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

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

Back to the Future: A look at Dublin Cinemas Part Two – Shane Adlum presents part 2 of his fascinating look into the world of Dublin cinema!


16-19 Upper O’Connell Street, Dublin 1

The oldest operational cinema in Dublin. Perfectly located in the heart of the city, just a two minute walk from the Spire, the Savoy is one of Irelands most popular cinemas and dates all the way back to 1929. It was built on the site of two former hotels, The Granville and the Crown, both of which were destroyed during the Civil war. The large auditorium contained 2,789 seats when it first opened, making it the largest cinema in Ireland at the time. The opening ceremony was held on the 29th of November 1929 and President William T. Cosgrave was in attendance. The ceremony was followed by a screening of On With The Show, a film famous for being the first all-talking, all-colour feature length film.

Compared to many of the buildings around Dublin the façade of the Savoy was rather plain but hidden within the building was something spectacular. The auditorium was designed to look like a stunning Venetian streetscape. Images of the Canale di San Marco and the Doge’s palace were painted on the safety curtain. The frame around the screen was designed to look like the Rialto Bridge in Venice and the walls were covered with examples of classic venetian architecture. The ceiling was painted blue and contained a number of small lights, giving the impression of being outside under the stars.

One of the most successful films ever shown at the Savoy was Gone With The Wind in 1942. It ran for eight weeks and was so popular that special bus tours were put on so people from all over the country could travel to Dublin just to see it.  In 1954 a large CinemaScope screen was installed and they played Irelands first ever widescreen feature, The Robe, in April of that year.

A lot of changes have occurred to the cinema over the years. In 1960 the Venetian interior was replaced with a more modern, contemporary design. The Savoy became Irelands first twinned cinema in 1969 when the auditorium was split into two cinemas. A third screen was installed in 1975 and by 1979 a further 2 screens were added. A sixth was then added in 1988. The advanced screening room was redeveloped into screen 7 in 2014 and in 2016 the second largest auditorium was sub-divided into 3 separate rooms. The most recent redevelopment came in 2018 when the iconic screen 1 was redeveloped and split into multiple screens bringing the total number up to 13. All of those redevelopments over the years were designed to get more people through the door but somewhere along the way it lost its charm. The huge screen 1 auditorium was once considered the country’s most prestigious cinema, hosting premiers and attracting movie stars from around the world. But the new smaller screens are unlikely to attract the crowds that once flocked to the Savoy.


Camden Cinema

55 Lower Camden Street, Dublin 2

In 1912 this former drapers’ shop was redeveloped into a single screen, 400-seat cinema. Owner Alfred Poulter hired well-known architect Rudolf Maximillian Butler to design the cinema and he included some unusual features in his design. The screen was located above the main entrance with patrons entering via doors on either side of it, meaning as soon as they entered the auditorium they would be blinded by the light of the projector. To avoid this some people even tried to enter walking backwards, making their way to their seats facing the screen. The entire auditorium was heated by a solid fuel stove located at the back of the room. On wet days some of the stall operators on Camden Street would use the stove to dry their shawls as they hid from the rain.

The Camden Picture House was one of the earliest cinemas in Dublin and Dante’s Inferno was the first film to be shown when it opened on the 25th of October, 1912. Alfred Poulter sold the cinema in 1928 to Patrick Whelan and John Breslen who ran it until the late 1930’s when Odeon (Ireland) bought it. On the 28th of August, 1948 the cinema closed its doors for good. Its final screening was The Macomber Affair featuring Gregory Peck and Joan Bennett. The building was demolished in the 1960’s to make way for a car showroom which has also since been demolished. There is now an office block at 55 Lower Camden Street which is used by Concern Worldwide as their Irish headquarters.


98-101 Middle Abbey Street, Dublin 1

You could walk past the Arnotts car park a million times and not even bother to glance up at its simple plain Portland stone façade, but behind this grey exterior once lay one of the busiest cinemas in the country. The site was once an iron foundry before becoming the old Plaza ballroom and eventually it was converted into a cinema in 1939.

The Adelphi had a very large auditorium, a single screen with 2,304 seats and even had standing room for a further 500 patrons (which would be considered a health and safety nightmare these days.) It officially opened on the 12th of January 1939 with a screening of The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn. It wasn’t only films that attracted the crowds to the cinema, social events such as “crooning contests” were hugely popular when it first opened. Such was the popularity of the cinema that the queues would stretch right down Middle Abbey Street and into O’Connell Street where it would merge with the queue for the Metropole leaving customers confused as to where one line started and the other ended. Ryan’s Daughter was one of the most successful films shown at the Adelphi and it ran for almost a year. Other films such as The Quite Man and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers were also incredibly popular and drew huge crowds. It wasn’t just the locals who attended the famous cinema, A-list stars such as Ingrid Bergman, John Wayne, Cary Grant and even Ronald Reagan visited the Adelphi.

In the 1960’s the cinema also became one of the country’s premier music venues. The list of top performers who played there includes The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Marlene Dietrich, Diana Ross, Johnny Cash, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Roy Orbison and most famously of all, on the 7th of November 1963 The Beatles performed their only ever Irish show there. Beatlemania was in full flow as the bands appearance that day caused a riot forcing them to leave the venue hidden in the back of a newspaper van.

In 1970 the large auditorium was subdivided into 3 separate screens and in 1973 a fourth screen was added. In 1995, after 56 years the Adelphi was closed. The final films shown were the classic musicals High Society and Gigi, entry was free for punters that night as they said goodbye to a Dublin landmark. Unfortunately, the cinema became the victim of urbanisation and the increased numbers of vehicles in the city as the inside of the building was gutted and replaced with a car park, leaving just the stone façade as a reminder of its former life.


45 Mary Street, Dublin 1

Have you ever visited the site of Dublin’s first ever dedicated cinema? You probably have, without even realising it. It was novelist James Joyce who brought the first full time cinema to Dublin. On a trip to Trieste in northeast Italy, Joyce and his sister Eva noted that the city had 21 cinema’s and Dublin didn’t have any, it certainly seemed like a good idea to open one. The novelist arranged a meeting with several Italian businessmen who had set up cinemas in Italy and Hungary to try and finance this new venture and after successfully negotiating his share of the profits headed back home to Ireland to find a suitable location. He found an old ironmongery shop on Mary Street which was quickly converted into the Volta Cinema, named after Joyce’s favourite cinema in Trieste.

The décor was light blue and crimson and it had a capacity of 420. It opened on the 20th of December 1909 with a wide variety of screenings including The First Paris Orphanage, Devilled Crab and Bewitched Castle. A string orchestra accompanied each film and you could expect to pay between 2 and 6 pence for a seat. Unfortunately, the Volta was not a commercial success and just 7 months after it opened it was sold to British Provincial Cinemas for £1,000. In 1919 the Volta was closed, but only for a short time.

In 1921 it was reopened as the Lyceum (although it was often referred to by its unfortunate nickname ‘The Louse House’) with an increased capacity of 600. Over the years the cinema was run by a number of different operators including Capital and Allied Theatres who acquired the Lyceum in the 1940’s and ran it until its doors closed for the last time in 1948.

Since 1969 a Penneys department store has occupied the site and in 2007 a plaque was unveiled commemorating the history of the building.

While the Volta may be long gone its name lives on in the form of the Volta award, a prestigious award given out by the Dublin International Film Festival to honour individuals who have made a significant contribution to film. Past recipients include Daniel Day-Lewis, Al Pacino, Martin Sheen, Ralph Fiennes and Kenneth Branagh.

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