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City’s first cinema will always have special place in people’s hearts

Thursday, 31 August 2017

City’s first cinema will always have special place in people’s hearts thumbnailThe Cosy was the city’s first picture house.

THE date of Saturday, January 28, 1961, will forever be tinged with sadness for the city as it marked the end of the road for Armagh's first cinema.

The Cosy Picture House in Russell Street had been for years right at the heart of the town's social scene, an era still fondly remembered by lots of Armagh people, many of whom had made it their home from home.

After 53 years of presenting film 'spectacles', both silent and talkie, black and white and colour, on small screen and wide screen, the doors of the Cosy closed for the last time.

The old haunt had become a victim of circumstances - the growing popularity of television plus the decline of the cinema-going population of Armagh.

At the beginning of January 1961, the staff of six were given a month's notice by the owners, Irish Empire Palaces Ltd, of Dublin, who had cinemas both sides of the border.

The 60-year Commissionaire Jim McGee of Banbrook, had the job of shutting the door for the final time after the last patron left. The Cosy had been his life.

After the last show, manageress Miss Bridget Vallely, of Market Street shook hands with the staff, said their goodbyes and went their separate ways in life.

The premises had only been renovated two years beforehand. A decision to close was taken shortly before the cinema actually called time, as the audiences dwindled to a low number each night.

Perhaps the writing was on the wall when the arrangement was made that there would only be one show nightly. Little benefit resulted from this and for a short time two sessions were resumed, but alas, to no avail.

The death knell of the Cosy had been sounded. It was only a matter of time for the inevitable to happen.

Previously crowds had flocked regularly to the 300-seat theatre, to see the stars of the silent screen and then the early talkies. Time and again, many patrons had to be turned away because the house was full.

The closure was a tearful and upsetting occasion and none felt it more than gentleman Jim McGee.

Down through the years he had watched small boys and girls come to the matinee performances accompanied by their parents, grow into young men and women, then come along with their boyfriends and girlfriends, marry and bring their own children.

Although Russell Street Police Station was next door, Jim, a quiet peace-loving man, never had to call for assistance to deal with any of his patrons. He was such a respected figure that no one would have even contemplated causing trouble.

Incidentally the last film shown at the Cosy was 'Goliath'.

Prior to becoming a cinema, the Cosy was a popular concert hall and among the artistes to perform there was Armagh born singer Mary Connolly.

Born in Irish Street into poverty-stricken family and schooled at the nearby Convent, she migrated to Lancashire with her Dublin parents. By 1916 orphaned and destitute she returned to Ireland to an invalid brother and began life as a street singer.


Discovered in Dublin by Joseph Holloway, architect of Dublin's Abbey Theatre, she swept to fame on a wave of post-1916 nationalism and toured extensively. Her visit to Armagh, her birthplace, was arranged by Armagh Musical Society which had the likes ofWilliam McCrum from Milford and the Ar ma gh's First Citizen Owney Webb at the helm.

The Cosy, now the offices of Armagh Credit Union, may have gone, but not before earning it's own special niche in the city's abundantly rich social history.

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