Eureka Cinema Charlestown in Co. Mayo, part 2

The heating consisted of a small circular paraffin heated stove placed in the front of the balcony, hence the clamour for rows A, B and C. The right aisle seat, beside the heater, was kept for the local Dancehall proprietor, a friend of Luke's, and the four seats behind him in row B, for the manager of the local Bank and his family, all avid cinemagoers. Those patrons seated behind these rows, viewed the 'spectacles of the century' through icicled lashes, unless they came prepared with overcoat, scarf, gloves and fleeced lined boots. Downstairs warmth was provided by a large cast-iron turf-fired heater along one wall towards which early picture-goers gravitated. This area also included the heaviest smokers and film critics, who had a very effective way of expressing their disapproval of some scenes, by collectively banging the timber floor. The wave of cigarette smoke arising from this region made for rather blurred viewing for those at the back.

Air conditioning was unheard of in those days. The opening of windows on one side was the only ventilation we got and this only during a heatwave, in response to some gasping patrons. However the breath of air may not have lasted too long as the noise of the "Battle of Atlanta" awakened the neighbours child and the shutters had to be closed again. As well as this, other patrons complained of noise when a nearby dog started to bark and prevented them from hearing Judy Garland singing the "Wizard of Oz".

My brother and sister and I, in our early years, were taken to the balcony by our mother, clustered together in the middle rows, clad for the Klondyke, under a Foxford Rug and boosted by a hot water bottle which we all shared. Comfortably ensconced in those torrid conditions, we could indulge our fantasies with our heroes and heroines on the screen - Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers riding to the aid of damsels in distress; James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart shooting it out in the gangster scenes, with the Dead End Kids tagging along. "The Roaring Twenties" and "Angels with dirty faces" were our favourites; the funny antics of the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, and Abbot and Costello and the death-defying deeds of Errol Flynn, the No1 star of the day ..... Enchantment!

The film studios had opening symbols for their respective films and we were familiar with them all - Warner Brothers had WB enclosed in a heart, (this usually meant a good thriller in those days), Paramount showed a mountain peak surrounded by a semi-circle of stars, Metro Goldwyn Meyer silenced us with their roaring lion, Columbia's Statue of Liberty were easily recognisable, but the one that had the greatest impact on us was from the Rank Group. It had a suspended steel gong the full size of the screen and a heavily muscled Mr Universe type standing beside it holding a massive 'sledge' sort of gong.

As the well known voice-over commenced "J Arthur Rank presents" the strongman would wield his powerful weapon and strike the gong with an almighty bang. Many a distraught parent had to listen to the hullabaloo in their darling's den, as he dramatised the moment, pounding away at his drum, hanging fingerly from the centre light. Sometimes a car hub cap and a hammer would be used for a more booming effect.

During the War, in order to help live theatre artists, the Government introduced Cine-Variety. This meant that each film showing had to preceded by a half-hour of live theatre consisting of local musicians, singers, dancers, reciters etc. This was often more popular than the films that followed, particularly when the performers had to contend with the hisses and rude remarks of some impatient cinemagoers, eager to see their screen heroes.

Before the main feature film we always had 'shorts'. These would last between five and fifteen minutes and we would usually have three. I recall a series called, 'Truth is stranger than fiction', this was followed by the Pathe newsreel, giving us all the worlds war news of the week. We did not realise it at the time but of course it was Allied propaganda and must have unconsciously influenced our thinking in future life. This could be followed by a nature programe and lastly came the 'trailer' of the forthcoming 'highly acclaimed blockbuster from America' From time to time as a sort of 'two for the price of one' Bonus, we were treated to a 'Double Feature'. This consisted of a B Movie, somewhat shorter than the principal one, and generally had second rate actors. This served as a sort of curtainraiser to the main event.

My Mum's favourites were the Musicals - particularly those with Judy Garland, and Deanna Durbin - and the 'Weepies'. Our household was saddened for days at the death of Bette Davis' Character in 'Dark Victory'. But most of all it was the humorous capers of the comedians that stayed with us as we attempted, in our tin-pot way, to imitate them during our leisure hours. There were showings on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday nights, but it was the Sunday matinee which contained the highlight of our expectations - the Serial "Flash Gordon conquers The Universe". Would Flash survive yet another attack on his spaceship by the fearful Emperor Ming? ..... don't miss the next episode! With bated breath we had to wait seven full days for an eagerly awaited solution.

As the emotionally drained and laughter laden patrons departed nightly from their darkening picture-house, leaving their dream worlds behind, they would fortify themselves in Mrs Salmon's nearby sweetshop with brown paper bags of bulls-eyes, a packet of five Woodbines (if they were lucky) and one of her delicious home-made vanilla ice-creams. They would then retrieve their bicycles, which they had parked against the walls of many of the local houses in the street, much to the chagrin of the owners, and prepare themselves for the real world. Strangely enough during all those years I never once heard of a bicycle being stolen or even damaged. Mounting their Raleigh they would ride, John Wayne style, into the sunset, complete with holstered cycle pump on the rear upright bar and claw-like spurs clasped around their trouser bottoms for protection.

The charming old-world, owner managers of the Cinema have long passed to their eternal reward but the friendly welcome and happy smiles with which they greeted each patron will be remembered for many a long day. The highly-rouged face of Louise in the Box, always good for a free pass for the 'skint' regular; Marian, heavily coated and booteed, chain smoking away as she managed to squash you into a packed balcony seat; the lightly built figure of Joe, precariously perched on his high timber stool, ever eager to discuss the news of the day, as he split the Parterre tickets; and Luke, forever the genial host, filling you on a highlight of the night's presentation, before slipping out to TB's adjoining hostelry for his nightly Scotch and soda. To those family members who dedicated their twilight years to bring us so much enjoyment, we owe an immense debt of gratitude. They certainly gave us some of "The best years of our lives". May they rest in peace.

Sadly the Eureka, our childhood lifeline-to-the-world, is no longer in use. Like so many Cinemas in rural Ireland, it closed it's doors in the early sixties, one of the casualties of Television. It has since housed a knitting industry, a tool manufacturing workshop, a secondhand furniture store and currently I see a notice on the front door seeking planning permission for apartments. It is possible that the old site could now be accommodating an Office Block.

But for those of us who grew up during the 'emergency' and the immediate post-war years, it still represents the happy-go-lucky days of our youth, for there we discovered another magical world, which even if only for a few fleeting hours, sustained, enlightened, and captivated us during those halcyon enriching times over half a century ago.

© Cathal Henry Feb 2003 (Many thanks to Paddy Henry)