Magic Of Those Thurles Cinemas Long Ago.

Short Story Courtesy of Thurles Author & Poet, Tom Ryan ©

No child of the modern era could even begin to imagine the magic and wonder, long ago, attached to going to the pictures, the flicks, the movies- whether in Dulanty’s (Delahunty’s New Cinema) known affectionately as ‘The Wan Below’ or the Capitol Cinema, ‘The Wan Above’.
We had no television in Ireland in the ‘Fifties’ and radio was operated, powered with wet and dry batteries which our family purchased in, what was then, O’Donoghues Electrical in Friar Street, Thurles.

Telephones was something belonging to a few professional folks. School class rooms were dull and boring and the only excitement, perhaps, was in bracing yourself for a few slaps of the cane or the heavy leather, for being late for school or not remembering this or that.

Money was scarce, of course, and you saw few if any holidays; bar day-trips on buses or trains, to support school hurling matches, striving to win the Harty; Dean Ryan; Croke, or Rice cup tropies.
We had our many games available; from hurling and ‘tig’, to marbles and bowley racing, and playing Cowboys and Indians and pirates out on Butler’s Island in the River Suir. But for sheer magic; excitement and adventure, of a high order, we went to the cinema.

Cinema Movie Projector.

Today DVDs of my favourite movies of the ‘Fifties and ‘Sixties, now have a precious place in our sitting room.
But the magic and the excitement of the big silver screen was always something special, to make us forget miserable days at school or the lack of money, or the problems for adults struggling to make ends meet.

A well-known politician, whose party I once chided for not telling the truth about the sorry state of the economy and major economic difficulties of the day, laughed and looked at me like I came down in the last shower.
“The truth”, said he, “Sure people don’t want the truth. Tis too much for them, it would depress them further. They want illusions They want dreams, and that is what we are giving to them”.
Think back, Ryan”, said he, “What kept you and all of us going as young lads in dark times; I’ll tell you, the cinema. You could go in there and fantasise forever, to your heart’s content and enjoy ourselves. It brought us completely out of ourselves and away from dark reality and didn’t we love the cinema for doing just that.”

There were of course many social, educational and mind broadening aspects to going to the ‘flicks’.
You had your buddies with you for one, and you swapped comics and marbles and you had lots of sweets, fizzy bags, gobstoppers, black liquorice sticks, Cleeves toffee, and all bought in McKenna’s shop on the corner of Fianna Road or in the Derheen or in Josie Fitzgerald’s premises down on the Mall.

You could fall in love with the glamorous movie girls up on the screen. You had a close-up view of them as you sat on wooden firms in the pit or the bull ring, which were the cheapest seats in the cinema.
When you got older and quit drooling at the ladies of the silver screen, you grew up and wanted the real item. [And that’s for another day.]

I myself fell madly in love with Jeannette McDonald, ah! “Maytime”. Others I was madly in love with, included Ingrid Bergman (“Brief Encounter”); Ava Gardner (“For Whom The Bells Toll”); Vivienne Leigh (Poor Scarlett in “Gone With The Wind”); Barbara Stanwyck of numerous westerns; and not forgetting Jill Ireland.

By a strange coincidence many years later, I was told by many, that my late wife was the spitting image of Jeannette. I felt I could have got on really well with Jeannette in those days, when romance smelt as sweet as roses and cherry blossoms and…bring on the violins.

Some of the more daring, fell in love with Maureen O’Hara of the “Quiet Man(as indeed I did myself after that famous love scene in the graveyard when O’Hara and John Wayne discovered they were in love during the thunder; lightning and rain. This to me was the most romantic love scene, of all time, in the cinema.
I thought Doris Day was great craic, but not to be taken seriously and Marilyn Monroe (wow), she was too unattainable.

