On 17 April 1949, the Cabra Grand Cinema on Quarry Road was formally opened. The Lord Mayor of Dublin, John Breen, opened the 1,600 seat cinema by cutting a tricolour ribbon with a pair of gold scissors. The cinema was designed by Samuel Lyons, and in a move that captured the spirit of the time, the building was blessed by a priest from the nearby Christ the King Church in Cabra. After the formalities, the comedy Sitting Pretty was shown. The first two films listed at the cinema in newspaper advertisements (the below advertisement appeared the day after the opening) both featured Maureen O’Hara, and the cinema boasted that it was “equipped with the latest RCA sound system”, to give cinema goers a top class experience.
The first manager of the cinemas was Louis Marie, an interesting individual who had seen action during the revolutionary period. Marie had been a member of the Fianna Éireann republican boy scout organisation, and took part in the Easter Rising in 1916. His name appears in a few of the statements given by participants in the Rising to the Bureau of Military History. Gearoid Ua h-Uallachain, who took part in the attack on the Phoenix Park magazine fort at the beginning of the rebellion, noted that “Louis Marie, manager of a picture-house”, was among those involved. One newspaper article from the time of the cinemas opening claimed that Louis had served in both the French Army and the Irish Army.
Just over a year after its opening, there were very ugly scenes at the cinema, which saw shots fired by Gardaí over the heads of a reactionary mob. Two women had to seek refuge in the cinema, after they had attracted the scorn of hundreds of local people. They had been going door to door with a “peace petition” calling for the banning of the atomic bomb, and residents believed them to be members of a communist organisation. The Irish Press reported on 25 July 1950:
GARDAI from many parts of the city were hurriedly picked up by patrol cars and rushed to Quarry Road, Cabra, last night, to disperse a hostile crowd of nearly a thousand people who had surrounded the Cabra Grand Cinema and threatened two women who had taken refuge there. Weapons brandished and thrown included sticks, stones, bricks and bottles. One Garda, as he was pushing through the shouting and jostling mass, was struck by a brick in the back, but was not seriously injured. To force the crowd away from the cinema doors, which had been closed, Gardai had to draw batons and a number of shots were fired over the crowd’s heads…. The incident had its beginning shortly after nine o’clock when the two women concerned were apparently canvassing in the Quarry Road’area for signatures in connection with a “peace petition” to ban the atomic bomb.It appears that as they were going from house to house the impression that they were members of a Communist organisation got around and they were soon surrounded by a hostile crowd.
There was more drama at the cinema in 1953 when it was held up by two men armed with what appeared to be a pistol. At the time of the robbery the cinema was showing The Apparition, a religious film which was being screened as a fundraiser for the African Missions of the Holy Ghost Fathers. £6 10s was taken on that occasion.
By the late 1950s, television was the big fear for the owners of Dublin’s suburban cinemas. The biggest problem for cinema in Ireland, one official warned in 1959, “would be the advent of television on a national basis.” Many of Dublin’s suburban cinemas closed their doors throughout the 1960s and 70s, but others took on a new lease of life as centres of their communities. Jim Keenan notes in his study of Dublin cinemas historically that “by the late 1960s, the Grand has become economically unviable and it closed on 31 January 1970. The last film shown there was The Big Gundown.” The Cabra cinema was purchased by Gael Linn in 1975, and like other suburban Dublin cinemas it became both a bingo hall and a concert venue.
The old Cabra cinema witnessed a number of celebrated, and in some cases infamous, rock concerts. Indeed, the behaviour of some youngsters after one gig led to a Dublin District Court decision that no more rock concerts could be held in the cinema in 1980. In November 1980 it was reported in the Irish Press that “Gardaí told the court that gangs of youths lay in wait to attack patrons of rock concerts at the cinema.” One source blamed the violence on a “Mod and Skinhead element in Cabra who are always fighting among themselves.” Four stabbings were reported after the legendary U.S punk band The Ramones played the venue. Joe Breen, a journalist with The Irish Times, rushed to the defence of the cinema by noting that the trouble had not only taken place after the gig, but had happened far from the venue. “There is enough trouble at gigs without it being invented”, he noted. Going into the gig, the organisers claimed that the 1,000 or so in attendance were frisked and even had their belts taken from them. Of the gig itself, Breen was far from blown away, writing that “the concert in the end was something of an anti-climax. The excitement had more to do with expectation than with experience.” The Ramones were no strangers to Dublin cinemas, haven performed two years earlier in the State Cinema, Phibsboro.
Siouxsie and the Banshees played the same venue soon afterwards in 1980. A comment on this very blog from a reader by the name ‘PJM’ recalled this gig, noting that the band abandoned the stage with no encore owing to the “crowd trying to get on stage and bouncers not stopping them.” 1980 was a good year for gigs at the venue, with Duran Duran also playing the cinema. Fifteen years later, Boyzone took to the stage of the old cinema before a crowd of well over 1,000 young fans, with one reviewer noting that “the bingo machine could be partially seen lying behind the curtain.”
Today, the old cinema remains very much a part of the community around it, with regular bingo nights drawing huge crowds. It, and other once thriving cinemas, are an unusual feature of suburban architecture in Dublin, and hopefully the buildings will be preserved long into the future. Many local people have great memories of films, concerts and more at this venue and we’d love to hear from you in the comments section below if you’ve a story to tell about it.