Irish Audiences Watch “O’Neil of the Glen,” August 1916

If cinema in Ireland in July 1916 prompts reflection on film as a weapon of war, developments the following month show significant developments in the emergence of film as an expression of national culture. On 7 August 1916, audiences at Dublin’s Bohemian Picture Theatre were the first to see O’Neil of the Glen (often spelled O’Neill of the Glen), the first Film Company of Ireland (FCOI) production to be publicly released. Formed in March 1916 by James Mark Sullivan and Henry Fitzgibbon, the FCOI would become the most important indigenous fiction film producer of the 1910s. Ò’Neil of the Glen itself, however, is believed to be a lost film, like all FCOI’s other production except Knocknagow (1918), Willy Reilly and His Colleen Bawn (1920) and one reel of the two-reel comedy Paying the Rent (1920). Nevertheless, its success with audiences was vital to securing FCOI’s future.

O'Neil Boh 7 Aug 1916

Ad for the first public exhibition of O’Neil of the Glen, at Dublin’s Bohemian, Dublin Evening Mail 7 Aug. 1916: 2.

That success was won in part by the careful management of publicity, a fact that means that the surviving ads, articles and reviews in the press must be treated with caution. It may be a forgivable exaggeration for the papers to have hailed the premiere of O’Neil of the Glen as the start of a new Irish industry, but it was not true that this was “the first picture-play ever produced in Ireland by an Irish company of Irish players,” a claim repeated almost verbatim in several paper, indicating that the journalists were working from the same FCOI publicity materials (“New Irish Industry,”  “O’Neill of the Glen,” “Irish Film Triumph”). Most recently, Charles McEvoy of Dublin’s Masterpiece Cinema had funded Fun at Finglas Fair – even if it had allegedly been destroyed during the Easter Rising before being publicly shown – and in 1912-13, cinema-owner and mayor John J. Farrell had made a number of films with his company Irish Film Productions (Rockett 95, Condon 237).

IRISHLIMEGHT1_MAY_P6 001

Abbey Theatre and Film Company of Ireland actor – and later director – Fred O’Donovan; Irish Limelight 1:5 (May 1917): 6.

Nevertheless, although O’Neil of the Glen was not the first indigenous Irish fiction film, it was a very significant one by the country’s most important film production company of the 1910s. On 29 June, FCOI announced a “trial exhibition,” or what would now be called a test screening, of their first completed production, O’Neil of the Glen, at Dublin’s Carlton. By this time, and in the context of management difficulties at the Abbey Theatre, FCOI had been able to contract J. M. Kerrigan and Fred O’Donovan, two of the Abbey’s biggest stars, albeit that they were permitted to appear in certain plays (“Abbey Theatre,” “Platform and Stage”). Kerrigan, indeed, directed and played a part in O’Neil of the Glen, a three-reel feature based on a script adapted by W. J. Lysaght from M[argaret] T. Pender’s story of the same title that had been serialized in the Shamrock in 1891. The film told how Don O’Neil (Brian Magowan), the son of a landowner who had been defrauded by the solicitor Tremaine (J. M. Carre), saves the life of Tremaine’s daughter, Nola (Nora Clancy), whose love he wrests from Graves (O’Donovan), a blackmailing suitor (“Bohemian,” Evening Mail).

“The film is of a quality which leads one to anticipate success for the venture,” wrote an Irish Times correspondent at the trial exhibition, noting that it was part of a process of perfecting the film: “the promoters are engaged in a ruthless revision of the film to bring it up to the highest possible standard” (“Irish Film Production”). The Bioscope’s Irish correspondent Paddy’ was less complimentary about this early cut of the film, pointing out that although “[g]reat care was taken with the production and camera work,” it possessed “many of the weak points common to first productions” (“Paddy,” 13 Jul.). Addressing a lunch for the press at the Gresham Hotel after the screening, Fitzgibbon claimed that FCOI “had started an industry which would eventually be a source of great revenue in Ireland.” For his part, Sullivan argued that the film showed that Irish productions – taking advantage of Irish “imagination, ideals, and artistic temperament and beautiful scenery” – could competing with those anywhere (“Irish Film Production”).

Paddy began to revise his lukewarm opinion of O’Neil of the Glen in light of the news that Frederick A. Sparling had booked the film for its first run at his Bohemian for the week of 7-13 August. The Bohemian was one of Dublin’s biggest and most luxurious cinemas, and Sparling’s commitment to a run that was twice the usual three days “speaks well for the film and the undoubted drawing powers such a production will have for Irish audiences” (Paddy, 27 Jul.). In the event, Sparling also included an unplanned Sunday show to take advantage of the phenomenal level of interest.

Although FCOI appears to have taken the bookings itself, prominent local distributor Ben Cowan of Express Film Agency handled this and other FCOI films from 1916 by running trade shows and placing advertisements in the daily and trade press. It was likely one of Cowan’s “novel ideas in the advertising line” for FCOI cameraman John A. Bennett – a former projectionist at Dublin’s Rotunda – to film the audience on the first night and for this local film to be shown subsequently with the feature (Paddy, 27 Jul.; 17 Aug.). “Don’t miss this chance of seeing what you look like on the Screen,” ads warned the opening-night audience. The musical attractions included a special programme of Irish melodies and the cinema’s “world-renowned violinist” Signor Simonetti playing a fantasy on the “Snowy Breasted Pearl” at the evening shows. “It is confidently hoped that large audiences will visit the Bohemian during the coming week,” revealed a preview in the Evening Mail, “and thus mark in a tangible manner their appreciation of what may justly be described as a really first-class picture-play, and one that is sure to bring the work and the players of the Film Company of Ireland right into the forefront of popularity with audiences and trade alike” (“Bohemian”).

The surprising extent of the success of O’Neil of the Glen must be measured in the first instance as a marketing victory rather than an artistic one, by FCOI. The degree to which these early films challenged existing ways of representing the Irish is questionable, but many contemporary commentators seem initially to have been content that films with wholly Irish creative input were finally being made. Nevertheless, the way in which the company were able to capitalize on the interest and goodwill attending the exhibition of this first indigenous Irish fiction film and, crucially, to publicize the large attendances not only in Ireland, where interest was likely to be strong in any case, but also in Britain, appears to have secured a British distribution deal and thereby to have ensured the company survival in this initial period. This success was built on what appears to have been a genuinely surprising level of interest in the picture. “The film, which was expected to prove a good draw, actually surpassed all anticipations,” observed Paddy, warming further to the film, “a record being established for the week, and queues being the rule every evening” (17 Aug.). The Irish Times commented that enthusiastic audiences in a crowded cinema “proves that the Dublin public is always ready to support and encourage Irish enterprise” (“Film Company of Ireland,” 9 Aug.). “That the genuine enthusiasm displayed last night at the conclusion of the film will be the means of bringing before the public a second production by the Irish Film Company in the near future,” observed the Freeman’s Journal, “is a universal wish” (“Bohemian”).

O'Neil Victoria 9 Sep 1916p4

Ad for Galway’s Victoria Cinema Theatre for the week in which O’Neil of the Glen featured. Connacht Tribune 9 Sep 1916: 4.

This wish would be soon fulfilled, and O’Neil of the Glen was exhibited around the country in the following weeks and months. When following substantial runs in Dublin and Belfast it was announced for a three-day run at Galway’s Victoria Cinema Theatre on 11-13 September, a Connacht Tribune reporter distinguished its attractions from that of American films, which were unrivalled “in the matter of cinematographic thoroughness and all-round fullness and finish of technique, but one can get too much of a good thing.” The FCOI’s “national or […] patriotic enterprise” offered something that monotonously perfect and ubiquitous American films could not: “The production is Irish, the subject is Irish, the mise-en-scene is Irish, and the actors and actresses are Irish” (“‘O’Neill of the Glen’”). A writer in the Cork Examiner during the film’s run at Cork’s Coliseum Theatre (14-16 September) concurred, arguing that

[t]hrere certainly should be an opening for cinema representation of Irish drama as played by native Irish actors, whose one object is to show Irish life in its true perspective, without grotesque exaggeration, or what is just as bad, giving an unreal picture of it, even when the intention is friendly to the country and the people. (“Coliseum Theatre.”)

