’s Art Deco origins. Thankfully the awful 1980’s metallic grille has been removed and replaced by a wonderful recreation of the original granite and brick facade. Some of the original features such as the marble stairs and metal banisters have been beautifully restored. They’ve reduced the capacity to maximise comfort. Rows of deep leather armchairs, each with their own ottoman to stretch out your legs and side tables for your drinks and snacks, line the auditorium. The front row consists of double bed sized loungers for maximum comfort.

One thing that is certainly different from the 1920’s is the price. When The Stella first opened admission ranged from 9 pence to 2 shillings, now it will set you back €19. That may seem expensive but unlike other cinema’s where you just pay to see a film, the Stella is all about the experience. A night at the theatre, with cocktails, fancy food and table service.



Theatre De Luxe

85 & 86 Lower Camden Street, Dublin 2

In 1912 a small, narrow cinema opened on Camden Street, the Theatre De Luxe. By 1920 the cinema had been extended and completely refurbished into a 1,200 seat cinema. In the 1930’s it underwent further reconstruction. They chose to implement a new Art Deco styled facade. The front of the building was  decorated in terracotta tiles, which still adorn the outside of the building today. The theatre closed in 1974 but the building, which is a protected structure, has continued to live an interesting life.

There were plans to turn it into a theatre and local community venue but they were discarded and it became Ricardo’s Snooker Hall. Fans of Alan Parker’s comedy classic, based on the Roddy Doyle novel, The Commitments (1991) will recognise this as the snooker hall where the band rehearsed, much to the annoyance of the snooker playing punters below them. An Awfully Big Adventure (1995) starring Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant used the Theatre De Luxe as a filming location, and oddly it was also the location of the video for S Club 7’s massive 00’s hit Don’t Stop Movin’.  In the late 1990’s it became the De Luxe Hotel. The palace nightclub operated out of the De Luxe Hotel for 20 years until it recently closed. The building is still used as the Camden Hotel, which has some questionable reviews on trip advisor.

The site of the Metropole Cinema Today


35 – 39 Lower O’Connell Street, Dublin 1

The Metropole, or the Met as it was known to some, was once considered one of the most fashionable venues in Dublin. It was build on the site of the old Metropole hotel which had been severely damaged during the Easter Rising. The building was more than just a movie theatre, it was an entertainment complex comprising of bars, a restaurant, a ballroom, shops and a 1,000 seat cinema on the ground floor. It opened in February 1922 with a screening of Peck’s Bad Boy starring  Jackie Coogan and Wheeler Oakman. The cinema’s interior was grand and luxurious. Scene’s from Shakespeare plays adorned the domed ceiling and a row of Corinthian columns bordered the grand circle.

During the early 1970’s there was a decline in numbers attending the cinema and subsequently the Metropole closed in 1972. The building was sold to British Home Stores who demolished the historic building and built a department store in its place. Since 1992 a Penneys store has been on the site. The Met may now be gone but it was immortalised by Pete St. John in the lyrics of Dublin in the Rare Old Times, “The Pillar and the Met have gone, the Royal long since pulled down, As the grey unyielding concrete, makes a city of my town.”


2 Responses

  1. Tony Gorman says:

    I worked in the Metropole’s cocktail bar for the last 8 years of it’s life.
    It was a terrific place to work and I still stay in touch with some of my old workmates from back then.
    I suppose I could write a book about all I encountered during my time there.
    I would never have left ireland if it had of remained open but alas I have great memories of my time there

  2. tony cantwell says:

    viewed pictures of old Dublin cinemas with great interest having patronised these venues as a boy and into my teens. Disappointed to note the absence of a mention of the Camden Cinema in Camden st which was located further up Camden street nearer to Kelly’s corner. It had a very unique feature not present in any other cinema in Dublin.I wonder does anyone else remember what that was.? TC.

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