Feb 20 2014

The Cabra Grand Experience 2014

Published by at 5:47 pm under News

The Cabra Grand
February 2014
On this particular day I drove up Lower Killala Road and called in to see Ambrose O’Shea about some business. Later, on leaving his house I drove up onto Fassaugh Avenue and turning right headed in towards town. I almost always drive slowly along this section of Cabra West, passing by the two sets of shops and the big church on my way. I would sometimes stop my car and open the doors to let my memory out one side and my imagination out the other and watch them both run wild with excitement. Sometimes I might even park my car by the shops and go for a stroll, listening to the accents and the craic that is so much a part of the area. As I drove my car down the hill passing the old Playground on my right and the place where the old Turf Depot once stood on my left I decided to drive around onto Quarry Road and say hello to the Cabra Grand Picture House. Now, there’s a place full of memories!!!
I passed by the statue of Holy Mary standing in the middle of the road where Quarry Road, Fassaugh Avenue and Fassaugh Road all meet. I always give her a little nod hello and sometimes she’ll give me a wink of acknowledgement or maybe just a little smile that says ‘I remember you and your gang’. Sometimes I might even stop off and have a chat with her. I remember one time I asked her did she not get cold standing out there all day. ‘Ah no…’ she said ‘…sure I have me cloak on over me shoulders. That keeps the breeze off me back’. ‘Well…’ said I ‘…do you want a cup of tea or anything’? ‘Ah no, you’re alright love…’ said she. ‘…but thanks anyway’. She told me another time that she was glad the number 12 bus wasn’t running anymore. ‘Now the fumes from that bus used to kill me chest, you know what I mean…’ This remark was followed by a little cough. ‘…and the state of me hair from all the chimbly smoke…’ Holy Mary always sounded a bit like the Ma’ and as a young boy I’d often wonder did they both go to the same school together because the Ma’s name was Mary as well and she went to Rutland Street School.
I drove around by the old Dispensary where all the school children from years ago were brought to get their Polio Sugar Lump. They were all herded along the road like cattle going to the market in Prussia Street with their schoolteachers keeping them all in line. I slowed down as I passed by the houses on my right, what we called ‘The Soldiers Houses’. To me as a young boy growing up in Cabra West these houses always looked big and strong with two pillars of Wicklow granite that look like soldiers guarding the entrance to the houses. It was here that I decided to park my car.
The day was clear and dry but still had a slight chill still in the air. With my camera shoved not too deeply into my pocket I decided to walk up by the side of the old Picture House to see if I could get some good photographs of the original building. Sure enough there it stood, still standing tall and proud as ever, perhaps even looking a little worse for wear at sixty five years of age. ‘Sure who isn’t…’ says you. The great thing about this building is that it is still in use today as much as it originally was, or perhaps a bit more so because of the Bingo starting off at one o’ clock in the day and still going strong until late into the night when all the Bingo players have to go home to their beds. ‘On its own, number one, Kelly’s Eye.’
While I was clicking away with my camera I could still hear the gangs of young boys and girls chatting away and shouting with excitement as they queued up on a Sunday afternoon along this side of the Picture House and they all bursting at the seams to get inside to lay claim to their favourite seats. I could see all the little pals holding onto each other as tightly as they could so as not to get separated as the side doors opened and they all pushing forward to be first into the building. ‘Here, let her pass, she’s me pal and we always sit together’. Then of course we had to come face to face with the villain of the peace. And there he stood, the great big tall usher in his red ‘Showband’ style uniform with a stripe down each leg of his trousers and a ‘Bus Conductors’ cap sitting on his head. He’d be hopping from one foot to the other threatening everyone with his great big torch as if he was John Wayne or someone. ‘Don’t be pushing and shoving, take your time or else’, he’d shout out. ‘Here, were you barred last week’ he would ask some young fella. With a terrified look on his face the boy quickly answered, ‘Eh, no Mister, that was me brother’. That’s how you played it safe back then, you always gave your brother’s name or your pal’s name when you were in trouble.
