When Joyce was living in Trieste he and his family frequently went to the cinema, and it struck him that Dublin had no cinema. He persuaded a group of Triestine businessmen to put up the money to establish one, with 10% of the profits to go to himself. He came to Dublin in 1909, secured a premises at 45 Mary Street, renovated and fitted it out, hired staff, got a licence, and opened to the public on 20 December 1909. He called it the Volta after a cinema he liked in Trieste. The Evening Telegraph of 21 December noted: “Yesterday at 45 Mary St. a most interesting cinematograph exhibition was opened before a large number of invited visitors. The hall in which the display takes place is most admirably equipped for the purpose, and has been admirably laid out…The chief pictures shown here were ‘The First Paris Orphanage’, ‘La Pourponierre’, and ‘The Tragic Story of Beatrice Cenci.’ The latter, although very excellent, was hardly as exhilarating a subject as one would desire on the eve of the festive season.”
Lack of exhilaration must have characterized further programmes, for the venture collapsed in July 1910, and the building was sold to the English Provincial Theatre Company, at a loss to the investors. Joyce was ahead of his time. The document from the Department of Justice reproduced here lists 37 cinemas in Dublin in 1922, only 12 years after the Volta closed. No. 15, the Lyceum, occupies 45 Mary Street, the Volta building. The file deals with the extension of military censorship to cinemas, during the civil war; notice was served on the proprietors of all of the listed cinemas that this was the case. The proprietor of the Lyceum had the agreeably Joycean name of Dignam. The Lyceum was known to its patrons in the 1920s as “the louse house”.