Pandemics, shawlies, and scams: Memories from heyday of Cork cinema

In a sequel to last week’s Cork cinema nostalgia, JO KERRIGAN revisits the issue to hear readers’ special memories of their childhood trips to the movies
Pandemics, shawlies, and scams: Memories from heyday of Cork cinema

FULL HOUSE: Patrons at the Pavillion Cinema in Cork on May 16, 1952, for a midnight matinee of Show Boat, starring Ava Gardner and Howard Keel. The Pav was open from 1921 to 1989

WHAT a flood of memories were evoked by my article on the great days of cinema last week!

Friends, family, and even perfect strangers came through enthusiastically with their own stories from a time when the picture house was a magical world of escapism and adventure.

My own brother Gilbert, who now lives in the U.S, revealed a long-hidden secret from 1956, the year of the polio epidemic.

“We were forbidden to go to the cinema, but Reach For The Sky, the story of Douglas Bader, was on at the Savoy, and I wasn’t going to miss it.

“So without telling anybody, I went to it, tying a handkerchief round my face just to be on the safe side. It was wonderful!”

Tom and Eddie — both asked for their surnames to be withheld, in case anyone was still looking for them from escapades in the cinemas of 60 years ago — went to every horror movie they could. The Blob, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and It Came From Beneath the Sea, were especial favourites. They had several useful scams running, one in particular enabling two to get in at the Capitol for the price of one.

“It worked this way. One of us would go in, buy a half-price ticket, and go through. Then he would go down to the toilets, where there was a small ventilation window opening on to a side alley.

“Meanwhile, the other one of us would be waiting outside that window, to receive the torn half of the ticket. Once he had it, he would head for the front steps and in past the ticket office, waving his piece of paper and saying he had just been out to the shop for a bar of toffee.”

The Assembly Rooms was much patronised by these terrors of the 1950s, and the cheaper wooden seats at the front are well remembered.

“There was a long-held tradition concerning Georgie, who was the usher and a real disciplinarian.

FILM MECCA: The Palladium (formerly the Lido) cinema in Blackpool, Cork, in the early 1960s. Youngsters often found a way to sneak into the Lido for free
FILM MECCA: The Palladium (formerly the Lido) cinema in Blackpool, Cork, in the early 1960s. Youngsters often found a way to sneak into the Lido for free

“Whenever there was a cowboy movie on, and a big shooting scene happened, with bodies everywhere, a unanimous cry would go up, ‘Georgie! Remove the bodies!”

This delightful memory was confirmed by several other patrons of the Assems at the time, and seems to date from a time when Georgie was seen tiptoeing behind the screen during a film, whereupon it was suggested that he was tidying up after a massacre.

Cork being Cork, the tradition stuck.

Tom also recalls the number of kids with empty pockets who would hang around outside the Assems before the show started, asking everyone, “Would you have the odd ha’penny, boy?”

They would ask every single passer-by until in the end they had enough hapennies to make the 10d entrance money.

“I tell you, that became a catch phrase, and if you say it to people of the right age now, they know immediately where you got it. ‘Would you have the odd ha’penny, boy?’

Donal Murray, who grew up in Paul’s Lane, where a car park now stands, vividly recalls being taken to the Assembly Rooms by his granny, Mary Ann Murphy.

“She wore a black shawl, I remember, and I felt so safe with her.

“We would stop at a shop on our way up to the South Mall — it might have been in Cook Street — and she would buy me a little box of sweet cigarettes.”

These fondant treats, white with a red tip to denote a lit cigarette, were much favoured by small boys in the days before smoking ceased to be acceptable behaviour.

On another occasion, Donal was at the Capitol one day, during a particularly exciting cowboy movie, when the sound suddenly went.

“You wouldn’t believe it, but there was hardly a pause before the audience chimed in with their own sound effects, which were brilliant.

“Shouts, cries, banging guns — we did them all! After a while, just when we were really beginning to enjoy ourselves, the management stopped the film and gave us tickets for another day. But we were having a great time. We were better than the original sound!”

Mr Murray also remembers sitting near the front at the Capitol on another occasion, and noticing a movement at the nearby emergency exit ,which normally only opened outwards.

A small boy slipped through and under the cover of darkness made his way rapidly up the side of the cinema. He was followed by half a dozen more.

This particular scam required two experienced operators, one inside the cinema, the other outside by that exit. Willing children paid twopence, the outside worker knocked softly, the insider opened the door quietly, utilising a noisy scene on the screen where possible, and let the illegals in.

“They would have had to keep well out of sight and away from the usher, or they would be out again, on their ear!” adds Donal.

This trick was also commonplace at the Lido, where that great Corkman, Noel Magnier (author of Is That You Boy? and the life of bowler Mick Barry), spent as much of his childhood years as possible.

FILM MECCA: The Palladium (formerly the Lido) cinema in Blackpool, Cork, in the early 1960s. Youngsters often found a way to sneak into the Lido for free
FILM MECCA: The Palladium (formerly the Lido) cinema in Blackpool, Cork, in the early 1960s. Youngsters often found a way to sneak into the Lido for free

“We lived for the ‘following-up’ serials, like Captain Marvel, Flash Gordon, Superman, The Lone Ranger, all of those. You’d see an exciting story one week, but would have to wait until the next one to find out if he escaped from the baddies, or she was rescued from the cliff. It was great!”

These weekly episodes were the last of an old tradition from the early days of film, when our grandparents sat enthralled by The Perils of Pauline or other melodramatic one-reelers, wondering if she would be untied from the railway track in time, or snatched from the burning building.

Not for nothing was the Lido sarcastically known as the ‘miracle house’. Why? Because “you could go in a cripple and come out walking!”

Not perhaps politically correct by today’s standards, but rather reflecting a perceived plethora of miniscule irritating pests.

Neither Noel nor anyone else, however, can confirm the legend that you could get into the Lido for a few clean jam jars. Everyone has heard the story, but nobody confesses to have actually handed over the glass for the ticket.

It’s quite possible that there was such a time when barter replaced hard cash — a factory like Ogilvie & Moore, which suffused the region around Clontarf Street and Parnell Place with appetising scents when it was boiling up the jam, would have always had a need for one and two pound jars.

If any reader does remember buying his way in long ago by snatching the empty marmalade pot from the kitchen table, please do let us know! Email

Although the Lido was Mecca for Noel and his gang, their more usual haunt was St Mary’s Hall up by the North Cathedral.

Here they would queue up for horrors, thrillers, cowboys and Indians, whatever was on offer. If they had the money, of course.

Gathering the pennies from doing odd jobs like delivering turf or wood, cleaning out pig lorries, or even putting on shows of their own, they would eagerly attend screenings.

Magnier recalls the manager of the Savings Bank next to the Hall becoming exasperated with their habit of depositing their earnings on, say, a Monday, and withdrawing them again come the weekend.

“He suggested that we shouldn’t bother bringing it in at all,” laughs Noel.

If pockets were completely empty, there was still another road open, albeit a concealed one.

“All the ladies from the Coal Quay used to go up to St Mary’s Hall to the pictures and a kindly one, like Peg Twomey, would say, ‘Come on lads, get in here under my shawl.’

“Then she would sail in like a mother hen to buy her ticket, and us little ones would scurry along past the usher under that enveloping black shawl!”

And there is so much more. The Coliseum and its usher ‘Rubberneck’. The Cameo with its ‘art’ films. The Junior Film Society at the School of Art. The ‘suitable’ films shown at Christians.

Come on, let’s see your memories!

To view Jo's article from last week see here:

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