The palace of dreams

Eighty nine years ago this week, on November 22, 1939, the Estoria Cinema opened at Nile Lodge. It had 776 seats and two showings a night at 6.45pm and 8.45pm. It cost two shillings to sit in the balcony and the prices for the parterre were 1/4 and 9d (including tax ). There were matinees on Thursdays (half day in Galway ), Saturdays, and Sundays. You could book at the cinema or by phone (Galway 101 ) from 12 noon to 2pm and from 6pm. The building was constructed by John McNally & Co with John Connolly as foreman. The design was by Hubert O’Connor and Ralph Ryan was the electrical consultant.

The first film shown there was The Great Waltz with Lins Rainer and this was followed by Will Hay in Convict 99, Corinna Lachaire in Prison Without Bars, and Deanna Durbin in That Certain Age. Among the most popular movies ever shown there were Gone With The Wind, They Died with Their Boots On, The Men in Grey, and Phantom of the Opera. John Wayne was easily the most popular actor. Trail of the Lonesome Pine was the first technicolour film. In the early days there was a cafe upstairs run by a Miss O’Reilly.

After the war, cinemas had to include a live show in order to avoid tax, so Des Fretwell played in the Town Hall, Johnny Cox played the Savoy, and Peg Folan was the resident musician in the Estoria.

Among the first members of staff were Annie McDonald, chief cashier; Paddy Kelly, commissionaire; Helen Hynes, Mary O’Neill, and Francis Colohan; Tony Moran; Annie O’Toole; Michael Burgess, Bohermore; Ginger Noone; Gerry Lee, Woodquay; Vincent Fahy, projectionist; and Kevin McMahon, chief operator. May Lally ran the shop. Frank Wrafter was the manager there from the opening night until 1973, when the cinema changed hands and became The Claddagh Palace.

For many growing up in the forties and fifties, the highlight of the week was the Sunday matinee when the serials or the ‘follier uppers’ were shown. These were films shown in one episode every week, featuring heroes such as Tom Mix, Pearl White, Roy Rogers, Kit Carson, Tarzan, Buck Jones, Don Winston of the Coastguard, The Man in the Iron Mask, The Perils of Pauline, Captain Marvel, Hopalong Cassidy, etc. These were cliff hangers, where the hero at the end of each episode was left hanging on to a small branch over a high cliff or tied to a railway line when the train was coming, or maybe all tied up as a stampede of buffalo was getting very close. It was bedlam when Kit Carson was chasing the bad guys with the entire cinema cheering him on. One never walked home from these serials, one sort of galloped, slapping one’s hips and maybe ‘plugging’ the odd passerby on the way.

This photograph of the Estoria, aka the ‘Shtora’, aka the ‘Shtoa’, was taken c1940. The space on the right was eventually occupied by the Galway Printing Company when Malachy Burke built it in 1952. Kelly Office Supplies is there today.

Some years ago, film maker Donal Haughey made a very fine nostalgic documentary on the closing down of the Claddagh Palace. There is an apartment block on the site today.

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