The cinema was nothing, if not romantic and in my school days there was a 6:30pm show in Dulanty’s, which was popular with the Fifth and Sixth years students in Thurles schools.
Some went in on spec, to see what girl they could manage to grab for a court, for the duration of the big picture, (back then “Ben Hur” would have been great for courting). The big picture followed the cartoons like “Woody Woodpecker”, “Tom and Jerry” or short movies featuring the “Three Stooges” (pronounced Stoogies); the “Eastside Kids” and “The Bowery Boys”.
Others cuter (like myself), did not wish to be found wanting on the night and made a date in advance, but didn’t let on to anybody they had, (the cute hoors), and so made it all look so easy on the night.
Anyway, romance was more comfortable in the cinema than in the lane-ways, or that very forbidden and off limits at night, the Watery Mall, especially of cold winter’s night. Anyway, we were told, the ‘Boy’ should never bring the ‘Girl’ down the Watery Mall, thus demonstrating that the ‘Boy’ showed more regard and respect for the ‘Girl’, we were assured.

The younger lads, of course; after the pictures, particularly after Roy Rogers and Trigger; the Durango Kid; Cisco Kid; and Gene Autry, wanted to go and reconstruct the parts in the movies. Then the row started.

“I want to be Roy.” – “You were Roy last week!” – “You can be Smiley Burnett and make us laugh.” – “Oh, feck off, you can be Gabby Hayes, ha, ha,” – “Anyway you can’t be Roy Rogers, you have no gun.” – “I have.” – “Yah, its only an old plastic water pistol, that’s not a real gun.” – “I have a silver irony one and caps ‘n’ all.” – “You’re just as dead if I shoot ya with my wan; Bang! Bang!” – “I’ll let you have two Alan Ladd comics if I can play Roy Rogers… Ah, gwan. Gwan, ya, ya meanie.” – “Three Alan Ladds.” – “Two Alan Ladds and a Beano and Film Fun?” – “Oh, all right, then.”

Then came the parting word. “But that means I’m Roy next week”, and with two hands joined together he leaped up into the air pretending to be riding ‘Trigger’ the horse and slapping his side, off he went into the glorious sunset up the Watery Mall and to home.

The serials were brilliant too and Flash Gordon was only God, in that silver streak flying machine of his. We loved Tarzan; Frances the Talking Mule; and Donald O’Connor, and later, as real cool teenagers we liked Jimmy Cagney; John Wayne; Humphrey Bogart; Sterling Hayden; Robert Taylor; and Frank Sinatra (“From Here To Eternity”, latter whose music sends me into the raptures of romance still).

Looking back on it the music of so many films meant so much to me. ‘Showboat’; ‘Oklahoma’; ‘From Here To Eternity’; ‘Gone With The Wind’; ‘The King and I’; ‘My Fair Lady’; ‘High Society’, and ‘Calamity Jane’.
Every time I think of this movie theme music, I am brought back remember the different female companions at different times of my young life. How many feel the same! Probably millions.

I remember when someone developed 3-D and we were given those red framed special glasses. There was some excitement indeed when arrows and spears started flying in our direction, from the silver screen.

The cinema shop was an integral part of the scene also, as if we had a few pence between us left, we would go up to the shop at the interval between the “trailers” to buy a packet of Smarties; Fruit Gums or just a Fizzy Lollipop.

The comics such as ‘Film Fun’ featured our boyhood heroes ‘Laurel and Hardy’; Charlie Chaplin; Bud Abbot and Lou Costello, and I swapped many a Classic and sixty four pagers, for a ‘Film Fun’ down in Pearse Terrace and up in the Quarry, long ago.
You wondered what was in the over 18s movies and what was being kept from us. It seemed that everything was being kept from us in those times and in some houses, you were not let into ‘The Room’. Only visitors from England or America and often not even them, were allowed to set foot in the
pristine ‘Room’, which was reserved for special people like the Parish Priest. I was later to think how foolish; what a waste of good space such as the practice was, for often nobody ever entered The Room, anyway.

You had of course mobile cinemas in places like Glengoole, where one woman, of my acquaintance, met her future husband. You also had mobile shops and later a mobile library with Paddy Doherty. While in the Gaeltacht, in Cul Aodha I thumbed my way to a mobile cinema set up in a house in Macroom, only to find I had thumbed down a Taxi. Later the mobile travelling cinema came to Ballyvourney near Cul Aodha. You had to fight for your place in the queue, as space in this picture house (and it was a house and a small one at that), was scarce.