After a while of clicking on my camera and reminiscing I strolled back down the laneway and walked towards the main entrance into the cinema. Straightaway I could picture in my mind’s eye all of the young couples lined up outside on a Sunday night. The lads with their moths and the moths with their fellas. All as proud as Punch with the girl linking her man and he smoking away on a cigarette thinking he looked like Kirk Douglas. ‘Do you like me Beehive’ she’d ask him. ‘You’re what’? he would answer. ‘Ah for God’s sake did you not notice I got me hair done for tonight. I went to your one up over the shops on Fassaugh Avenue, you know the one over the Capitol Stores near Boland’s’? Her voice would fade off into the night as the fella’s mind focused on how well his hair looked with all the Brylcream he’d put in it earlier, kind of like Elvis in a way or maybe James Dean, ‘The Rebel Without A Cause’.
The original front of the cinema is still in place as are the two buildings on both sides. To the right of the main entrance there was always a ‘Chip Shop’ on the ground floor. If a couple had any money left over after buying popcorn and ice cream they would often buy a bag of chips with plenty of salt and vinegar splashed over them to eat on their way home. On the left side of the building there was a ‘Sweet Shop’ and up overhead was a surgery run by Doctor Sammy Davis. These offices and shops were all part of the original cinema building. The cinema was officially opened on the 17th of April in 1949 and had seating for 1,600 people and included an upstairs balcony area. I remember coming across something in the papers a few years back about an incident in the Cabra Grand. Some young fella from Quarry Road got into trouble for hitting one of the ushers and ended up in court over it. He got a one year prison sentence and was also fined £1 for tearing the usher’s tunic.
In the early days you could sit and watch a talent show or see some form of live entertainment on the stage before the house lights would dim and the curtain begin to rise. On some Sunday afternoons a man called ‘Billy Panama’ would appear on stage demonstrating his skills with a Yo Yo, ‘Walk the Dog’ or ‘Rock the Cradle’ were some of his favourites. As the curtain began rising a great big sea shell would appear to open up on the screen behind it. A great roar of excitement would rise up from all of the young children seated in the auditorium below. Sometimes the guitar music of ‘The Shadows’ or Duane Eddie would play out over the speaker system allowing people time to find and settle into their seats. Years ago you certainly got your monies worth when you went to the Pictures. There was often a stage show or a short cartoon shown followed by the Path News that always showed the Queen of England going around the world. Sometimes they’d show ‘Gideon of Scotland Yard’ which was all about murder cases in London. Then you could have a ‘Trailer’, short clips of what films were due to be shown in the cinema the following week. On other occasions you would see what we called ‘The Follow N’ Upper’. This was an adventure film which was shown over a period of several weeks with fifteen to twenty minute segments shown each week. Each scene would end with a dramatic clip which left punters sitting on the edge of their seats trying to guess what was about to happen next. A small film would then be shown followed by the ‘Big Picture’ and hopefully for the boys it was a cowboy film. If it was a haunty film the girls would all duck under their coats or cardigans and start screaming with pretended fright.
And of course you always had an ‘Interval’. That’s when the curtain would roll down like waves on the sea and the house lights would come on again. A gang of young boys and girls would make a mad dash for the toilets, girls to the left and boys to the right. From the back of the cinema one of the girl employees would walk down the aisle with a large tray filled with small tubs of ice cream, ice pops, chocolates and other goodies. The tray had a strap that went across the girl’s shoulders and around her back. If you were cute enough you could slip your hand in under her elbow from behind and snatch something off the tray.
On the odd occasion myself and my pals would crawl on the floor underneath our seats looking for any bits of chewing gum that people had spat out or thrown away. We’d get an extra chew from it before we too would spit it out or stick it into the hair of a girl sitting in front of us. Sometimes you might be lucky enough to find a sweet still in its wrapper or one stuck to the floor. Other times we’d go looking for a disused ice cream carton and clean it out with our fingers. Then we’d run off to the toilet with it and use it as a cup for collecting water in to drink. One of us would flush the toilet chain while the other held the cup inside the toilet bowl and caught the water as it flushed down from the overhead cistern. Is it any wonder that we turned out the way we did?
