The Magic Cinema

According to an article in the annual Leitrim Guardian, the first cinema to travel regularly to Co. Leitrim was called The Magic Cinema in the early 1900s. It was run by the Clarke family who, in a very circus like way, would erect a tent, or weather permitting, set up in the open air. They would hang a large canvas screen and attach it to a frame and source seating locally, often just long planks of wood resting on tree stumps.

It is known that as late as 1936 it showed a print of The Dawn by the famous early Irish film maker Tom Cooper. Cooper was a Kerry garage owner who had no film-making training and shot his films with amateur actors in a home made studio rigged with converted trawler lights and developed his film stock in a local chemists shop.

From the 1930 onwards small rural towns throughout the country began to get their own small cinemas, including The Roxy in Drumshanbo and the Gaiety in Carrick-on-Shannon. After these closed down in the 70’s and 80’s and no other private company took their place, Leitrim County Council paid for a mobile cinema to be purchased and operated so that its people would continue to be entertained, informed and have their imaginations fueled by cinema. In 2007 Carrick got a 5 screen multiplex. Around the same time the Mobile Cinema became Cinema North West and serviced the whole region while still being very much based in Co. Leitrim. One of the many important legacies of this initiative will no doubt be considered its raising of awareness of the dangers of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of shale rock for gas. They did this through repeated screenings of Gasland (2010), a documentary on the subject, throughout the county, direct to the public in parish, village and town.

More recently as technology got cheaper and projectors more common, Leitrim is now said to have the most private home cinema clubs in the country. In 2012, with The Magic Cinema in mind, I decided to take my regular home screenings for friends a little more into the public domain. Although perhaps with more in common with The Roxy than the original Magic Cinema, I begin to again show films under this name in Drumshanbo in what used to be a shoe shop, now the Yellow Ducati Bazaar. On a good night you can squeeze about 20 people into the space with a lively chat (aided with drinks from the neighboring Welcome Inn) ensuing after usually 2 films, often a documentary or short and main feature.

In July 2013, to tie-in with the Guide, a screening of Man of Aran (1934) and How the Myth Was Made (1978) was held.  Man of Aran was made by Robert J. Flaherty and was billed as a documentary at the time but would prove to be more fictionalized than real. While over the years its audience found many poetic truths in it that refuse to die, in 1978 a documentary was produced which revisited the island and its people some 40 years later and set much of the record straight. (Stephen Rennicks)

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