Forgotten history: When Drogheda ruled the silver screen

The Drawda sign on Millmount circa 1921. From the 1890s until the early 1920s, Drogheda was the focal point of the emerging film industry.

The Old Drogheda Society and Millmount will host a two week exhibition on the early days of Irish cinema entitled Drawda: The First Hollywood. The exhibition will be centred around the unique and oft overlooked contribution made by Drogheda to the development of the cinematic form.

“It’s often said that we don’t make enough of Drogheda’s past and this is just another example of us selling airselves short,” explained exhibition curator Eddie Gerrard. “From the early 1890s until the the Civil War (when the major production companies moved to Los Angeles), Drogheda was the focal point of the nascent movie industry.”

However by 1927, the film industry had relocated to Hollywood, California. Debate still surrounds the exact nature as to why the silver screen moved to Hollywood, but one thing Drogheda can be proud of is her contribution to the era of silent film.

Today we think that silent film was created as a way to get around the technological shortcomings of the age and many people still believe that it was just not possible to record both sound and picture concurrently. Not true according to Gerrard. It was a way to get around the Drogheda accent while a more practical solution was arrived at.

“Go into the National Cinematic Archives and there’s a box of reels showing ceilis, Victorian pornography and lots of masses…with sound. There’s even rumours of a found footage tape from the Titanic but we think that was destroyed when the Four Courts were shelled during the Civil War.

“The long and short of it is that although movie moguls thought Drogheda to be the ideal location for the film industry what with our low corporate tax rate and tax amnesty for artists, they complained that the Drawda accent was making their movies unwatchable.

The era defining Nosferatu shot on location below the Widow Murphy's pub.
The era defining Nosferatu shot on location below the Widow Murphy’s pub.

While not all actors of the time were locals, a good many were and it is common knowledge that actors are notoriously susceptible to picking up accents as well as being much better looking generally. The alleys and drinking dens of Drogheda left the foreign actors open to a range of vices, including the accent.

They say it’s the winners that write the history and cinema is no different. When The Artist (2011) won Best Picture at the Oscars there was a general feeling that the town was being airbrushed out of history.

“There was not even a single nod to Drogheda in The Artist. Where do they think Collon Animal Sanctuary kem from? All those poor trained dogs they left abandont when they fucked off to America, that’s where.” – Trish Collins, Professor of Film Studies at Drogheda Institute of Further Education (DIFE).

Councillor and film buff Frank ‘Shanks’ Godrey has revealed that getting proper recognition for the town from Hollywood has been a life-long crusade of his, one he has kept under his hat until now.

“As a cinema lover meself, I find it sad so I do that Drogheda’s role in the movies is being ignored. I personally petitioned Drogheda Borough Council to halt the demolition of St. Peter’s Parochial Hall as I felt that it had cultural significance having hosted the first ten Oscar ceremonies.

“I believe that the people of Drogheda should boycott Hollywood until they recognise the contribution this town has made to the development of cinema. It saddens me greatly to have to miss The Intern as I loved The Internship, what a hilarious caper. But someone needs to take a stand so they do. I’ll be picketing the Arc Cinema from Friday until this damned thing is resolved. I won’t be blinking first so I won’t, it’s in Hollywood’s court now so it is.”

The exhibition runs from this Friday with screenings of the movies shot around the town including, The Birth of a Nation (1915), Finian’s Rainbow (1916), Nosferatu (1922), My Fair Street Lady (1913) and the last movie shot on location in Drogheda, Metropolis (1927).

That was The Faa Side’s 100th post. Thank you all for reading.