The history of cinemas in Kilkee goes back to the early part of the 20th Century and there were 4 cinemas at various times up to the early part of the 21st Century. The only place that now shows occassional films is at Culturlann Sweeney and is wheelchair accessible with 108 seats. Also there were travelling cinemas which would have brought film shows to smaller villages like Doonbeg and Carrigaholt.
ARCADIA CINEMA, O’CURRY STREET 1946 -1983
This was the most important Cinema built in Kilkee and the one most people are familiar with. Everyone who stayed in Kilkee from the 1940s to the 1980s would have been to a film show in this premises.
It was officially announced in November 1945 that Super Cinemas would build at least 14 luxury Cinemas in the West of Ireland. The first of these was to be the Arcadia in Kilkee, followed by the newly constructed cinema in Salthill. Alfred Clancy, a general importer in Dublin was the driving force behind the new venture. Mr Clancy was son in law of Thomas Reddin. Thomas Reddin was former manager of the Capitol Theatre, Dublin and at the time director of publicity for Paramount Movies in London.
Clancy’s objective was to provide the new Cinemas with first class picture and sound equipment, on a par with their counterparts in Dublin at the time. The new Cinemas would each cater for up to 1000 patrons.
Co-partners with Alfred Clancy in the new venture were Mr F. Williams, solicitor Mr A. Blood Smyth (both directors of the Carlton Cinema, Limerick) and veterinary surgeon Jack Kelly from Kilrush. Mr A. Blood Smith also had a considerable interest in the A.B.C. (Associated British Cinemas) chain in the U.K. at the time.
It was opened in 1946 by Dickie Williams who also owned cinemas in Ballybunion and Limerick City.The Arcadia Cinema seated 495. This comprised of front stalls 119, back stalls 261 and balcony 112. It had all cushion seats, central heating, tri-colour stage lighting, full carpeting, terazzo foyer, air conditioning and a large stage. The first projectionist was John Cunningham, who happened to be the same projectionist who was working at Kilkee Town Hall when it was burnt down on Monday August 18th 1941.
The first Manager of the Arcadia was Maxie McGuire who was Irelands youngest Cinema manager at that time. He had introduced many innovations for the comfort and enjoyment of his many customers. The usherettes were Mary O’Dea, Ily Galvin and Nancy Meany.
The building was held under a 99 year lease from May 1st 1946. The Arcadia was, at the time, “far ahead of other seaside Picture Houses in terms of the releases of new films shown”. Obviously the ‘well connected’ owners would have had influence on this.
It was offered for sale on June 16th 1950 by Alfred J. Sexton & Co. in their Limerick office, 64 O’Connell Street, but having failed to reach its reserve it was subsequently withdrawn from sale on the day. It was later bought by Jack Kelly, a Kilrush veterinary surgeon. In the early 1970s he sold it to a local man, Adrian Lynch. After a few years in ceased operation as a cinema and was converted to a leisure centre. This has since closed.
OLYMPIA HALL, MERTON SQUARE. 1923- 1997
This premises was multi-use and was also used for live theatre, bingo, dances and concerts. When it was used as a cinema the 450 seats ,with a Philips sound system, had to be taken out and put back again after the film was over. It was owned by Charlie Fitzgerald and he sold it to the Kilkee Development Association who ran it as a community hall. It was eventually sold to a developer who knocked it and built houses on the site.
TOWN HALL, WELL ROAD 1917 -1940
This hall was community hall which showed films from time to time. It was run by Joe Carron and Dan Ryan. It went up in flames on Monday August 18th 1941. That fire broke out in the projection box an hour before the performance was due to begin. Despite the best efforts of Dan Ryan (the halls lessee) the fire spread rapidly and the fire fighters had to concentrate on preventing the fire spreading to the adjacent buildings rather than trying to extinguish the blazing hall. Dan Ryan received burns to his hands and face and had to jump from an upstairs window to escape the blaze. The hall, erected in 1914, was totally destroyed by the inferno. Thousands witnessed the fire and the ensuing drama.
The celluloid film reels used at the time were highly inflammable and fires were commonplace. The Dromcollogher Cinema burning of 1926 was caused by such a fire with the loss of 48 lives.
CINEPLEX, KILRUSH ROAD 1990 – 2001
The Cineplex was situated next to the Kilkee Bay Hotel, where the present Swimgym stands, and consisted of three screens totalling 255 seats. It was built in the 1990 as part of a planning condition of the hotel build.It ceased operation around 2001. When developers bought Cineplex and the area behind it, they got planning for an estate of houses provided they replaced the cinema with a swimming pool. That has since closed.