As I walked up the couple of marble steps at the entrance to the Picture House and in through the main doors I could still feel that sense of excitement that I experienced all those years ago. I thought back to the time when I first went to the pictures in this cinema at night. I was only thirteen years old and therefore would have been considered too young by the usher for admittance. If the usher noticed you going in for an evening show he would make sure not to allow you in to an early show with the young children. He’d make sure you paid for an adult ticket. Anyway, on this particular occasion my older brother had decided to go to the evening film and asked me to go with him. At first I refused because of my young age. Then my father got a bright idea and dressing me up in his overcoat and cap and shoving my feet into a pair of his old wellies, sent me off with my brother. I was told to keep my head down and not to look at the usher as we walked in and it worked. But I must have looked a right sight strolling down Killala Road with my brother while my father and mother stood at their hall door waving us off. ‘The innocence of youth’ says you. If you look on the floor inside the main door you can still see the name of the cinema emblazoned in mosaic styled tiles. ‘Cabra Grand Cinema’ is what it still proudly announces.
I suppose the first thing that struck me as I entered the building was the absence of smell, the strong, almost aromatic smell of freshly made popcorn that greeted everyone all those years ago as they made their way up to the ticket window. ‘Two tickets please, up on the balcony and at the back if you can manage it’, money went one way and tickets went the other. My Da’ used to tell us not to bring the girlfriend to a good film that we wanted to see because we’d miss most of it with all the snogging that would go on. Do you now, back then my Da’ knew about a lot of things that we didn’t know. When you handed your tickets to the usher he’d tear them in two and hand you back one half. The other half was stabbed through the heart with a ‘Sack Needle’ that had a long piece of twine on the other end. And there straight in front of you was the lady working the popcorn machine. Next to the actual pictures this was the main attraction for us youngsters. The Popcorn Lady always wore a white shop coat and had red lipstick on as well. There was a little pot that she put the popcorn kernels into and then all of a sudden they’d all start to pop and burst out from under the lid of the pot. This was almost better entertainment than we’d see on the stage inside.
On your left as you entered the foyer was the sweet counter but as children we never bought any sweets from there because they were in bags and cost too much money. We’d stuff out pockets full of sweets that we’d bought in the Sweet Shop next door. The manager’s office was also on the left as you walked in. I never knew the names of any of the managers that worked there over the years. Directly across the foyer area were the stairs leading up to the balcony. The price for a balcony seat was dearer than the price of a seat downstairs. If you arrived late or walked in as the picture was about to start everything would appeared pitch black until your eyes became accustomed to the dark. Then almost immediately the usher or usherette would blind you by shining their torch in your face.
I was somewhat taken aback when I walked through the doors into the auditorium and saw the place fitted out as a Bingo Hall. I was half expecting to see all of the original cinema seats still in place and I especially wanted to see the double seats that they used to have dotted around where young courting couples could sit even closer together. ‘Take your hand off me knee, here’s your Woodbine back’. Now me and my pals usually sat in the seats over on the left-hand side or should I say that’s where the usher dictated we sat so he could keep an eye on us. Now if you happened to strike it lucky and got off with a moth the pair of you would then move over to the seats on the far side of the cinema, as far away from the gang as possible.
As I stood looking around the Bingo Hall I could still pick out some of the original fittings that were familiar to me as a young boy. The boys’ toilets were still on the right side and the girls’ toilet over on the left and most of the old wall fittings were still in place. It certainly had that feeling of familiarity about it. Now if you could take away all of the bingo stuff and put back in place all of the old cinema seats then almost everything would be returned to its original state. I walked up onto the stage and looking back into the auditorium my heart sank as I noticed that the balcony area was all boarded off as it is no longer in use. While standing there looking out over all the seats I wanted to shout out the names of the boys and girls I knew from all those years ago. ‘Would the following boys and girls please stand up because you’re all going to get a free bag of popcorn. Tony Norton, Georgie McCluskey, Phyllis Wyatt, Liam Kelly, Anne Reddin, Wang Fagan, Pat McCabe, Noel Murray, Colm Russell, Ambrose and Noelie O’Shea, Willier Kavanagh, Andy Lyons, Carmel Bell, Marie Kelly, Tango Flood and PJ Kavanagh. The rest of you all have to pay for your own’.
Eventually I had to whisper a fond goodbye to all my pals and let them get on with watching the film, ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ with Hayley Mills. She was my first love, you know. I fell head over heels in love with her in 1962 as I watched that film right there in the Cabra Grand. I remember myself and my pal hiding in the boys’ toilets so that we could watch it a second time. So with all my memories safely tucked under my arm and my poor camera worn out from all the photographs I’d taken I left the building. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the King is leaving the building…’

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