Talking about fights. My friend, ‘M‘ tells me of how the lads from West Cork, who beat the Black and Tans, became such great friends in a fight. ‘M‘ told me : “We were all in gangs in those days. If you were in a gang and the other gangs were bigger and stronger than you and inclined to bully you around a bit, you invited a bowls player to join your gang“.
I was myself in a gang and we invited the fastest bowler of our acquaintance, a great champion, to join us; presenting him with a rock for our protection. Now if the fastest young bowler around, threw a rock at you, by God with his accuracy and power you’d feel it. Sure God, you’d be killed stone dead and needless to say, the other gangs left us alone after that.

We also, on wintry Wednesdays, went to the flicks in the Thurles CBS Scoil Ailbhe, Primary School Hall. There, for threepence (hard seats) or a tanner (soft red seats), we enjoyed the antics of “Popeye The Sailor Man”, “Laurel and Hardy” and westerns such as “Winchester 73”. They were a great break from the leathers and canes and the schoolday joys of another era. Here we would panic and groan, whenever our joy was interrupted by breakdowns because of changing film reels, or an unwanted hair, wandering into the projector frame.

When money was scarce at home; to get to the pictures, we youngsters sometimes ran messages, saved hay, sold minerals on trains, played pool, played pitch and toss, snagged beet, sold our comics, swapped our ‘Beauts’ and glossy marbles for a tanner (sixpence) and many other things, to make up the few pence for a trip to the ‘stars and to wonderland’.
So, the cinemas offered us an insight into a world we’d never experienced and on a cold winter’s night, I would on occasion steal out of bed in Fianna Road, to pay my threepence to view Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing, climb Mount Everest and to thrill at the heroism, (we all wanted to be heroes then) of Jack Hawkins in “The Cruel Sea”, and the memory of Ronnie Delaney on his knees in prayer of thanksgiving after he won the 1956 Olympic 1,500 Metres event, which remains still emblazoned on my mind, following that visit to Dulantys.
Today, the ‘Wan Below’ and the ‘Wan Above’ have long since bowed out, having screened their last shows.

All over the world there are boys and girls, of another era, who will recall, with affection, their own moments of magic at the cinema, and the friends they had and the joys they shared. (And I don’t mean specifically that stolen kiss in the back seat).
It was always a place an adult could attend, without being interrupted by mobile phones, door
bells, and crying cats and dogs, not to mention children. Many an innocent romance bloomed and even a match was made in the cinema or in ‘Lambes’ convivial Glenmorgan House restaurant, after shows.
The ticket you paid your threepence or tanner for, was truly a passport to the land of impossible dreams and sheer bliss.
What a great debt of gratitude we owe the owners of such dream palaces and the folks who worked in the cinema, including the ticket men with their probing flash lamps that were the bane of the innocent young lover positioned in the back seat.

“Will ya go out with me, Mary, to the pictures ?” – “I’ll see. Tommy might be bringing me. He’s the captain of the hurling team now”. – “I’m on the team too.”- “Yah, but only as a sub, though.” – “I’m a better hurler than that cissy, who cries like a bloody baby when they use the timber on his arse” – “No French kissing? – “No.” – “Honest?” – “Cross my heart.” – “Tommy is a fierce French kisser, nearly smothered me and kept biting my lips and all, yet he still, bought me a bar of chocolate ..Now..No French kissing eh?” – “No” – “Right, I’ll go with ya so. What’s on?” – “Gone With The Wind”. “Clark Gable. Ooh.. Ooh,…Oh, he is just such a real man.” – “I think Vivienne Leigh is just so gorgeous.” – “Hey, none of that, so do ya want to bring me or not?”

Surely, innocent days, when butter wouldn’t melt in our mouths, and oh Lord, you’d throw sugar at us.

The guys and gals of the silver screen were our heroes and heroines in the days when movies told a story and told it well and the good guys really paid their dues in the end of gangster movies, when the good fella got the good girl, when love always found a way, when we cried for “Madame X” and little Bonny in “Gone with the Wind”, and laughed our sides out with the Marx Brothers.

It was a world of make-believe we believed was true, and in a way maybe it was. It was largely a moral world; true to ideals; beliefs; hopes; and ambitions, fostered in our homes. I think we knew that our world really could be “A Wonderful Life”, and ultimately it helped us create such a wonderful life for each of us back then.


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