By Brian Gabriel
In 1946, a Group of eight, energetic young men, namely: John Cashman, Tom Hennessy, Sean Doyle, Denis Callanan, Kevin Barry, Paudie Collins, Eddie Fitzgerald and Con Cashman, got together and, in their spare time after work, began an enterprise which resulted in the Emer Cinema and Ballroom being built and operated successfully for a number of years before being turned into a knitwear factory and subsequently a furniture upholstery and restoration business.
After six months of solid work from the time they purchased the site they eventually had their opening night on Saturday 30th September 1950. This was not open to the general public but rather a special “thank you” night for all the friends who had helped them during the building. They showed the John Ford 1941, Oscar winning film “How Green was my Valley”, a Welsh mining village melodrama, starring Walter Pidgeon and Maureen O’Hara as the very first film and were delighted with the response from their invited guests.
Many travelling film shows had only one projector and this resulted in an annoying break in the film, with sometimes the patrons becoming quite unruly, stamping their feet and whistling, giving the projectionist a hard time while the second reel was being loaded. So to avoid this type of disruption, the Group had two projectors installed to ensure there would be no break in the continuity if the film had two or more reels.
A sign writer, based in Patrick St. was hired to make up posters advertising the film shows and dances, with a section left blank so that the name of a specific film or dance band and the date of the function could be added later. A second-hand slide projector was bought and they made their own slides advertising the forthcoming programmes which were then shown before the main film. Other products and local events were also advertised.
Some American films were rented from and supplied by Ryan Harris and General Film Distributors in Dublin. Others with major studio names like M.G.M., 20th Century Fox and Colombia had their own rental centres while Sight and Sound Distributors handled mostly the British films. Most of these films were hired at the rate of £3 (€3.81) per night depending on their popularity but a deal could be done for quantity and length of time required. The Group usually took 10 films per week and showed them at various locations for the entire week thus resulting in the best possible return for the outlay. Admission to the film shows was 1/4d (9c) per adult while children were charged 6d (3c) or 8d (4c). Sometimes these film shows were not always well attended, especially on warm summer evenings when the admission charged would barely cover the cost of hiring the film in the first place. Likewise, the public had their own favourite actors and actresses and if a film with unknown players was billed they could be fickle and were likely to stay away.
The Emer opened to the general public on the following night, Sunday 1st October, with a “Grand Dance” from 8 to 11 p.m. The music was by “Des Mularky and his Band” and the admission was 2/6 (10c) including tax. The first late dance was held on Sunday 15th and was billed as a Grand Victory Dance. It was run by The Blarney Athletic and Cycling Club from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. and the admission was 3/9 (15C) including tax. The first films shown to the general public were, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” with Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman on Tuesday 3rd and “It Happened on 5th Avenue” on Friday 6th. Admission to the films was 1/3 (5c) and 1/8 (7c) including tax.
Capacity of the Emer was comfortably about the 400 people mark but on a few nights during the year it would be filled to over capacity for the All-night Dinner-Dances. Organisations such as the Dawstown Races Committee, Blarney Athletic & Cycling Club, usually held their dances in November each year. These dances normally went on from about 9 o’clock in the evening until 5 o’clock the following morning. They were very festive, trouble-free dances and catering was provided for the dancers by their own Committee’s. On ordinary dance nights the crowd was very manageable and always trouble-free making the atmosphere very comfortable and pleasant to dance in. Good behaviour and suitable dress was of paramount importance. The women all wore dresses as slacks were frowned on while the men all wore suits or jackets with collars and ties. No scruffiness was allowed. The dancers were generally segregated, with the women on one side of the hall and men across the floor on the other side. The floor was constantly patrolled by the Group and anyone spotted starting trouble or messing was immediately evicted from the premises, but, all in all this very seldom occurred and was usually the result of someone having one or two too many in the local pub beforehand. Fairly harmless stuff when compared to current happenings. Some of the earlier bands which played there were the Mick Delahunty Orchestra, Dolly Butler Band, The Castle Five, The Knights, The Sylvester Band from Dublin and a host of Cork City bands. The larger bands would receive £45 (€57) or £50 (€63.50) while the more local, four, five or even six piece, bands got £7 (€8.90) for a mid-week dance.
Many other social events were also held in the hall. The great Tommy O’Brien from Clonmel was a Classical Music presenter on Radio Eireann from the early 50’s. The title of his show was “Your choice and Mine” and he began each programme with the famous introduction: “Good Evening, Listeners”. He put on one of his record recitals in the Emer to a packed house.
The late Mr. John O’Shea, an acclaimed local actor who took part in many Opera House productions, produced a play titled “The Bishops Candlesticks” during Lent 1954 which played to a packed house each night in the Emer. He also produced “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” with a cast of young local aspiring actors. He had founded the Blarney Dramatic Society and had produced “The Golden Priest” and “Autumn Fire” as well as many other plays and variety concerts in both the T.A. Hall and Convent Hall as well as holding speech and drama classes in both venues.
The above excerpt was taken from a larger article titled ‘The Emer Cinema and Ballroom” by Brian Gabriel, which appeared in Issue 7 of the ‘Old Blarney’ Journal.