A journalist at the Derry People was particularly interested in the local connections of a film “in which well-known Irish artistes will be screened, and details dealing with Tyrone and neighbouring localities introduced in splendid style” (“Hall”). The film’s second Dublin run was at the Dame Street Picture House (21-3 September) – the cinema closest to FCOI’s offices and where all their subsequent 1916 films would premiere – before it had first and second runs in Belfast, at the Duncairn (28-30 September) and the Clonard (2-4 October). Subsequent screenings included Mullingar’s National (14-15 October), Kilkenny’s Cinema (18-19 October) and Dublin’s Fr Mathew Hall (2 December).

FCOI IT 14 Aug 1916p4

Irish Times 14 Aug. 1916: 4.

While O’Neil of the Glen toured the country, the company quickly followed up this successful debut with the announcements of their next films in the dailies and trades. On the Monday after the last show of O’Neil of the Glen at the Bohemian, the Dublin papers carried an advertisement headed “Films that Draw Crowded Houses Every Night!” that recommended FCOI’s new films on the basis of the audience-drawing power of that first film. Four two-reel comedies were scheduled for release in September – The Miser’s Gift, Woman’s Wit, Food of Love and An Unfair Love Affair – and nine other forthcoming productions were named, only one of which, “Willie Reilly,” is recognizable as a subsequent FCOI release. An Evening Mail reporter who attended The Miser’s Gift trade show at the Dame Street PH later that week commented that “[i]t is not only characteristically Irish, it is characteristically good. The Irish Picture-House manager who does not support an Irish company which can produce work of the class of ‘The Miser’s Gift’ is missing an opportunity of giving his shows a touch of distinction” (“‘Miser’s Gift’”).

The Miser’s Gift is also lost, but its narrative appears to involve a scheme of Eileen Dolan (Nora Clancy) and her lover, Ned McGrath (Fred O’Donovan), to get her miserly father (J. M. Kerrigan) drunk and dream of leprechaun gold so that he will look favourably on their relationship. “It is agreeable to have pictures such as this,’ commented the Irish Times, “preserving a genuinely Irish atmosphere and that inherent charm which is to be found in Irish life. The sight, for instance, of lepracauns and other little people who live in legend disporting themselves in a fairy fort is a feature which surely is pleasing to Irish eyes” (“Film Company of Ireland,” 18 Aug.). The Irish public got its first chance to delight in authentic Irish leprechauns disporting themselves on the cinema screen at the Dame from 26–8 October 1916.

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Bioscope 24 Aug. 1916: 754.

As these arrangements were being made for Ireland, FCOI also entered the British film market on the foundation of O’Neil of the Glen’s Irish success. The Bohemian debut was the subject of an article on the company in the Bioscope of 24 August, which also carried a full-page advertisement listing the actual and intended films mentioned in the Irish papers (“First Irish Film”). Both the article and the advertisement included quotes from Sparling on the huge business the film generated, “the absolutely whole-hearted appreciation of every person who has seen it,” and the fact that “the ‘music’ at the pay-box has kept time with the orchestra throughout.” In contrast to Paddy’s original critical assessment of the film, this article described the audiences’ appreciation of “the exceptional excellence of the first film produced in Ireland by an Irish company and by Irish players.” A month later, although mentioning the film’s success everywhere it had been exhibited, Paddy contended that FCOI’s “second picture, ‘The Miser’s Gift,’ is greatly in advance of the first as regards the quality, and if this company stick to their guns they should still be well in the front rank of British producers” (28 Sep.). Despite Paddy’s reservations, the message prevailed that O’Neil of the Glen packed cinemas in Dublin and Belfast and that Irish exhibitors were eager for more, a message that helped FCOI to acquire a British distributor (Paddy, 14 Sep.). The company did this at the end of October, when Davidson’s Film Sales Agency bought the rights for FCOI’s 1916 films (Paddy, 2 Nov.).

Indigenous Irish film production may not have started with O’Neil of the Glen, but it did enter a new phase.

References

“Abbey Theatre.” Irish Times 7 Aug. 1916: 3.

“The Bohemian.” Dublin Evening Mail 5 Aug. 1916: 5.

“The Bohemian.” Freeman’s Journal 8 Aug. 1916: 6.

“Coliseum Theatre: ‘O’Neill of the Glen.’” Cork Examiner 15 Sep. 1916: 2.

Condon, Denis. Early Irish Cinema, 1895-1921. Dublin: Irish Academic, 2008.

“The Film Company of Ireland.” Irish Times 9 Aug. 1916: 6; 18 Aug. 1916: 2.

“First Irish Film: Success of ‘O’Neil of the Glen.’” Bioscope 24 Aug. 1916: 689.

“The Hall.” Derry People 16 Sep. 1916: 5.

“Irish Film Production.” Irish Times 30 Jun. 1916: 7.

“Irish Film Triumph: Several New Plays.” Cork Examiner 16 Aug. 1916: 6.

“‘The Miser’s Gift’: New Irish Comedy.” Dublin Evening Mail 17 Aug. 1916: 2.

“New Irish Films: Four Coming Comedies.” Freeman’s Journal 15 Aug. 1916: 4.

“New Irish Industry: Film Company of Ireland.” Connaught Telegraph 5 Aug. 1916: 8.

“New Irish Industry: The Film Co. of Ireland: A Promising Enterprise.” Freeman’s Journal 30 Jun. 1916: 6.

“‘The O’Neill of the Glen.’” Derry People 12 Aug. 1916: 5.

Paddy. “Ireland: With the Renters and Exhibitors.” Bioscope 13 Jul. 1916: 173; 27 Jul. 1916: 359; 17 Aug. 1916: 655; 14 Sep. 1916: 1060; 28 Sep. 1916: 1285; 2 Nov. 1916: 518.

“Platform and Stage.” Irish Times 7 Oct. 1916: 9.

Rockett, Kevin. The Irish Filmography. Dublin: Red Mountain, 1996.

“Topics of the Week.” Bioscope 10 Aug. 1916: 466.

 

“War Looks Like ‘Reel’ Business”: Irish Cinema at the End of 1914

The Pillar Picture House opened on 2 December 1914. This photo shows it in 1921, its distinctive semicircular veranda displaying damage like surrounding building from the fighting of the War of Independence and Civil War. RTE Stills Library; image and discussion here.

Neither weather nor war could seem long to inhibit the progress of Irish cinema in late 1914. “From the cinema man’s point of view this war looks like ‘reel’ business,” announced a one-line item gnomically in Dublin’s Evening Telegraph’s Saturday “Music and the Drama” column, without expanding on any cinematic developments. Nevertheless, this single line seems better to capture developments in popular entertainment in the mid-1910s than the several paragraphs devoted a week later by another columnist in the same newspaper to arguing that “our tastes in amusements and entertainments, indoor and outdoor, run on well-defined lines, and are marked by an extraordinary lack of initiative” (“Notes and Comments”). Drawing on the examples of the ping-pong and roller skating crazes – “the handsome rinks brought very poor prices as scrap” – to show that people prefer “Standard Amusements,” the columnist contended that the “theatre, concert and dance are just the theatres, concerts, and dances of by-gone years with some infinitesimal variations.” “Once or twice in every generation, there are signs of revolt, which are none the less interesting because the innovations have never even a sporting chance of securing a permanent footing” (ibid).

Cinema seems to be left conveniently out of consideration here. Although it had similarities with existing forms of entertainment, it was also significantly different and – as developments in late 1914 showed – was highly successful. Indeed, many of the roller-skating rinks build around the country in the short rinking craze of 1909-11 were not scrapped but had by 1914 become picture houses. Significant capital was also being invested not only in adapting other existing buildings – halls, shops and even churches – but also in constructing new purpose-built picture-houses premises. And building continued five months into the war. As it became part of the Irish streetscape, cinema integrated into the business practices of Irish cities, towns and rural areas; as it became more profitable to be a picture-house proprietor, so it became more socially acceptable to be one. Although doubts about the business stability and the respectability of cinema certainly remained at the end of 1914, it was being reshaped in ways that made it not only acceptable but also ever-more desirable to the dominant business and social class, which was itself changing in the context of the war.

