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Naas Cinemas
Part 1: The Coliseum
James Durney

In early January 2009 Derry City Harbour Museum Archivist Bernedette Walsh contacted Kildare Library and Arts Services with an unusual query:
“We are currently moving the museum and archive collection to a purpose built new store and we have come across an item that relates to County Kildare. It is a drawing of a proposed new cinema on the Main Street North, Naas, County Kildare, date 1939. It is in very good condition on linen paper. I have no ides how it came into the collection and would be very happy to send the item to its correct home!”
The item duly arrived and turned out to be a drawing of a proposed new cinema for Naas named “The Regal” for Mr Percy Whittle, Esq. The drawings, while not totally in line with that of the eventual neo-Egyptian style Coliseum, show a different structure and outlay. However, it was the Coliseum which opened in April 1940 and not the proposed Regal.
Moving pictures, or cinema, came to Naas as early as 1902, and were shown in the Town Hall. This was the era of silent movies and background music was provided by an orchestra. Chris Sylvester from the Curragh ran the Town Hall cinema from 1929 to 1942. He introduced the “talkies” to Naas. However, Naas got its own purpose-built cinema, The Coliseum, in 1940. The Coliseum was built on the site of stables and a back garden belonging to the Protestant school in St David’s House. It was owned and built by the Kelly family from Portlaoise, a firm of builders and steel erectors.
The Leinster Leader of Saturday 9 February 1940 advertised the new cinema opening: New Naas Cinema. Opening of the Coliseum. “The erection of the new Coliseum Cinema, an important architectural addition to the main thoroughfare of Naas, is practically completed, and the new house will open its doors to the public on next Friday evening. The façade, ornamental in a dignified way, will be furnished in cream stucco with base and parapets in chocolate brown. At night the tubular lighting will emphasize the effectiveness of the frontal design. The spacious vestibule, with box office, cloak rooms, etc., gives a nicely blended medley of colour in the terrazzo flooring, with walls and ceiling in tanned effects, which is also carried out in the auditorium, approached by a wide staircase, heavily carpeted.
“The cinema has comfortable seating for 750 patrons, and the luxury of the upholstery work is beyond criticism. The floor is suitably “stepped” so that a clear and uninterrupted view is provided of the proscenium towards which the walls converge. There is a stage of amble dimensions, ideal for concerts, variety shows, etc. The new cinema is affectively heated and lighted, whilst the sound system to be used will be the Western Electric Microphonic, one of the latest advances in film reproduction.
“Messers. T. A. Kelly, John Egan and J. L. Kelly, directors of the Coliseum, take a pride in the fact that a combination of Irish capital, enterprise and labour have been responsible for the provision of a cinema worthy of Naas district.
“The feature for the opening programme on Friday evening will be ‘Batchelor Mother,’ regarded as one of the finest issues of the year, featuring Ginger Rogers and David Niven. It is interesting to note that the Coliseum will give performances each night at 8 o’clock, and there will be matinees every Saturday and Sunday at 3 o’clock.”
Admission was 1 /4, 1/-, 8d and 4d nightly and for matinees 8d, 4d, 2d. John Mahon was the projectionist at the cinema for nearly fifty years until his death in the 1980s. Staff in the 1950s and 1960s were P. Whelan, Scotchie Egan, Nora Tully and Mrs Delaney. The Coliseum changed ownership in 1972 when Modern Irish Theatres bought the premises from the Kelly family. The last film to play in the Coliseum was ‘Lust for a Vampire’ on Tuesday 8 August 1972. The new look cinema was to re-open on 1 September.

To coincide with the cinema exhibition in Naas Library during Heritage Week we reproduce an article from the Nationalist on Naas Cinemas of old

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