Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Carlow in Pictures
Up Tullow Street down Memory Lane

Edited by Michael Purcell, 1970. (published 1983.)


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The Coliseum Cinema

The Coliseum Cinema (seating capacity 750), which was built on Ryan's Coal yard, opened it's doors for the first time to the picture-going public on Friday 19th September 1941. It was Carlow's second operating Cinema. The Ritz had opened in June 1938, replacing Frank Slater's, "Palace Cinema", which was completely gutted by fire on St. Stephens night in 1937. (Frank Slater was my grandmother's brother).
The original directors were Messrs. J. L. Kelly and Joe Egan of Portlaoise, and Fred McElwee of the Station Road, and Fred Pollard of Kilkenny Road, Carlow. The Cinema which was considered one of the most modern in Ireland was erected by Mr. P. J. Matthews, Building Contractor from Portlaoise, the architect was Thomas Burke also from Portlaoise. The artistic decorations were carried out by P. J. McGrath of Publicity Art Services Ltd., Dublin. The cinema was fitted out with the latest Western Electric Projector and W. E. Mirrophonic sound system.

Foot note to 'artistic decorations' in the hope it would help those coming to Carlow and perhaps avoid disappointment!

The lights on wall with red bulbs we know now they are called "up lighters" or "wall washers". Well I was told years ago that the shell shaped shades of these were made locally by taking off the top of one of the council water fountains (the "yokes" that replaced the long handled spring water pumps.) and making a mould from which the semicircular shades were produced. There was one outside Rossiter's shop, number 85, on Pollerton Road.

Can anyone substantiate this?

A publicity handout stated "the film story will be heard with extraordinary clarity in every part of the house." The projectionist was John Fitzpatrick aided by Robert Fleming and Seamus Sheehan, others employed were May Bonney, Masie Byrne, Sheila Carter, Emily English and Harry Hogan. The opening film was "Batchelor Mother", featuring Ginger Rogers and David Niven. The prices of admission were 1/4 (one shilling and four pence), 1/ = (one shilling) , and 4d (four pence) for the pit. Booking for the opening night was at Miss McElwees 16 Dublin Street. The 6.45 and 9 p.m. houses were booked out and the management ran an extra house at 11.30 p.m.

The programme for the week included George Formby in "No Limit", Claude Rains in "The Invisible Man", Charles Laughton and Boris Karloff in "Old Dark Horse", and Zazu Pitts and Anna Neagle in "No No Nanette". On the opening night of the new Coliseum Cinema the Ritz Super Cinema featured Marlene Dietrich and John Wayne in "Bijou of the South Seas", claiming "if you thought she was dynamite in Destry, wait until you see her now".

A few weeks after opening the Coliseum featured a live show with Edgar Benyon's "Great Krazy Mystery Night", a billboard outside proclaimed "10 prizes - 10 value, everyone joins in and anyone can win a prize. Just bring along any small article in your pockets and see the result. Dozens of splendid prizes".

The second live show at the Coliseum was "The amazing Benyon (Edgar again?) who will hypnotise Ladies and Gentlemen from the audience".

My own memories of the "Col" are of a man wearing a soft hat, I think he had one arm ? (Harry Hogan) who, with the aid of a powerful voice and a colourful flow of language, succeeded in keeping us quiet during "the talking bits". It was possible to sneak out to the yard at the back of the screen, where many of the lads were disappointed to find that there were not scores of Cowboys and Indians on horses waiting to ride across the screen or perhaps relieved to find that the "Thunder and Lighting" of a Frankenstein film was replaced by calm daylight in the yard.

It was here that I first became acquainted with Cowboys such as Roy Rogers , Gene Autry, Walter Brennan , Gabby Hayes, and my two favourites Smiley Burnette and Gary Cooper, we also enjoyed Mother Reilly, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Majorrie Main in "Ma and Pa Kettle", and everyone's favourite Laural and Hardy, the "serial" every Sunday, and guaranteed to send everyone under the seats was Boris Karloff, and another favourite of mine the harmless Lon Chaney Jnr. (I won't even mention Peter Lorre). But I was very nearly being banned for life from the" Col" when one Sunday, as an innocent 7 or 8 year old, I asked the nice middle-aged lady in the "ticket box" (May Bonney), "why do they call you hatchet face?", by the look on her face I knew I was in trouble, (a look that also confirmed why she might be so called). I was barred and told "never to darken the door again". Barred I remained until I discovered that I could get a friend to buy a ticket for me and then I could slip under the ticket box window and race down the long hall to the double doors of the Pit where the ticket collector stood, (many years later when I got to know May we often laughed over this incident).