However good its prospects, the cinema business faced challenges. On an elemental level, as a form of entertainment that required people to leave their homes and travel to a picture house, cinema was affected by the weather, particularly extremes of heat or inclement conditions that made travel difficult. Storms of unusual ferocity struck Ireland in the opening week of December 1914. “About midnight last night a violent storm swept over the city,” reported the Evening Telegraph,

bringing about a marked change from the extreme cold that prevailed all yesterday, and that became intensified as the night advanced. A high wind, accompanied by intermittent showers, blew till daylight, when heavy rain fell, and with the gale still fierce, it rained in merciless fashion till after noon, when it developed into a continuous and drenching downpour, which, with violent gusts across the city, made all form of traffic difficult and unpleasant. Dublin has not been visited with such an inclement day for a very considerable time. (“The Weather in Dublin.”)

Hurricane-force winds around the Irish and British coasts severely disrupted shipping, leading to the deaths of 14 men from the steamer Glasgow off the Lizard and 19 of the 250 horses for military use on the Teviot out of Dublin (“Havoc of Hurricane,” “Channel Hurricane,” “Heavy Gale in Dublin”).

Dublin’s Evening Telegraph 2 and 4 Dec. 1914: 2, providing details on opening hours and admission prices at the new Pillar Picture House.

These raging storms had consequences for at least the first of the two cinemas opened in Dublin and Belfast at the start of December and in time for the Christmas season. Although Dublin’s Pillar Picture House opened its doors on that stormy Wednesday, 2 December, it was only formally declared open two days later (“Pillar Picture House”). It was located in the middle of Sackville/O’Connell Street opposite Dublin’s landmark Nelson’s Pillar. At a time of limited personal transport, “the proprietors are especially fortunate in this, as the position is the terminus of all city and suburban trams” (ibid.). The proprietor was the Pillar Picture House Co., headed by John J. Farrell, a prominent member of Dublin Corporation who also had shares in three other Dublin picture houses. The Pillar was managed by Bob O’Russ, who was also managing Farrell’s picture houses in Phibsboro and Mary Street (Paddy, 24 Dec.), and May O’Russ – one of the city’s women musicians who formerly operated the Mary Street Picture House with her husband – directed the Pillar’s orchestra (Paddy, 17 Dec.).

Like many of the city-centre picture houses of the prewar period, the building was small, with a seating capacity of just 400, but it was architecturally striking both inside and out (“The Pillar Picture House, Dublin”). “The façade of the new premises is handsomely proportioned and cleverly treated in modern classic,” commented the Irish Builder, proceeding to detail its attractive features:

The approach is covered with a semi-circular verandah, which follows the sweep of a broad arch, and the opening under is filled in with Sicilian marble and leaded glass. The vestibule is very effectively treated with walnut and satinwood panelling with a fibrous plaster frieze of figured plaques and swagwork. The ceiling is elaborately ornamented and has a semi-circular dome of leaded glass. The staircase to the balcony is also panelled in walnut, and the enclosing walls artistically decorated in fibrous work. (Ibid.)

The overall impression was of “comfort and art combined in a most successful manner,” and commentators also stressed that the work of Irish manufacturers had been preferred (“Pillar Picture House”). “The general contractor was Councillor John Dillon, and the fibrous plaster contractor was Councillor John Ryan. Councillor M‘Guiness was the consulting electrical engineer, and the architect was Mr. Aubrey V. O’Rourke” (ibid.).

Belfast Evening Telegraph 5 Dec. 1914: 2.

Belfast Evening Telegraph 5 Dec. 1914: 2.

The role of city councillors was even more prominent in the considerable publicity that accompanied the opening of Belfast’s Imperial Picture House on 7 December. Before “an exceptionally large attendance of invited guests, including representatives of the Corporation, public Boards, the Church, the legal profession, and the business community,” the Lord Mayor, Councillor Crawford M‘Cullagh “said he was glad to be privileged in his official capacity to be associated in some degree with the progress and business activity of the city,” in this case embodied by “his colleague, Councillor W G. Turner, and his friend, Mr. James Barron, the directors of the Ulster Cinematograph Theatres, Ltd.” (“Imperial Opened”). The opening was filmed and shown as a special feature of the Imperial programme from 11 December.

The invitation-only opening ceremony was extensively covered in the Belfast’s papers and in the Bioscope, which carried a full page article on the Imperial’s architectural features. Prominently located “in that old-world part of the great industrial centre known as Corn Market,” the Bioscope’s Special Representative reported, the Imperial was “[c]onstruucted on the most improved lines [in such a way that] every possible arrangement has been made for the welfare, comfort, and enjoyment of the patrons of the theatre, or of the clientele which the beautifully appointed tearooms is sure to enjoy” (“Ancient and Modern”). Although the writer provided details of the auditorium – particularly such decorative features as the oil-painted panoramas of Belfast above the proscenium – s/he emphasized the the attractions that were not directly connected to watching a film. “A ladies’ retiring room is provided on the mezzanine floor, writing materials, etc., being supplied free of charge. A telephone and cloakroom are provide in the vestibule for the benefit of patrons, and shoppers may have their parcels addressed in care of the hall if they so desire” (ibid). Like a luxury hotel or department store, the Imperial advertised itself as a place where people, particularly the wealthy, would want to linger.

Ad for special war benefit at the Imperial; Belfast Evening Telegraph 14 Dec. 1914: 4.

Ad for special war benefit at the Imperial; Belfast Evening Telegraph 14 Dec. 1914: 4.

The Imperial maintained a high level of publicity throughout December, publishing more ads than any other form of entertainment. In the Belfast Evening Telegraph, for instance, it published ads not only among the other entertainment ads on page 1 but also on as many of two additional internal pages. As well as this, it advertised and sponsored a benefit on Wednesday, 16 December for the war fund of the lady mayoress, who arranged the participation of local artistes and spent the proceeds on entertaining soldiers who were confined to camp over Christmas (“To Entertain Tommy”).

This kind of publicity strategy was not new but one that the evolving cinema business adapted not only from such longer-established entertainment businesses as theatres but also from business in general, which increased its publicity in the run-up to Christmas, the year’s busiest festival. Despite an expected drop in business during the first Christmas of the war, an extravagance similar to that seen at the Pillar and Imperial seems to have been experienced in the shops. “There are actually areas in the city where more money is being spent than has circulated within living memory,” observed Dublin’s Evening Telegraph. “The crowds are filling the streets. The shopmen are working at high pressure” (“Christmas Eve”)

One of the Irish-Ireland journal The Leader rare picture houses ads was this title page one for The Sign of the Cross at the Bohemian in mid-November 1914.

This title page ad for The Sign of the Cross (US: Famous Players, 1914) at the Bohemian in mid-November 1914 is one of the few picture houses ads that appeared in the Irish-Ireland journal The Leader.

One area of Dublin where more money was being spent on entertainment than ever before was the northern suburb of Phibsboro, where two cinemas had opened in early summer 1914. John J. Farrell’s Phibsboro Picture House had to compete with Frederick Sparling’s Bohemian Picture Theatre. The Bohemian was formidable competition, advertising far more widely than the Phibsboro and introducing such new attractions as the church organ that was installed in November 1914 to accompany the exclusive film The Sign of the Cross (US: Famous Players, 1914). The ability of the Bohemian to secure such desirable exclusive films was, of course, important to maximizing its audience, which for both Phibsboro picture houses meant inducing patrons to travel by tram to this part of the city. The Bohemian also secured the loyalty of its patrons by giving them promotional gifts. While commending Sparling and manager Ernest Matthewson for their choice of Selig’s 9,000-foot adaptation of Rex Beach’s bestselling 1906 novel The Spoilers, Paddy observed that the “Bohemian perfumed calendars and matchbook covers are already well known both to the stern and gentle sex” (Paddy, 24 Dec.).

