seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Opening of the Volta Electric Theatre in Dublin

Under the managership of the writer James Joyce, Ireland’s first cinematographic theatre, the Volta Electric Theatre (later renamed the Lyceum Picture Theatre), opens at 45 Mary Street in Dublin on December 20, 1909. The site has since been demolished and is occupied today by a department store.

In the early 1900s, demand for moving pictures is fierce and cinemas are springing up all over the world. After visiting Trieste, Joyce is determined to bring a cinema to Ireland. After receiving the backing of his Italian friends, he sets up the Cinematograph Volta on Mary Street. It opens its doors on December 20, 1909. The opening night features an eclectic program, with the comedy Deviled Crab, the mystery Bewitched Castle, La Pourponièrre, The First Paris Orphanage, and The Tragedy of Beatrice Cency. A popular actor is Charlie Chaplin.

Joyce soon becomes disillusioned with the venture, as the cinema mainly shows films from Europe and Italy, which are largely shunned by Dubliners at the time. After seven months, Joyce withdraws his involvement and the cinema is sold to the British Provincial Cinema Company. The cinema remains open until 1919.

In 1921, it is reopened as the Lyceum Picture Theatre following alterations which increase seating from 420 to 600. In the 1940s, Capitol and Allied Theatres Ltd. acquires the cinema. However, it closes its doors for the last time in 1948. Although it survives almost 40 years, the cinema is rarely successful.

Penneys, a fast fashion retailer and subsidiary of the British food processing and retail company Associated British Foods, purchases the building along with adjacent shops and builds a department store on the demolished site. For many years the site of Ireland’s first cinema is unknown to many as there is no plaque to commemorate it. However, on June 12, 2007, a plaque is unveiled on the original site marking the significance of 45 Mary Street.

A connection between the name and cinema in Ireland still remains. Volta is a streaming service for mainly Irish content.