Ann Downey

The Motion Picture in Irish Life: The Travelling Cinemas

Year: 2008

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Trinity College Dublin
(at time of presentation)

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In this paper I will examine the earliest motion picture shows in Ireland from the late nineteenth century. In particular the paper will examine the extent and influence of the touring cinema shows which dominated the new field of entertainment and communications in the crucial first decade of the industry, before the establishment of custom built cinemas.

While many travelling film shows were part of variety entertainment, in time the “animated living pictures” came to dominate these. Other film shows were presented as educational or scientific demonstrations.

For technical reasons the feature film did not develop till the early 1910s, before this the touring cine-variety companies would show up to twenty short films, accompanied by a commentary and music. Subjects of these short films ranged from local G.A.A. games to both genuine and faked war footage. Travel films were extremely popular and in the context of virtually pictureless newspapers brought images of foreign countries to people who may have had no other opportunities to experience travel. It is possible that this might also have influenced emigration.

Touring shows were often family affairs, providing a livelihood and assets to an extended family group.