Evening Telegraph 15 Dec. 1914: 2.

The war was also “reel” business for picture house managements because it provided a topical subject matter with which to attract audiences. There was a popular understanding the films of the war had a persuasive function, particularly when it was used by the enemy. This was highlighted in early December when the Evening Telegraph’s daily column “Sidelights on the War” published an item called “German Victories on the Cinema,” which reported the alleged experiences of “a gentleman who has been to a biograph show in Germany” and who described “[h]ow the news of fictitious victories is circulated.”

A picture of the Kaiser standing with field-glasses in the trenches (delirious enthusiasm). The picture had to be shown over and over again on a screen a hand writes the latest war news: “An English battleship, believed to be the Warrior, was this morning, near Dover, torpedoed by a German submarine and sank.”

[…]

Next picture: The Crown Prince on horseback. A rather subdued applause follows. On the screen the hand thereupon writes: “A German squadron has this morning reached Ireland; mariners have made a landing in the town – name not permitted by censor.” The audience gets up and sings “Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles.” (“Sidelights on the War.”)

Interesting juxtaposition of an ad calling for volunteers to the Royal Engineers and one for the film in which a young man sacrifices himself on a World War I battlefield.

Belfast Evening Telegraph 26 Nov. 1914: 2.

This item clearly implied that the cinema could promote blind devotion to the Kaiser among the German popular audience that generated a war fever that was a danger not only to the sailors of the Warrior but also to Irish citizens facing a German invasion. No similar analysis of Allied war films appeared in mid-December when the Provincial Cinematograph Theatres’ Picture Houses in Dublin’s Grafton Street and Sackville/O’Connell Street and Belfast’s Royal Avenue showed the film With King George in France with The Belgians in Action. Although protests occurred at jingoistic entertainments and criticism appeared in more radical publications, loyalty to King George was accepted by the mainstream Irish press. In late November, the propaganda potential of the war-themed fiction film being produced in increasing numbers by British production companies was highlighted when an ad for one of these films appeared in the Belfast Evening Telegraph below a recruiting ad. While the recruiting ad called for volunteers to the Royal Engineers, the ad for V.C. (Britian: London, 1914), in which a young man dies on a World War I battlefield to vindicate his family’s honour, offered “scenes in the trenches [that] vividly portray modern war conditions.”

The wartime uses of moving pictures were not restricted to their propaganda value in the picture houses. The Bioscope reported comments from the Berlin correspondent of the Spanish El Mundo Cinematografico that “it is evident how much theatrical and cinematographic works can do to lift up and sustain a love of the fatherland in the whole public” (“Cinematography Employed by the Germans”). Citing evidence from the same source on the use of cameras for aerial reconnaissance, the Bioscope argued that “the Germans may claim to be the first nation to put the cinematograph to direct military use in warfare” and urged the War Office and British and French inventors to surpass their enemy (ibid).

By the end of 1914, cinema was showing no signs of going the way of roller skating. It was becoming firmly embedded in the business and entertainment life of Irish cities and towns.

References

“Ancient and Modern: Belfast’s Latest Cinema Described: By Our Special Representative.” Bioscope 10 Dec. 1914: 1143.

“Channel Hurricane: Vessels ‘Sub-Marine’ Passage: Life Boat Lost from ‘Teviot.’” Evening Telegraph 5 Dec. 1914: 4.

“Christmas Eve: Dublin at Its Best: Business Booming.” Evening Telegraph 24 Dec. 1914: 3.

“Cinematography Employed by the German Army: Interesting Details from Berlin of an Alleged New Invention.” Bioscope 10 Dec. 1914: 1076.

“Havoc of Hurricane: Horses Killed on Board Ship: Steamers Forced Back to Dublin: Vessels Blown Down the Liffey: Sailings Postponed and Cancelled.” Evening Telegraph 4 Dec. 1914: 3.

“Heavy Gale in Dublin.” Irish Times 5 Dec. 1914: 5.

“The Imperial Opened: Belfast’s Palatial Picture House: A Civic Ceremony: Home of Pleasure and Comfort.” Belfast Evening Telegraph 9 Dec. 1914: 2.

“Music and the Drama.” Evening Telegraph 5 Dec. 1914: 6.

“Notes and Comments: Standard Amusements.” Evening Telegraph 11 Dec. 1914: 2.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 17 Dec. 1914: 1217; 24 Dec. 1914: 1347.

“Pillar Picture House.” Evening Telegraph 5 Dec. 1914: 6.

“The Pillar Picture House, Dublin.” Irish Builder 27 Feb. 1915: 98.

“Sidelights on the War: German Victories on the Cinema.” Evening Telegraph 7 Dec. 1914: 2.

“To Entertain Tommy.” Belfast Evening Telegraph 17 Dec. 1914: 5.

“The Weather in Dublin.” Evening Telegraph 2 Dec. 1914: 2.

Irish Cinemagoers Feel the Heat of Summer 1914

July 1914 began with a heat wave in Ireland, and although temperatures fluctuated thereafter, political developments nationally and internationally grew increasingly heated up to the August bank holiday. “Tuesday’s sunshine was the hottest on record this year,” commented Dublin’s Evening Telegraph on Wednesday, 1 July.

From its rising to its setting the sun blazed in a cloudless sky. Ninety-six degrees were registered in the city, and in many parts of the country the thermometer rose to over 100 degrees in the sun. Monday, too, was intensely hot, registering 76 degrees in the shade. Dublin would seem to have been transferred to the tropics. (“The Heat Wave.”)

For such indoor entertainments as cinema, summer weather that allowed outdoor activities was bad news. “To successfully compete with the open-air attractions,” revealed a review of the Phoenix on Dublin’s Ellis Quay, “a big bid is being made by the Phoenix management (“Phoenix Picture Palace,”11 Jul.). As well as the right films, this picture house boasted about its comfortable environment. “The Phoenix is most comfortable this hot weather, for, besides being a big, airy house, it is supplied with electric fans that change the air constantly, and keep it delightfully cool” (“Phoenix Picture Palace,” 30 Jun). This kind of discussion was by no means exclusive to Dublin. The British trade journal Bioscope’s “Jottings from Ulster” columnist observed that “[a]t this time of year especially, temperature should receive as much attention as the programme” (“Jottings,” 9 Jul).

Ad for a fumigator of cinema audiences; Bioscope May 1913.

Ad for a fumigator of cinema audiences; Bioscope May 1913.

How the auditorium could be made bearable during even ordinary summer weather was a controversial subject. “The advent of the hot weather is always heralded by the revival of that interminable controversy dealing with ventilation,” noted the Bioscope. “Every cinema boasts of having a more or less “perfect” system of ventilation – a term which is so tentative as to mean almost anything” (“Trade Topics” 9 Jul). Although the Phoenix appears to have invested in a relative sophisticated air-conditioning system, it is not clear how the management of Dublin’s Volta kept it “well ventilated and cool” (“The ‘Volta’ Sunday Pictures”). It’s possible the Volta used the more cost-effective but unpopular strategy of having a cinema attendant spray a scent in the air above audience members – many of whom in 1914 had infrequent access to bathing facilities – as they sat watching the screen in the heat of an otherwise unventilated auditorium.

Ad for opening of Masterpiece Theatre, Evening Telegraph 25 Jul. 1914: 1.

Ad for opening of Masterpiece Theatre, Evening Telegraph 25 Jul. 1914: 1.

