Growing up in a small town in the West of Ireland during World War 2 was generally a rather uneventful experience. With virtually no transport and only Radio Eireann and the three National papers, highly censored, to keep us in touch with the outside world, (i.e. beyond our nearest town), it was easy to see why our local Cinema, or picture-house as we knew it in those days, became the focal point of our young lives.
The 'Eureka' which had opened it's doors at the start of hostilities in late 1939, was originally a private house in our street, directly across from our own home. It was owned by four members of an old established business family in the town, the PA Mulligan family, all of them in their late fifties and early sixties, and each of them contributed to the actual day-to-day running of the concern.
Louise and Marian, having retired from the family trade, were front of house - the former collected the admission fee and issued the tickets from the 12" square window of a small room just inside the front door and later functioned as usherette in the balcony, where the 1/4d top-class, leather tip-up quality seats were situated.
Joe, the elder brother, was at the downstairs entrance, to the rear of which were the 9d timber forms, with backs, and the 4d children's backless forms to the front. He doubled as chief ticket-tearer, checker-in and issuer of passes-out during performance. His brother Luke mingled throughout the place, greeting the patrons, with a special welcome for his friends, whom he escorted to their seats, with a kind word and a hug; dealing with crowd control (with very little success I'm afraid), imparting a general resume about the star-studded epic they were about to see, but most of all, armed with his massive torch, attempting to quell, during the film, the shouts and ribald remarks of some of the rowdies amongst the 9d seaters, by spotlighting the danger zones, usually, to little or no avail. In fact there were occasions when the melee was so bad, that the film had to be stopped and the main hall lights put on before order could be restored.
He doubled as an Undertaker and 'prepared' his coffins in an upper room, adjoining the Balcony entrance. Many a newcomer to the 1/4d's on opening the wrong door could find themselves confronted by an open casket on low trestle supports, surrounded by all the trappings of burial. Another brother, the gregarious cigar-smoking Paddy, was a Solicitor in Ballina. He owned two 'Estoria' Cinemas, one in Ballina and the other in Galway. As he did the booking for both places, he also included The Eureka, and consequently we got the first-run films straight from Dublin, before all the smaller towns in the area. This resulted in large queues from time to time outside our Movie theatre. I can recall a long line of people trying to get in to see "The Song of Bernadette" and "Going My Way". The weekly programme was advertised on a small poster and in the local newspaper, The Western People, but most patrons relied on the town's bellman, John Irwin, to bring them the glad tidings of the night. About an hour before opening time, at around 7.30, John toured the streets ringing his huge bell, and in his great stentorian voice announcing through his homemade tin megaphone to one and all the latest picture show, always straight from Hollywood. He started every announcement with an earth-shaking 'Hear ye, Hear ye, Hear ye', and ended on the same attention-grabbing note with 'Don't miss'.
Every household in the street knew when it was 'Doors open' as the lovely voice of John McCormack singing 'Where the Shannon River meets the sea' came scratchily across the outside loudspeakers. I often wondered why they unfailingly started with this particular song but never had the courage to ask. The same half-dozen tunes were played, in the same sequence, for many years before the 'nine o'clock sharp' transmission.
Because the operator in the Projection Room, who actually showed the films, worked at his daily job in my father's business, I easily fell in as his enthusiastic dogsbody. My main task was to collect lead-covered boxes of film reels which arrived on the daily train from Dublin. I had to be on the ball and deliver them promptly, as in those days, for some reason, all the reels had to be rewound before showing. Two projectors were used, and during the changeover from one reel to another, Murphy's law sometimes took over with reel no 3, the last one, coming before no 2. As you may imagine this proved to be a bit confusing for the patrons, as they were known to vent their disapproval by letting off 'stink bombs'.
Many a time when the train was very late, the patrons had to wait up to an hour before proceedings could start. No one seemed to mind, least of all the courting couples in the back rows. I also had the task of putting up the 'stills' on the walls of the foyer. These were action photos of the Stars in scenes from their current films. At Christmas time when a full two weeks of non-stop favourites were being promoted I had to hand out a small two page cardboard programme of events. Near the end of the last page you would inevitably receive the following advice 'If you see We Recommend, this means something special is in store for you, but if you spot We Definitely Recommend, be prepared to have your mind blown away!
Read more about the Eureka Cinema Charlestown in its glory days.
© Cathal Henry Feb 2003 (Many thanks to Paddy Henry)