Cinema magic makes Rathkeale comeback

Norma Prendiville


Norma Prendiville

NEARLY four decades after the doors closed on the Central Cinema in Rathkeale, the magic of the silver screen is being revived in the town.

NEARLY four decades after the doors closed on the Central Cinema in Rathkeale, the magic of the silver screen is being revived in the town.

A cinema club has been set up by the local Arts Group and will open this weekend with that all-time favourite and classic Casablanca.

And significantly, the film will be introduced by Rathkeale’s very own Mr Cinema, John Dinnage, whose grandfather, Henry pioneered cinema to Rathkeale.

“He opened the cinema in Rathkeale in 1945 with a gala concert featuring our very own tenor Christopher Lynch, and the first film to be shown was Intermezzo,” John told the Limerick Leader this week, recalling the history of cinema in Rathkeale.

Henry Dinnage, he explained, was born in Portsmouth, England but arrived in Ireland around 1890, with a troupe of trapeze artists. He made his base first in Ennis, where he married, and travelled out, bringing his show to Lahinch, Kilkee and other towns.

Over time, he moved into amusements and then into the up-and-coming entertainment, the silent pictures. He brought his mobile cinema through most of Limerick, Kerry and parts of Cork, his grandson explained.

“The original plan was to build a cinema in Newmarket-on-Fergus but somebody else got in ahead of him and he came to Rathkeale where he set up his mobile cinema. This would have been in the 1920s and 1930s,” John continued.

He showed films in the Carnegie Building, in the very room which is now the Rathkeale Arts Centre and where Casablanca will be shown this Saturday.

“He was 73 years when he built the cinema in 1944/1945 and he died in 1949.”

Subsequently, John’s father, Victor, uncle Harry and aunt Queenie continued to run the cinema and John himself was brought in at the age of 10 or 11 to work in the projection room. “I used to stand on a box to look out the porthole to see what was happening,” John laughed. The big task was in preparing the reels for showing, he explained. And things sometimes went wrong - and Roy Rodgers would be seen riding into town twice, and being shot twice.

But it was a golden age for cinema before television, before lounge bars and before most people had cars. “It was the biggest purpose-built cinema in Limerick at the time. There were seats for 400, and a balcony.”

“We could have anything up to 200 bicycles at the side of the cinema when the pictures were on,” John recalled. With the programme changing up to four times a week, audiences had plenty of choice and and a mix of big blockbuster films, serials and Pathe news drew them back, time after time.

Sadly however, times changed, audiences changed and in 1973, the cinema closed its doors for the last time.

This Saturday, the Rathkeale Cinema Club will give people a chance to take a trip down memory lane and recall the heady days of ‘going to the pictures’. The evening begins at 8.15pm, when John Dinnage aka Humphrey Bogart will introduce Casablanca ,in the Rathkeale Arts Centre, above the library on the Ballingarry Road. The €5 charge covers membership and entrance to the film and refreshments will be served.

To add spice to the evening, the club is encouraging people to dress up in the style of the 1940s when the film was set. There will be prizes for the most appropriately dress lady and gentleman. “It’s all a bit of fun,” John said, encouraging people to get in the mood.

But if you don’t feel like dressing up, come along anyway. To make sure of your seat ring 086-1249955.