Despite their sometimes inability to deal with climatic conditions, new picture houses continued to open regularly in the immediate pre-war period. Following the openings of the Phibsboro Picture House and Bohemian Picture Theatre in late May and early June, the next picture house to open in Dublin was the Masterpiece Theatre at 99 Talbot Street. Owned by Charles McEvoy – “a gentleman with a good experience of the producing end of the business in Australia” (Paddy, 6 Aug.) – and designed by architect George L. O’Connor, it had “no gallery, so that the flow of air passes through the theatre uninterrupted” (“Masterpiece Picture Theatre”). The 450 patrons who fitted inside approached the picture house through an entrance that was

quite the finest in Dublin. The pay-box is on the right, and having passed through white doors set with stained glass, one traverses a short space of tiled flooring leading up to three steps. The steps surmounted and rich velvet curtains passed, one finds oneself in a form of lounge, beautifully decorated with framed photos of the leading picture play artistes. On either side of the lounge are long forms richly upholstered in Rose Barri tinted velvet. A sweet and cigarette kiosk stands at the left. (Paddy, 6 Aug.)

On either side of the screen were boxes for “the person who explains a particular picture or sings when pictures adapted to this use are thrown on the screen” (“Masterpiece Picture Theatre”) All seats were 6d., and performances were continuous from 1.30 to 10.30. The opening programme was headed by Joan of Arc (Giovanna d’Arco; Italy: Savoia, 1913), supported by “‘Relaying a Railway,’ ‘A Wise Old Dog’ (comic), Topical Topics (cartoons), and ‘Just Kids’ (Comedy)” (ibid).

The opening of the Masterpiece was accompanied by the founding of other new Irish cinema companies. On Dublin’s Sackville/O’Connell Street, J. J. Farrell was building what would be called the Pillar Picture House on part of the site formerly occupied by a pharmacy, while on the other part of this site “a notice has just been put up to the effect that Irish National Picture Palaces, Limited, have secured the site, and will shortly open a theatre capable of holding 1,200” (Paddy, 16 Jul.). Picture houses were also under construction in Dublin’s Manor Street, in Kilkenny, in Coleraine and in Newry. In Belfast and other parts of the north, the increasingly armed resistance of the Ulster Volunteers to Home Rule was no barrier to the local film business. “Despite the trouble now brewing in Ulster,” Jottings observed, “cinematograph theatres are springing up here, there and everywhere. Permanent buildings, too, for the days of the temporary halls are well on the wane in the Northern province of Ireland to-day” (Jottings).

Detail of Dublin Civic Exhibition’s Concert Hall and Cinema, from Evening Telegraph 14 Jul. 1914: 1.

Detail of Dublin Civic Exhibition’s Concert Hall and Cinema; Evening Telegraph 14 Jul. 1914: 1.

“I really do not know where the building of additional theatres in Dublin is going to stop,” marvelled Paddy, the Bioscope’s Irish correspondent, at the end of July, after a 600-seat temporary concert hall and cinema opened for the Dublin Civic Exhibition, which ran from 15 July to 31 August 1914. “At the Civic Exhibition the cinema theatre is, without the slightest doubt, one of the most popular sideshows” (Paddy, 30 Jul.). Erected on the site of the city’s Linenhall, the Civic Exhibition, aimed

to produce a considered plan, so as to show how Dublin can be made a better commercial and industrial centre, and how, with improved conditions (which will be illustrated by the various section and exhibits) the trade, manufactures, and commerce of the city must increase in a large degree.” (“Dublin Civic Exhibition: The Attraction for All Parts of the Country.”)

As with all such world’s fairs, the latest entertainments were vital not only to amuse audiences but also as a manifestation of the benefits of industrial progress. The appointing of vocalist John C. Browner as manager of the Exhibition’s concert and cinema hall rather than someone with picture-house experience seems to have been a deliberate strategy to promote the educative potential of the medium. In keeping with the theme of the exhibition, the most advertised “cinema” attraction was the Kinemacolor films that were combined with lantern slides of the National Cash Register Company of Dayton, Ohio, in order to illustrate the free daily lecture about this model factory “Industrial Welfare and Commercial Progress.”

Lord Lieutenant patronizes Princess in Rathmines for film of opening of Dublin Civic Exhibition; Evening Telegraph 18 Jul. 1914: 1. Ad for illustrated lecture in the Exhibition's Cinema Hall; Irish Times16 Jul. 1914: 9.

The Lord Lieutenant patronized the Princess in Rathmines to see the film of the opening of Dublin Civic Exhibition; Evening Telegraph 18 Jul. 1914: 1. Ad for illustrated lecture in the Exhibition’s Cinema Hall; Irish Times16 Jul. 1914: 9.

Although the Civic Exhibition did not reproduce the kind of commercial cinema that was thriving in the city beyond its grounds, it was the subject of a film shown in Dublin’s picture houses. “The Lord Lieutenant was present at the Princess Cinema, Rathmines, on Saturday afternoon,” reported the Irish Times,

when a picture of the opening of the Civic Exhibition was exhibited. By arrangement with the Exhibition Committee, the picture was produced by the management of the Princess Cinema. Eight cinematograph operators, under the direction of Mr. James Worth, were stationed at various points on the route of the procession and at the Linen-hall. The result of their work is highly creditable. (“Dublin Civic Exhibition: Lecture on Dublin Housing.”)

Chaplin causes havoc in a picture house and later in a film studio in A Film Johnnie.

Chaplin’s tramp causes havoc in a picture house and later in a film studio in A Film Johnnie.

Despite the commercial cinema’s exclusion from the exhibition itself, such high-profile screenings demonstrated the mutual benefits to the industry and dominant social class of cinema’s increasing absorption into Ireland’s mainstream media. Among the messages of this film was that despite the recent defeat of workers during the Lockout, the elite were engaged in tackling such problems as the appalling housing condition – and indeed homelessness – of the city’s poor. The Irish Times’s Clubman reported that Harvard professor of social ethics James Ford had told a conference convened as part of the exhibition that a city “in which a large section of the population lived in such a monstrous way as the 51,000 families are housed in Dublin was doomed to decay” (“Dublin Topics”). Although such analysis was important, it was also largely contained by the organization and media framing of the exhibition. Arguably more unsettling in the picture houses was the anarchic humour of Charlie Chaplin’s tramp character in such films as The Film Johnnie (US: Keystone, 1914), which was shown at the Rotunda on 21 July. The tramp provided working-class audiences with ways of seeing “their anger and frustrations recognized, transformed, and liberated” (Musser, 62).

The entertainment ads in the Evening Telegraph on Thursday, 30 Jul. Included a film of the funeral of the Bachelors Walk shootings at the Rotunda.

The entertainment ads in the Evening Telegraph on 30 Jul 1914 included a film of the funeral of the Bachelors Walk shootings at the Rotunda.

The cohesive social structure seemingly on show in the Civic Exhibition film was less in evidence after the Howth gunrunning on Sunday, 26 July, and the shooting dead by soldiers later that day of three people on Bachelors Walk. Following the Ulster Volunteer Force’s highly successful gunrunning at Larne in April 1914, the Irish Volunteers finally succeeded in landing and distributing arms at Howth in defiance of the police supported by a military detachment. Soldiers returning to barracks responded with bullets to the taunting of a crowd in the city centre. The Irish Times described the public funeral of those killed as an “impressive spectacle” that had been “made the occasion of a popular demonstration by the various elements of Nationalist forces, and, besides being an indication of sympathy with the relatives of those who were killed, it was chiefly intended as a protest against the action of the military” (“Dublin Shooting Affray”). Among the groups who turned out was a large contingent of the workers’ “Citizen Army, headed by Mr. James Larkin” (ibid). No footage was taken of the landing of the weapons, but the funeral was filmed. Among the film companies that covered the funeral was Norman Whitten’s General Film Supply, which shot part of their Funeral of Victims Shooting Affair Sunday, July 26th from the Bohemian Picture Theatre in Phibsboro (Paddy, Aug. 6).

Although the struggle for and against Home Rule had dominated Irish politics for decades, the outbreak of the Great War would complete change the country and its fledgling ciinema institution. As a harbinger of those changes, the Bioscope’s 6 August issue announced the first of a different kind of local film taken on 2 August that would set the tone for coming events: “The first local picture in connection with the war was taken in Glasgow on Sunday evening, when Messrs. Green’s Film Service secured a fine film of the Naval Reserve entraining en route for Portsmouth” (“Trade Topics,” 6 Aug). Capturing the initial patriotic war euphoria that cinema would help to foster, the article noted that “[t]he picture was shown in many halls in Monday, and was received with great enthusiasm.”

