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Keys To The Future.....Lisa O Sullivan, Chairperson Kilrush and District Historical Society and vice -chair of Kilrush Tidy Towns tries out the old piano in the Band Room in the old Mars Cinema and Ballroom at Kilrush where a feasibility study is ongoing into the viability of it's future. With her are John O Malley, Senior Executive Officer West Clare Municipal District Clare County Council and Ian Lynch, local councillor. Photograph by John Kelly

Mission to Mars Cinema

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Plans are underway in Kilrush to restore the former Mars Cinema building to its former glory with Clare County Council confirming the site is to be evaluated for potential re-development.
Following a public tender process, the Council have commissioned a private tourism consultancy, Tourism Development International (TDI) for advice, and a feasibility study of the site commenced in January.
An Cathaoirleach for West Clare Municipal District, Councillor Ian Lynch (Ind) has said he hopes a public meeting to be held in Kilrush in early summer will outline the study’s findings and seek community feedback on the emerging concepts for the former cinema.
The Council says the aim of the study is to examine if there is a market opportunity to develop a viable attraction or business at the buildings and lands, for the benefit of the local community and visitors alike. And it maintains a future concept plan for Mars Cinema must be fully informed by the local economic context and the future public realm plans for Kilrush. “A situation analysis is under way, designed to inform a future use of the former cinema based on market demand, ongoing town planning considerations and new area and town development initiatives,” it confirmed.
The former Mars Cinema is a 3,310 square foot building located on Frances Street which is the second widest street in Ireland. Having closed its doors in 1991, it had since fallen in to disrepair, and the Council bought the building for €175,000 in March 2023 through Town and Village Renewal Scheme funding. Due to its large size and location as well as issues with the roof, it was difficult to get someone interested in purchasing it.
“It was one of several buildings in Kilrush that lay intact and was also attached to the house next door…it was only in 2022 when the government issued the building acquisition measure that we [The Council] had the opportunity to buy the building,” the Kilrush councillor explained.
Describing the concrete building as “beautiful” inside, he said Kilrush residents are very attached to the cinema as it played a big part in many people’s lives.
Designed by Patrick Tubridy, Mars Cinema was established in 1950. The Tubridy family previously operated another theatre called The Palace Theatre at John’s Street from 1920 to 1950 which showed the silent films of the day. The Mars itself with a 850 seater theatre with 600 seats in the ballroom and another 250 seats in the balcony. It was the home of the Kilrush Operatic Society from 1951 to 1966 and Kilrush Boxing Club used the building in the 1980s.
Lisa O’Sullivan, Chairperson of Kilrush District and Historical Society (KDHS) and Vice Chair of Kilrush Tidy Towns said the cinema played a massive part of the romantic history of Kilrush saying everyone has a memory of taking part in the opera or going to see films there. The general feeling amongst locals is of fondness for the building and desire to return it to its former glory. And when the feasibility study was announced, it promoted much discussion and suggestions online, she said.
“It plays an important part in the history of Kilrush. It is incredible how emotional people are about the Mars. We had a total of 109 people attend a talk on its history given by film studies lecturer, Harvey O’ Brien on a glorious sunny day in 2017, which is an incredible amount of people and not a typical attendance for a regular history talk. People have such incredible memories like they remember a New Year’s Eve ball which used to take place there with the ladies attending in their ballgowns, and the romance of that is wonderful to remember.”
She recalled the hit film, Top Gun being shown in the 1980s and “the place was jointed” over several nights. And prior to that, there was the era of the showbands when acts like Dickie Rock regularly played the venue. She discovered through her father that her uncle Danny from Waterford who was a saxophone player would travel all the way to Kilrush on his motorbike to perform there.
Ms O’ Sullivan said she feels there are currently a lot of positive things happening in Kilrush referring to a number of historic properties that have been done up in recent years saving them from dereliction which has been an ongoing problem in the town.
These include three properties on Moore Street, the John O’ Shea premises at The Square – the renovation of which is currently underway, and now the Mars Cinema on Frances Street.
She said the concrete building is very sturdy, and with the original spring floors still intact. Asked what KDHS would like to see going into the site, she said she cannot see the point in putting another cinema there because today anyone can go to the cinema in Ennis or stream movies online. While personally she would love to see musicals shown there like Kilrush Musical Society’s recent production of Sister Act, musicals and plays on their own are not enough to fill seats every night of the year.
“We are happy for it to be economically viable, sustainable and working…if it didn’t work as a cinema in 1991, it is not viable as a cinema or as a theatre in 2024. It would be lovely, but it is a pipe-dream and difficult for Kilrush which is a town with a population of 2,700 to sustain.”
Any future building cannot be sitting idle; there has to be a plan and a focus. It would also be important to have the facility managed not by part-time operatives on a CSO scheme but by somebody dynamic employed full-time as a manager, and who would have “skin in the game” to make things work, Ms O’ Sullivan said.
For their part, KDHS think the original maple wood floor ought to be preserved, and they would like to see an historic wall in place in any new building which they would like to have some input on. “The spring floor is very suitable. It is in quite good nick, obviously a bit of work needs to be done to bring it up to a modern standard”.
Whilst the town already has a number of small to medium community spaces like The Turrett Lodge which was renovated by the Council and re-opened in September 2020 however, a large fit-for purpose facility like the former cinema would be a great addition to the town, she said.
According to Councillor Lynch, while it needs a lot of work done, the large building has been approved as part of an education centre for the offshore maritime industry so there are several positive opportunities for it into the future.
The Kilrush councillor also revealed that David McNulty from TDI is conducting a facts based assessment in his feasibility study and taking a realistic approach by considering locations, amenities, and the age profile of the town’s population.
He has also conducted one-to-one interviews with several people in the town prior to presenting his findings.
In February, Kilrush was accepted as part of national government’s Town Centre First project with an allocation of €30,000 which is helping to fund the feasibility study, and which the councillor hopes will “bring everything together” for Kilrush.
“The building is a solid structure but what is really key for Kilrush is that it is part of a whole town plan. It is tied in to the re-development of Frances Street which leads to the Square,” he explained.
However, the future of the building all depends on the outcome of the study. Following the finalisation of the public consultation report, the next step in the process is that funding will be applied for. Because the former Mars Cinema project was part of the Town and Village Scheme, it should progress to the next stage of funding through that scheme, according to Councillor Ian Lynch.

Sharon Dolan D'Arcy

Sharon Dolan D'Arcy is originally from Ennis. Her work as a print journalist has appeared in a number of regional publications. She worked as court reporter at The Sligo Weekender newspaper and is a former editor of The Athenry News and Views. She covers West Clare news.

About Sharon Dolan D'Arcy

Sharon Dolan D'Arcy is originally from Ennis. Her work as a print journalist has appeared in a number of regional publications. She worked as court reporter at The Sligo Weekender newspaper and is a former editor of The Athenry News and Views. She covers West Clare news.

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