Later years, Jack Doyle and Movita appeared live in the Coliseum, so too did Din Joe, he who gave the Irish nation " step dancing" live on the Radio. ("Lift the latch and step right in", was his introduction).

In later years the Coliseum was acquired by Tommy Heavey of Heavey Brothers, Fruit Importers before passing to the present owners Mr. Leo Ward and Mr. Anderson.

Before proceeding further up Tullow Street I would like to relate a little of the local happenings in and around September 1941 glimpsed from the Nationalist newspaper reports.
Outbreaks of Foot and Mouth Disease in Carlow and indeed in the rest of the County resulted in numerous dances and public gatherings being cancelled, for fear of spreading the disease. Not all of the social events of 1941 were cancelled however and among the dances held were The Carlow Number 1 Group Local Defence Force, - Courtown Camp Re-Union Dance which was held in the Ritz Ballroom. Music was provided by Wally Hall and his Dublin Band "brother of Henry Hall of the B.B.C. Admission 2/6 (two shillings and sixpence).
Henry Hall., leader of the BBC Dance Orchestra

The Irish National Forresters Dance in the Ritz with music by Toby Bannan and his Band with special attraction "an Electric Guitar", dancing 9 p.m to 3 a.m.

Carlow Rowing Club Annual Dance in the Ritz, Music by Leo O'Connor's Band.

Carlow Workman's Club Ceilidhe and Dance in the Ritz, music by Carlovian Dance Band, admission 1/=. (one shilling).

Carlow Swimming Club Dance with Ralph Sylvester's band also in the Ritz.

Harry Bailey visited the Ritz Cinema looking for new vocal talent. Locals were invited to perform and if suitable would be introduced into Variety.

In the Town Hall a film was screened "The Way to the Cross", it was claimed to be the only sound film of the life of Our Lord. It was stated that "the film had packed the Albert Hall in London for three months and had been viewed and blessed by Cardinal Mac Rory".

The Local Defence Force "fell in" at the Fair Green and was inspected by area officer Capt. Fitzgerald.

The Irish Press Shield was presented to assistant group leader M. J. Doyle.

On the 7th September 1941 Bishop Keogh speaking at First Mass referred to the evil influences which had crept into the amusements of the public, particularly at local dances, he called attention to the unchristian conduct and scenes of rowdiness and unseemly behaviour which was manifested inside and outside dance halls. He cautioned his congregation to beware of the influences and avoid the evils of excessive drinking with particular emphasis on the harm it wrought in the case of the youth of the country.

The following week the Urban Council debated if it would in future make the Town Hall available for dancing to the general public. It was noted that, "people coming from dances kick up a most infernal row. They shout and sing. Motor horns are blown and male and female shrieks reminiscent of the forest life of an African jungle shatter the silence of our sleeping town". It was demanded that some action be taken to penalise them for their outrages.

On a lighter note for September 1941 Carlow had a personal visit from Louis D'Alton. (Louis was married to Carlow born Annie Mulhall, later famous as 'Minnie' of the television show the Riordans.) Louis presented his Abbey Theatre Plays in the Town Hall for four nights.

Carlow Swimming Club held their "Club Gala" on the Barrow track, adm. 6d. (six pence ).

Ladies and Gents Open Handicap, Senior and Junior Diving with special attraction 'The Great Marvello, and her assistant". Spectators were not admitted on the Graiguecullen Bank of the river owing to the foot and mouth outbreak.

Another swimming event was Carlow's inter club challenge with the Army team in the new swimming pool on the Curragh. The Carlow team was (senior) John Harding, J. Doran, D. Doran, P.J.Harte, J.J. O'Neill, J.A. O'Neill (junior) Sean O'Neill, J. Dempsey, S. Corcoran, and J. Donoghue, other promising exponents in the Carlow Swimming Club were Mr. T. Corcoran, Misses R. Brannigan, D. Rafferty, B. Keating, and O. Keating.

On the G.A.A. front the question on everyone's lips was would Carlow beat Dublin in the Leinster Senior Football Final at Dr. Cullen Park. Would Carlow win their first Leinster title? Carlow had qualified when they beat Wexford in a third replay at Croke Park, of particular note for that match was a 78-year-old Carlovian who cycled to Croke Park and back, (no it wasn't Jimmy Doogue he used to walk).

The Carlow team was trained by J. Dundon of Dublin Street, but 1941 was not their year, they went under to Dublin. One of the reasons put forward for their loss was the fact that the team had endured a three months forced absence from the game because of the foot and mouth outbreak. However it was noted "the Carlow representatives need not be down hearted as they have good material and youth on their side and are a force to be reckoned with".

St Fiacc's School Graiguecullen was blessed by Bishop Keogh among those present were Fr. O'Haire P.P.

Source: Michael Purcell c2008


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