References

“The Champion Fight Pictures.” Evening Telegraph 11 Jul. 1914: 7.

“The Civic Exhibition.” Evening Telegraph 9 Jul. 1914: 7.

“Dublin Civic Exhibition: The Attraction for All Parts of the Country.” Irish Times 4 Jul. 1914: 7.

“Dublin Civic Exhibition: Lecture on Dublin Housing.” Irish Times 20 Jul. 1914: 10.

“Dublin Shooting Affray: The Funeral.” Irish Times 30 Jul. 1914: 7.

“Dublin Topics by the Clubman: City Housing.” Weekly Irish Times 1 Aug. 1914: 4.

“The Heat Wave: Yesterday Hottest Day of Year.” Evening Telegraph 1 Jul. 1914: 3.

“Jottings from Ulster.” Bioscope 9 Jul. 1914: 138.

“Masterpiece Picture Theatre.” Irish Times 28 Jul. 1914: 3.

Musser, Charles. “Work, Ideology, and Chaplin’s Tramp.” Resisting Images: Essays on Cinema and History. Eds. Robert Sklar and Charles Musser. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1990.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 16 Jul. 1914: 253; 30 Jul. 1914: 494; 6 Aug. 1914: 545.

“Phoenix Picture Palace.” Evening Telegraph 30 Jun. 1914: 3; 18 Jul 1914: 2.

“Trade Topics.” Bioscope 9 Jul. 1914: 113; 6 Aug. 1914: 532.

“The ‘Volta’ Sunday Pictures.” Evening Telegraph 11 Jul. 1914: 3.

The Phibsboro Picture House Opens

Announcement of hte opening of the Phibsboro Picture House, Dublin Evening Mail, 23 May 1914.

Announcement of the opening of the Phibsboro Picture House, Dublin Evening Mail, 23 May 1914.

A century ago, on 23 May 1914, Dublin’s newspapers announced the opening of the Picture House in Phibsborough (or Phibsboro), on the northern edge of the city. The papers are a little vague on the exact day of the opening, but as the 23 May was a Saturday, some of the papers cover the opening in their weekly theatrical column. “The grand opening of the new Picture House situated at Blaquiere Bridge, Phibsborough,” declared the Dublin Evening Mail’s The Play’s the Thing column, “took place this week, with signal success” (“New Picture House in Phibsborough”). That morning’s Irish Times had carried the same article, and a shorter notice in the Evening Herald was clearly working from the same publicity material provided to the Mail and Times. “The promoters deserve every congratulation, not only as regards the excellent film presented, but also in as far as design, furnishing, lighting, ventilation, etc., are concerned,” commented the Herald. “The house is most comfortable, and great crowds have been enjoying both the comfort and excellent fare provided. The architect, Mr. Aubrey V. O’Rourke, C.E., was paid a very high compliment by the directors at the opening ceremony” (“New Phibsborough Picture Palace”).

Phibsboro Picture House

The only known photo of the Phibsboro Picture House was taken after it had closed for demolition in 1953 (http://archiseek.com/2012/1914-phibsborough-picture-house-north-circular-rd-dublin#.U38HxCjiiI8).

Certainly, the only still circulating photograph of the original facade – taken almost 40 years later – shows an attractive addition to the streetscape in this part of the city. Construction work had begun in summer 1913, but even after this had started, alterations were made to the design, probably in order to better compete with the Bohemian Picture Theatre, which was also under construction close by on Phibsborough Road. “It is intended to amend the design and planning generally of the new cinematograph theatre now in the course of construction at Madras Place, Phibsboro’,” revealed the Irish Builder.

The front of the building will be carried out in brickwork and terra cotta dressings, and will present a more handsome and bolder appearance than the original design. It is intended to erect a balcony, and to increase the seating capacity considerably. The emergency passage will be covered in, and the gentlemen’s sanitary accommodation approached from this passage. The machine enclosure, rewinding room, and office will be situated at the back of the balcony, and the generating chamber in the basement. The internal decorations, which are to be of a handsome character, are to be carried out in fibrous plaster.” (“Building News”)

The British cinema trade journal Bioscope offered the first indication of the capacity and ownership of the new picture house:

The theatre is specially designed, and will be an up-to-date hall, accommodating 600. Although a separate company from the Irish Kinematograph Company, Limited, the new company will be worked in conjunction with that Company’s Mary Street House. Messrs. Hibberts will have a controlling interest, and Alderman Farrell is to act as managing director. Mr. Bob O’Russ – the popular manager of the Mary Street house – will take over the duties connected with the secretaryship. (“Our View”)

City councillor and former mayor, John J. Farrell already had interests in the Electric Theatre, Talbot Street, the Mary Street Picture House and the soon-to-be announced Pillar Picture House in O’Connell Street. For the Phibsboro venture, however, Farrell registered the Phibsboro Picture House company on 2 September 1914, in partnership with William King, a farmer and horse breeder of Belcamp, Co. Dublin; and British cinema owners Henry Hibbert and T. Wood (“World of Finance”). Construction on the Phibsboro – and all other Dublin buildings – stopped in September 1913 because of the Lockout (Paddy, 30 Oct. and 11 Dec.), but it resumed with the end of the general strike in early 1914.

Advertisement for the newly opened Phibsboro Picture House, Dublin Evening Mail, 23 May 1914.

Advertisement for the newly opened Phibsboro Picture House, Dublin Evening Mail, 23 May 1914.

The first ads for the Phibsboro on 23 May reveal that the performances were continuous from 3 to 10:30 rather than at set times, that the programme changed on Monday and Thursday – initially with no Sunday show, that the pricing was 3d, 6d and 9d, and that there would be an “exclusive” film in every programme. However, they gave little indication of what exactly the first exclusives were. Helpfully, however, the Bioscope’s Paddy reported on 4 June that he

went round the other evening to see the picture theatre in Phibsboro’, and particularly did I admire the “sunrise and sunset” system of lighting, which was concealed round the walls of the building. The building holds, roughly, 600, and the tip-ups are in Rose Barri shade, the carpets being of a darker colour. The harmonizing effect is thus very beautiful. The balcony, to which admission is covered by the nimble shilling, runs in a wide curve, and has a splendid “rake.” (Paddy, 4 Jun.)

The main film Paddy saw that night was Lieutenant Rose and the Sealed Orders (Britain: Clarendon, 1914) “and it was followed with intense interest by a packed house,” as well as the John Bunny comedy Bunny’s Mistake (US: Vitagraph, 1914) and The Vanishing Cracksman (US: Ediston, 1913).

Dublin Evening Mail 30 May 1914: 4.

In the Shadow of the Throne at the Phibsboro; Dublin Evening Mail 30 May 1914: 4.

The first film that the Phibsboro actually advertised was the Danish film I Tronens Skygge, translated as In the Shadow of the Throne (I Tronens Skygge; Denmark: Kinografen, 1914). It was due to run for three days beginning on Monday, 1 June, but its opening had some unintended consequences, many – but not all – unpleasant for the management. The film caused a campaign by members of the Catholic Church’s Vigilance Committee, which had been formed in 1911 to campaign against “evil” literature but which had developed a campaign against theatre shows and films. Part of this campaign involved protests in theatres and cinemas carried out by William Larkin and his twin brother Francis.

The campaign began when P. Donnelly sent a letter to the Freeman’s Journal complaining about the film and asking “How long is Catholic Dublin going to stand this sort of thing?” (“A Cinematograph Show Objected To,” Condon 228). Donnelly objected to the fact that a nun said Mass and that a newly professed nun fell into the arms of a prince. The controversy caused a range of reactions. John J. Farrell responded by retaining the film for the second half of the week, writing a letter to the Freeman contradicting Donnelly’s claims (and perhaps, as alleged in court, threatening legal action if the paper did not print a retraction), and inviting a reporter from the newspaper to give an “objective” assessment of the film. The resulting publicity brought around 600 Dubliners, the seating capacity of the cinema, to subsequent showings of the film. Among these on Friday were William and Francis Larkin, who ended a shouted protest in the auditorium by throwing ink at the screen, splattering the blouse and music of Miss Eager in the orchestra. The Larkins were arrested, found guilty and fined a nominal 5 shillings, a punishment whose leniency suggested – not for the first time – the tacit support of the magistrate for Vigilance Committee activities.

