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Dublin: 11°C Wednesday 17 August 2022

Here's who worried about prostitutes, thieves and riots in Irish cinemas in 1910...

Worries on the big screen.

Image: Cinema via Shutterstock

THE “USE AND abuse” of the cinema was an emerging topic in early 1900s Ireland.

The first publicly exhibited films shown in Ireland were in the Star of Erin Theatre of Varieties (which is now the Olympia Theater) in Dublin in 1896.

The Volta was Ireland’s first dedicated cinema, and it opened in 1909. This was followed by many smaller cinemas opening around the country.

But there were concerns about the safety of the cinemas, and who was visiting them.

In 1909, the Cinematograph Act was introduced in the United Kingdom, which meant that worries about fire safety and petty crime could be tackled.

Children and censorship

Cinemas now came under the control of the local authorities, and on 20 January 1914, the Public Health Committee submitted a report on the act to the Dublin Corporation.

They pointed out that a Board of Film Censors for the UK had recently been appointed, and one of the conditions “is that all films exhibited to the public shall bear the mark of a censor”.

They enclosed a copy of the licence under the act to be agreed on by the Corporation.

Their licence allowed a premises to show films, subject to certain terms and conditions (and restrictions).

The conditions included:

  • Being in “telephonic” communication with the central fire station while the premises was open to the public;
  • No children under-12 allowed admission after 9pm unless accompanied by an adult
  • All films to bear the mark of the censor
  • No alterations shall be made without the sanction of the Corporation

There are two particularly interesting points in the suggested wording of the license:

No known prostitutes or thieves shall be admitted into or shall be permitted to remain on the premises.
Nothing shall be presented which is licentious or indecent or likely to produce riot, tumult, or breach of the peace.

The act was eventually superseded, but it remains an interesting snapshot of the worries around the use of cinemas in early 1900s Ireland.

One of the documents used when drafting the licence was a circular submitted by the Chairman of the representative managers of the Londno County Council Elemetnary Schools.

Its “dominant note” was “the need for proper censorship so as to ensure, in the case of children in particular, that no improper or disturbing representations shall take place”

Read: Shhh! Let’s go to the cinema just like it’s 1914>

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