Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Horgan Projector

This 35mm cinema projector, which is displayed in the window of the Tiernan MacBride library, was donated to the IFI Irish Film Archive by Jim Horgan, Furbo, Co Galway, who is the grandson of James Horgan, photographer and shoemaker of Brown Street, Youghal, Co. Cork.

In the 1890s and 1900s, James and his brother Thomas Horgan toured Youghal and neighbouring towns and villages with a magic lantern slide and moving image show. They projected slides of local and foreign scenes, films from the Lumieré Brothers and local topicals - films they made themselves of local beauty spots and activities.

Such was the popularity of these film shows that in 1910 the Horgans began building Youghal’s first cinema. Seven years later, after considerable delays caused by the First World War, the Horgan Picture Palace opened in Friar Street on St Stephen’s night 1917.

The cinema seated 600 people with wooden benches to the front of the auditorium and more comfortable, upholstered seating to the rear. The walls of the auditorium and foyer were elaborately decorated with hand-painted scenes.
Variety shows at the cinema included slide presentations, newsreels, short silent dramas and sing-alongs, where the words of popular songs were projected on the screen. The projections were accompanied by the Horgan’s Picture Theatre Orchestra.

The Horgan's Picture Theatre Orchestra

A great attraction for the cinema audiences was the occasional screening of the Youghal Gazette, a newsreel featuring items of local interest produced by the Horgans for exhibition in their cinema. Items included: Corpus Christi processions, people leaving Sunday mass, the return of local men from Wormwood Scrubs prison in England (c. 1917) celebrations at the end of World War 1, outings to the sea and a series of clever photographic animations. These films have been transferred from the nitrate originals and are preserved at the IFI Irish Film Archive.

The Kamm projector was probably one of the two original machines installed for the opening of the cinema in 1917, but certainly dates from no later than the mid 1920s. It was adapted for screening sound films, possibly in 1929, when the Trial of May Dugan (dir. Bayard Veiller)- ‘an all talking picture’- was shown in the Picture Palace. The projector was powered by an electrical generator with a hand-crank built in for emergency use.

The Kalee lamp-house currently mounted on the machine is not the original one. It was not unusual to update the lamp-house as more powerful luminants became available. This Kalee model housed a carbon-arc lamp with a manually advanced arc-rod system mounted before an adjustable convex mirror.

The film reels were enclosed within heavy metal spool boxes which provided protection against fire from the highly flammable nitrate film stocks used commercially until the 1950s. The Kamm machine was somewhat unusual in that the take-up reel was housed within the lower body of the projector and not jutting away from the projector frame. The projector carried reels of no more than 2,000 ft approximately 20mins at sound speed. Feature length films were shown on two projectors with each projector showing alternate reels.

The cinema featured a back-projection system with projectors located behind the screen. The small space that was created between the projection box and the screen was used for some time as a bedroom. The cinema remained open until 1988. In 1996 the building reopened as a Heritage Craft Centre.

The IFI Tiernan MacBride Library  

This projector was meticulously restored by Bernard Matthews (Ardee, Co Louth) a member of the Projected Picture Trust. The Trust, registered in England, is committed to the preservation and exhibition of still and moving image equipment.

In addition to the magnificent projector, the IFI Irish Film Archive building also displays the camera on which the brothers shot their films and  the Archive holds a document collection relating to the administrative history of the Horgan Picture Palace and spanning the years 1917 -1956 collection. These include screenings diaries, gross and net takings records, accounts ledgers, logs of ticket sales, and carbon copied correspondence.

Sunniva O'Flynn
IFI Curator

Support the IFI Irish Film Archive Preservation Fund and donate today [here].


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