To devote too much attention to the Larkins is to turn away from the story of the cinema, but the newspaper accounts of the case provide details of the working of the Phibsboro that do not survive otherwise. They reveal the name of the attendant Daniel McEvoy, whom William Larkin accused of handling him roughly while removing him, and also two women musicians from the orchestra who would otherwise be anonymous: Miss Eager, the musical director whose blouse was inked, and Miss Duffy, who testified in court. Daniel McEvoy and Miss Eager remain obscure, but Miss Duffy is likely to have been Evelyn Duffy who is listed in the 1911 Census as a 23-year-old professional vocalist living at 106 Phibsboro Road, close to the cinema.

Just three weeks after it opened, the Phibsboro had become a part of the city in several ways. It had become a significant part of the streetscape of north Dublin, a successful business for Farrell and his partners, and a place of employment for McEvoy, Eager and Duffy. Beyond that, it had become central, if only briefly, in one of Ireland’s cultural controversies.

References

“A Cinematograph Show Objected To.” Freeman’s Journal 2 Jun. 1914: 5.

“Building News.” Irish Builder 30 Aug. 1913: 563.

Condon, Denis. Early Irish Cinema, 1895-1921. Dublin: Irish Academic, 2008.

“New Phibsborough Picture Palace.” Evening Herald 23 May 1914: 4.

“New Picture House in Phibsboroough.” Dublin Evening Mail 23 May 1914: 3.

“Opening of the New Picture House in Phibsborough.” Irish Times 23 May1914: 9.

“Our View.” Bioscope 24 Jul.1913: 238.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 30 Oct. 1913: 395; 11 Dec. 1913: 1077; 4 Jun. 1914: 1069.

“World of Finance.” Bioscope 18 Sep. 1913: 933.

“A Terrible Lot of Pups in Balbriggan”: Ensuring the Observance of Cinema Regulations

Reporting on their work in the final quarter of 1913, the Dublin Corporation councillors on the Public Health Committee revealed that they had granted an application for a pay increase made by two public servants. Building surveyors J.J. Higginbotham and William Mulhall deserved an extra £15 per annum because

the duties of examining plans of proposed Places of Public Resort, and the inspection and charge of the several Theatres, Cinema Houses, and other Places of Public Resort, had, to a large extent, devolved to them. […] There had been a large increase in the number of places of public amusement within recent years. These were scattered over a large area, and required frequent inspection to ensure the observance of the Regulations” (Dublin Corporation).

In 1910, the Corporation had increased the pay of Walter Butler, inspector of theatres and places of public resort, in acknowledgement that his work had increased with the introduction of the 1909 Cinematograph Act. However, with the growth in the number of picture houses and their wider distribution around the city than any other places of public resort, Butler delegated more of that work to Higginbotham and Mulhall, and they had to be compensated for the extra workload in their turn. Although the most obvious manifestation of the popularity of cinema was the appearance of a new kind of building on the streetscape, among many less apparent but wide-reaching material effects was its contribution to the careers of certain public officials.

Map of Dublin indicating main places of public resort, that is, theatres and cinemas.

Map of Dublin indicating main places of public resort, that is, theatres and cinemas.

Building regulation was one of the ways that cinema became a cultural institution imbedded in the institutional landscape of 1910s Ireland, and it raises questions about who was doing the regulating. This process was driven from inside Dublin Corporation and other local councils by powerful councillors and other senior officials who were sometimes themselves picture house proprietors or shareholders. John J. Farrell – Dublin’s mayor in 1911 and proprietor in 1913 of the Electric Theatre, Talbot Street and Mary Street Picture House – is frequently cited in this regard (Rockett 28-9, 33-4). However, Farrell was by no means alone in his conflict of interest. Dublin’s long-serving chief medical officer Sir Charles Cameron performed the opening ceremonies of several picture houses, including such early ones as the Dublin Cinematograph Theatre – later the Picture House, Lower Sackville/O’Connell Street – in April 1910, and Farrell’s Electric Theatre in May 1911. When he opened the picture house at the Clontarf Town Hall in July 1913 – receiving a gift of a gold-mounted umbrella – he revealed that he was a shareholder in a cinema company “which was paying 20 per cent., and he was only sorry he didn’t sell out all he had and invest the proceeds in a picture house (applause and laughter)” (“Clontarf Electric Theatre”).

Dorset Picture Hall in its later guise of the Plaza. (Irish Architecture Online.)

Dorset Picture Hall, in its later guise of the Plaza, clearly retaining its origins as a Baptist chapel. (Irish Architecture Online.)

Twenty percent was also the handsome return on profit enjoyed by Farrell and the shareholders of the Talbot Street Electric Theatre, but Cameron was not among these shareholders; “he only honoured us by opening it” (“Dublin Electric Theatre”). Nevertheless, Farrell appealed the Electric’s £160 valuation in November 1913, and the Recorder (chief magistrate) reduced it, accepting that the Electric should not have a higher valuation than the Dorset Street Picture House, which Farrell claimed could hold 1,600 people and charged 3d, 6d and 1s when the Electric had to do away with the top rate on its 3d-6d-9d scale. Effectively shifting attention onto the Dorset, whose owner had no known links to the Corporation, Farrell observed that “in Lent, when other places of a like character were nearly empty, the door porter at Dorset street held out his hands and said, ‘Room for no more’ (laughter)” (ibid).

Handbill for M. W. Shanly's Dorset Picture Hall in July 1914, featuring the latest film adaption of T. W. Robertson's play David Garrick.

Handbill for M. W. Shanly’s Dorset Picture Hall in July 1914, featuring the latest film adaption of T. W. Robertson’s play David Garrick. (Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.)

Indeed, the Dorset was an interesting venue; one of the largest picture houses in Dublin, it had been barely converted from the former Bathesda Chapel by M. William Shanly, who was known primarily for providing chairs at parks in London and Dublin (“Dorset Picture Hall”). Despite having a much larger capacity than the Electric, it resembled Farrell’s picture house in housing a tearooms and being located well off the city centre’s main thoroughfares and close to a large railway station; in the Dorset’s case, this was Broadstone Station. “Travellers can see the pictures, and have their tea, with the assurance that they have not far to go when the time comes to catch their train” (Paddy, 14 Mar. 1912). Already an imposing building, the Dorset was by night “a veritable blaze of light. No less than 300 electric lamps adorn the building, and they have been grouped with care” (Paddy, 5 Dec 1912). Although many patrons smoked, “improved ventilators on the sides and roof of the hall, and on the stage [ensured that] there are scarcely any smoke rays form the operating box to the screen” (ibid).

Dorset small ad for staff. Irish Times 20 March 1911: 1.

Dorset small ad looking for staff. Irish Times 20 March 1911: 1.

With such a large clientele, the Dorset required an extensive staff, and Shanly and his manager Frederick William Sullivan advertised for many of these positions in the Irish Times in March 1911. These included ticket checkers, bill posters, a lady pianist who could play to pictures, two young women to sell tickets and refreshments, an experienced assistant operator to help with the picture house’s five projectors, and boys to sell programmes. The requirements for the door porter mentioned by Farrell were most specific: the two men who were sought must have retired from the police, present a smart appearance, be active and be prepared to wear a uniform. Shanly and Sullivan clearly intended to give the impression that whatever the state of picture houses in other parts of the city, the behaviour on their premises would be well regulated.

