Up to the 1950s, the Imperial Cinema was located at number 43 and 44 Oliver Plunkett Street. The site of the cinema was previously occupied by Munster Co-operative Stores. The advertisement on the right is from the Cork Examiner on the cinema's opening date, 7 February 1913. The new cinema showed films daily from 3 pm to 11 pm and provided a range of programme including the latest film releases.
While the Imperial was initially set up as a temporary cinema it remained a feature on Oliver Plunkett Street for 40 years. Gradually, however, the Imperial cinema’s standards fell, as John McSweeney points out in his history of Cork cinema: "Over time, the Imperial lost its title of ‘Cork’s Premier Picture Theatre’ and plummeted from a position at the top of Cork’s places of entertainment to a spot firmly rooted at the bottom" (McSweeney, 2003, pp. 98-9).
For Corkonians the cinema's name, 'Imperial', did not stick: The venue was known locally as 'Miah’s', after the cinema’s commissionaire, who was an ever-present personality. The cinema had a balcony with more expensive seats and a lower tier of benches. Despite showing mainly B-rated films, Miah’s was invariably packed in its earlier years with eager customers who were happy to see those films and to engage with the cinema experience that went with it.
A number of reasons lay behind the Imperial’s subsequent decline. The cinema failed to modernise when better quality films were released during the 1920s and 1930s. Miah’s clientele tended to be children and adults who could not afford the prices of the larger Cork cinemas. This led to larger crowds and disorderly queues on the street outside. According to McSweeney, Miah’s, for many, "was a no-go area, known only by its ferocious reputation" (McSweeney, 1999, p. 96 & 99).
Jim McKeon, newspaper columnist, recalled some of the conditions and antics in Miah’s from his early trips to Cork cinemas:
On one of my first visits to Miah’s, downstairs was full. This was hardly surprising as it was like a big shoe box and it wouldn’t take much to fill it ... Also, the projector on the back-wall was very low and smart-alecs in the back row kept putting their hands up to block the film at a crucial point (Evening Echo, 29 March 1999, p. 9)
Cinemagoers at Miah's in the 1930s and 1940s also had to contend with occasional projection interruptions due to the typically poor condition of film reels. By the 1950s, the cinema was failing to attract sufficient customers. The last film at this cinema — a Western called Montana Territory — was shown on 3 July 1954 (McSweeney, 1999, p. 101-2).
Following Miah's 43-44 Oliver Plunkett Street was occupied by the Hanover Motorcycle Company. Today the site of the former cinema is occupied by the Saville menswear shop, but still retains the distinctive frontage. This sophisticated retail merchandise contrasts with the often unruly atmosphere in Miah’s cinema decades ago — a cinema that provided countless Cork film-lovers with the opportunity for escapism through that so-accessible source of entertainment for over forty years.
Evening Echo, 29 March 1999, p. 9
McSweeney, John, The golden age of Cork cinemas. (Cork, 2003).