Michael O’Sullivan had been introducing film for over 25 years at the much loved Film Club on Tuesday nights in The Phoenix Cinema.
Image of Michael O’Sullivan by Elaine Kennedy
The first cinema was built in 1918 and it burned down, when it was rebuilt they called it The Phoenix Cinema in 1938. The two brothers who built it were John and James C. Houlihan. They were very astute men, well before their time, and they had many interests including the supply of electricity to the whole town before the ESB. They burned pete to create electricity. In their new cinema they placed two projectors and had pictures twice weekly – Thursdays and Sundays. Queues – big or small – formed for the shows. The cinema doubled up as a dance venue, with a superb maple floor with regular dances at festive times such as Easter and Christmas.
It was cheaper for people to come in to the cinema and stay warm then it was to put down a fire at home.
In the course of time John Moore, another Dingle man, bought the property from the Houlihans and after many years of profitable trading decided to close down and sell. Prospective buyers included a man interested in turning the cinema into a grain store. In 1979 Michael O’Sullivan bought it and had it renovated and refurbished.
Michael O’Sullivan’s love of film was paramount and with his three children had been running a film club every Tuesday night for over 20 years. As a consequence, the people of Dingle and those who take the 60 mile (or more) round trip from Tralee or Killorglin sit down to the best of art house cinema on offer from around the world.
The Club is very much a family affair. Coffee and biscuits are served by Michael’s son, Sean, who also doubles as the projectionist and the front of house is managed by Michael’s son, Francis and his daughter Kathleen. Every Tuesday night in the past Michael took centre stage in front of the screen to introduce the weeks’ film and to tell us what to expect next week. His platform was created by Sean with an electric bulb hanging from a coat stand. Michael stood beside the light in his overcoat and cap with the poster for next week’s film held in his grasp. His soliloquy on the film was to be savored and experienced. The doors still open at 8pm for a 9pm start — coming any later than 8.30 one runs a minor risk of not obtaining a seat.
The theatre itself is a beautiful experience with the walls draped and soundproofed in oyster-coloured material with red carpeted sloped floor and blue seats. It was designed by the award-winning Desmond McMahon, the same architect responsible for designing the new Croke Park.
A point of note is a well stocked video/DVD rental shop attached to the cinema, a rare practice anywhere in Ireland. Also, when filming of Far and Away took place in Dingle, the daily rushes were watched in the Phoenix Cinema by Ron Howard and his crew.
The Phoenix Cinema is one of the last of its kind – a truly independent cinema.
Michael O Sullivan sadly passed away in November 2011. RIP We miss him dearly.