Not all Irish picture shows in late 1913 had an imposing attendant or two on the door capable of deterring unruly behaviour. On 22 November, the small County Dublin town of Balbriggan witnessed scenes of uproar, when a group of six local young men rushed the Town Hall to gain free admittance to a picture show (“At the Cinema”). Rather than a burly ex-policeman on the door, a man named McInerney “constituted himself doorman at the outer entrance on the occasion, and was trying to keep order, in the hope that his efforts in that direction might be rewarded by free admission to the pictures” (ibid). McInerney was no match for the six young men, some of whom

went into the passage where tickets for the cinema performances were being issued, and by their frightful language and disorderly and violent conduct caused such a scene of confusion that many intending patrons of the show turned away from the door, while other, who were already inside, came out again through fear and went home (ibid).

At the trial of the young men for riotous and disorderly behaviour, local lamplighter Patrick Darkin “informed the magistrates that there was ‘a terrible lot of pups in Balbriggan,’ and advised their Worships to put a stop to their conduct, which, he said, had resulted in a great deal of damage to the Town Hall” (ibid). Effective regulation of picture houses would be necessary for the cinema to considered respectable entertainment. This would serve the business interests of owners and shareholders, including those working within Dublin Corporation to ensure that their own business interests were legally protected.

References

“At the Cinema: Wild Scenes in Balbriggan.” Evening Telegraph 3 Dec. 1913: 6.

“Clontarf Electric Theatre: New Picture Enterprise.” Freeman’s Journal 19 July 1913: 5.

“Dorset Picture Hall.” Irish Builder 13 May 1911: 317.

Dublin Corporation. Committee Minutes, 1914: 1, pp. 592-3.

“Dublin Electric Theatre: Appeal Against Valuation of Premises.” Dublin Evening Mail 4 Nov. 1913: 3.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 14 Mar. 1912: 759.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 5 Dec. 1912: 725.

Rockett, Kevin and Emer. Film Exhibition and Distribution in Ireland, 1909-2010. Dublin: Four Courts, 2011.

The Flictoflicker Girl

Irish Worker

he masthead of the Irish Worker incorporated idealized depictions of Irish men and women at their labours.

We are often told that labour leader Jim Larkin was against drinking, one of the main leisure pursuits of working-class Irish people, but little is said about his attitude or that of the wider labour movement to cinema. At least in terms of sheer chronology, the rise of the Irish labour movement paralleled the rise of cinema, with a burst of activity in the late 1890s, followed by a major resurgence in the early 1910s. What did labour leaders think about the cinema, this developing cultural institution that seemed so attractive to workers?

During the 1913 Lockout, labour leaders did not see cinema as a medium of agitation, an accessible way of disseminating their ideas. They did, of course, use popular media to agitate, educate and organize, but the popular agitational medium of choice was the press. Nevertheless, the references to cinema in the Irish Worker, the newspaper edited by Larkin from 1911 to early 1914, indicate that people in the labour movement were thinking about the new visual medium. Most of these references suggest that they thought about cinema in fairly straightforward ways. It was a source of income in the guise of the advertisements for the Irish Cinema in Dublin’s Capel Street, the only ads for an entertainment venue that appeared in the paper on a regular basis. It was the occasion of a parody of prominent opponents of radical labour – including Independent newspaper proprietor William Martin Murphy and picture-house owners who were also members of Dublin Corporation, J. J. Farrell and Lorcan Sherlock, the then Lord Mayor – who were said to have attended a special screening of Dante’s Inferno at the Camden Picture House on 10 February 1913 (“Farrell’s Inferno”). Beginning on 22 September, the film would have another week’s run at the Camden, accompanied by a special orchestra. And it was a new type of workplace where the more equitable worker-employer relations being demanded elsewhere also had to be fought for, as they would be when the Theatre de Luxe – another Camden Street picture house – was picketed in late September 1913 following a worker’s dismissal for union activity.

Camden PH Irish Life Dec 1912

An ad for the Camden Picture House in December 1912, showing both its streetfront – with doormen, plants, and cashbox – and auditorium.

The purpose of “The Flictoflicker Girl,” however, is much less straightforward. This short story was written by “Mac,” a pseudonym of Andrew Patrick Wilson, who also frequently contributed to the Irish Worker as “Euchan.” Scottish-born Wilson was active in Delia Larkin’s Irish Workers’ Dramatic Group, and he later managed the Abbey before returning to make significant contributions to Scottish theatre and film (“Who Fears to Wear the Blood Red Badge?”). “The Flictoflicker Girl” appeared on page one of the Worker on 23 August, just a few days before the tram strike that precipitated the Lockout, sharing the front page with articles reviewing George Edwardes’ Gipsy Love, a musical comedy playing at the Gaiety Theatre (Euchan), and analyzing the use of the term “respectability” as a way denigrating trade unionists (Shellback). Both of these articles drew out the immediate political implications of popular culture and language for Dublin workers. The extraordinary focus on culture in this issue suggests that the union was offering workers a Horse Show Week special in all but name. 

“The Flictoflicker Girl” was more oblique in its cultural critique than the accompanying articles. It tells the story of Charlie Payne, who falls in love with the screen image of Daphne Wildrew, the (fictional) Flictoflicker company’s leading lady. When he sees a film in which she gets married and is then abused by her husband, he is first consumed by jealousy and then so overcome by a range of emotions that he has to leave the picture house before the film is over and catch an early tram home. He is flabbergasted to find that the only other occupant of the carriage is Daphne who is “over for local scenes,” but he s traumatized again when she takes his declaration of love as a joke and is met at her stop with a kiss by the dastard from the film.

The story is fascinating for many reasons, but it is particularly intriguing as a unique source of information about the reception of cinema in Ireland at this early point in its institutional development. It addresses its readers – working-class trade unionists – as more sophisticated picture-house patrons than Charlie Payne, whose flight from the city-centre picture house to the suburbs marks him out as middle class and whose foolish fascination with the screen is not excused by youth; an opening paragraph carefully ages him to “that hazy period when men cease to be regarded as eligible and have not yet secured the comfort and dignity of being described as old bachelors.” However, like Charlie, who “never went to theatres, and music halls were places he detested,” readers are assumed to share his “distinct liking for picture palaces,” at least to the extent that they must have a good knowledge of what goes on there to understand the story. Perhaps his connoisseurship, his love of Westerns produced by the Flictoflicker Company, is laughable, yet it was doubtless more so for readers who know that films were already highly codified into genres – of which the Western was the most popular; “no picture programme nowadays is considered complete if it does not include a cowboy film,” as a reviewer in the Dublin Evening Mail commented (“Rotunda Pictures” 9 Sep. 1913) – and that branding by production companies was well established.

Similarly, Charlie’s infatuation with the Flictoflicker Girl would have been topical for readers familiar with the crazes for the Biograph Girl and the Vitagraph Girl, actresses only later famous under their own names Florence Lawrence and Florence Turner, respectively. Indeed, a month after “The Flictoflicker Girl” was published, the Rotunda Pictures broke “new ground as far as Dublin picture houses are concerned” by beginning to show the city’s first film serial, the 12-part Edison serial What Happened to Mary, starring Mary Fuller (“Rotunda Pictures” 23 Sep. 1913). “[A]ll who have seen the opening scenes of Mary’s adventures,” the Dublin Evening Mail reviewer commented, “will be eager to know more about this fascinating actress” (“Rotunda Pictures” 27 Sep. 1913). It is likely, however, that many of the workers who had read Mac’s story in August would have been unable to afford to sit fascinated by Mary Fuller at the Rotunda screen in late September 1913.

References

Euchan. “The Love of Ronance.” Irish Worker 23 Aug. 1913: 1.

“Farrell’s Inferno.” Irish Worker 15 Feb. 1913: 3.

Mac. “The Flictoflicker Girl.” Irish Worker 23 Aug. 1913: 1.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Dublin Evening Mail 9 Sep. 1913: 5.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Dublin Evening Mail 27 Sep. 1913: 3.

Shellback. “The Value of Respectability.” Irish Worker 23 Aug. 1913: 1.

“Who Fears to Wear the Blood Red Badge?” Irish Times 11 Sep. 2013.