The first cinema I recall in Westport was in the Town Hall. The Town Hall at that time had various rooms with activities such as cards and billiards. It became a sort of gambling den, so the church were put in charge and they began to show films there.
Before the E.S.B came to town the cinema had to generate its own electricity. They had a single cylinder horizontal crossley engine with a large fly wheel. As a child I used to go the matinee on a Sunday afternoon., we would be seated inside waiting impatiently for the engine to start and there would be cries for ‘money back!’.
At a certain point my friends and I would troop out to the back yard where the engine was kept and watch as the Kelly family, who were in charge, attempted to get the engine going. They had to use a bow lamp to get a bulb on the engine glowing red hot so it would fire and compressed air would be released into the cylinder. If this did not work the men would have to turn the massive fly wheel manually. Finally, when she started back up, we would run back inside in delight to enjoy the film.
In the early days the films were of course silent, and many had biblical themes. The censorship for some reason didn’t apply to horrors, we saw such terrible sights as babies being cut in two in a dramatic recreation of the slaughter of the innocents, but a man kissing a woman would never have been allowed.
The Town Hall was organised commercially by James Ruddy and Patrick Malone and became known as the Town Hall Cinema. The projectionist in the Town Hall was George O’Connell. I remember the film reels would come in from Dublin on the train and occassionally the reels would be shown in the wrong order, we’d complain but nobody ever fixed it.
A second cinema opened in town, possibly postwar, the Ideal Cinema on James Street. This was run by Michael Hoban of the Octagon and his family are still in the cinema business. It had three screens, I believe the Town Hall must have closed shortly after the Ideal opened.
The first ‘talkie’ I remember was ‘Cimarran’, a cowboys and indians type picture, I also remember seing ‘Rin Tin Tin’.
A film that made a great impression on me was ‘Africa Speaks’, it was a classic from around the late 1920s. The film showed the Masai hunting lions, tracking them with spears, they would face down the lions like that. The film showed various African scenes such as elephants charging at peope, and half naked tribesmen and women.