IN March 1988 Barry Leahy, the Palace Cinema’s well-known cinema operator for over 30 years, invited me to this Cork establishment on McCurtain Street – it was closing and he wanted to chat with me about its history.
I left and met Barry who introduced me to the manager, Anne Broderick; the head usher, Patrick O’Lonaigh and the store manager, Sandra Brennan, after which Barry and I took our seats in the theatre. Surrounded by plush regal Victorian elegance, we discussed its rich, colorful heritage.
The following June, after serving the people of Cork for nearly a century, its doors closed; two years later it was taken over by the Everyman Theater Co and subsequently became known as the Everyman Palace Theatre.
The Palace Cinema was known as ‘The Palace of Variety’ or ‘Dan Lowrey’s Musical Hall’ and was the oldest purpose-built theater building in Cork, opening to the public on Easter Monday evening, 19 April 1897.
Dan Lowery owned theaters in Belfast and Dublin and had taken a big gamble opening a music venue in Cork as the part of town it was in was off the beaten track.
The building stretched from McCurtain Street to St Patrick’s Quay where foreign ships docked outside its back door. Next to it were dilapidated sheds, warehouses, coal sheds and a disused quarry – a haunt for idlers and idlers. Plus, not only were the locals all fierce theater critics; the influence of the clergy on public opinion at the time was immense, adding greater scrutiny to Lowrey’s enterprise.
Despite all the odds though, The Cork Examiner tells us that Lowrey’s Musical Hall had a brilliant opening night.
The place was packed with people from all walks of life eager to see the show. One can imagine the excitement – the sound of orchestra members bustling about tuning their instruments, performers trying to control their stage fright, stagehands hurrying back and forth – a veritable hive of activity. Dan Lowery, dressed in Victorian elegance, could be seen wiping his brow with a silk handkerchief as he gazed through the curtains at the room filled with tobacco smoke.
Seated in the “gods”, soaking up the atmosphere, were the “critics”, turning their attention from time to time to the enthusiastic audience seated below. And with each appearance by a well-known public figure, choruses of cheers, whistles and hisses filled the air, adding to the excitement.
Highlights of the line-up that night included Australian FT Millis, ventriloquist his dolls with Corkonian drollery and backing vocalists who wrapped up the show amid cheers and catchy songs. That night, Dan Lowrey was accepted by the Corkonians.
During this time, everyone went to church and no decent lady would be caught dead in a music hall because of her rather dubious reputation. Despite this and in order to attract a female audience, Lowrey instituted a ladies’ night where each lady was presented with a cup of tea on a tray during intermission. For this reason, Lowrey’s Hall quickly became a renowned institution.
During the early years of the 20th century, Thomas F O’Brien, an opera lover, became the new director and soon the Palace became a renowned venue for operas. In 1918, it had 50 employees, including six orchestral musicians.
In December 1955, when the Opera burned down, the Palace presented all of its plays and operas. The following year, Mr. Ahern, the palace manager died and Dermot Breen took office. And in 1959, due to the increase in the number of moviegoers, the Palace closed for a few weeks for renovations, reopening on Saturday evening, December 12. According to Barry Leahy: “It was a memorable night. Outside on MacCurtain Street there were hundreds and hundreds of people of all ages, all eager to catch a glimpse of some of the well-known personalities as they entered. Our own Jack Lynch – then Minister of Industry and Trade – officiated at the opening.
The Palace was an MGM house and was the first cinema in the city to install “cinemascope” and “perspecta sound”. Each time a good film arrived on the market, the Palace reserved it.
And when the films arrived at Kent Station, they were brought by horse and cart to the Palace.
During a screening of the film Ben Hur in the early 1960s, Leahy recalled: “One night there was a violent thunderstorm; the image kept turning on and off, but it remained on for the entire chariot race which lasted 20 minutes; however, after the screening, many viewers got a little hot under the collar and demanded a refund. However, Mr. Breen was there and explained that it was out of our control. It was accepted and everyone went home.
In the 1960s, magic shows were very popular. Paul Goldin and “Mandrake” were always sold out, however, with the advent of television in the early 60s and video in the 70s, many of the city’s major cinemas were closed.
Recalling the closure of the Palace Cinema, Leahy said: “Looking back over the years at the Palace, we were all one big happy family. We’ve had ups and downs, but who doesn’t. I really liked working there. »