Sunday 27 May 2018

Obituary: Jim Reynolds

One of Ireland's leading music promoters and a pioneer in the dance hall era

KIND COUPLE: Longford businessman and hotelier Jim Reynolds and wife Anne sadly passed away within a day of each other
KIND COUPLE: Longford businessman and hotelier Jim Reynolds and wife Anne sadly passed away within a day of each other
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Jim Reynolds, who was buried in Longford last Wednesday in a joint funeral with his wife Anne, was the elder brother and at one time business partner of late Taoiseach Albert Reynolds.

While Albert was gregarious, revelling in the company of show business personalities and media figures, his brother Jim disliked personal attention and stayed out of the limelight. "He wanted to have the name of being a hard man to deal with, but underneath he was very kind but didn't want anybody to know about it," said an old friend.

Born on a small farm on the borders of Longford, Roscommon and Leitrim, Jim Reynolds served his time as a carpenter after finishing in the Technical School in Longford. He emigrated to Canada and later Australia, and returned to Ireland with savings of £5,000.

Along with his brother Albert, who was then working as a clerk with CIE and running 'carnival dances' in his spare time, the Reynolds brothers built a ballroom on family lands adjoining the village of Rooskey. The opening of The Cloudland in 1959 was perfect timing, as showbands like The Clipper Carlton, The Drifters and The Mighty Avons were drawing thousands of dancers each week to the ballrooms springing up around the country.

Jim was the builder and Albert looked after management and promotions.

The Roseland in Moat; The Fairyland (hard to believe now) in Roscommon; The Lakeland (later Horizon) in Mullingar; The Dreamland, Athy; The Jetland, Limerick, and many others that quickly followed were consolidated into an empire that gave them not only control of the ballrooms but leverage to bring in international acts like Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Acker Bilk, Jim Reeves and others to play alongside homegrown talent.

Jim even bought a turntable for locomotives from CIE and used it in one of the ballrooms so that when one act finished the next would suddenly appear on stage ready to launch into their set.

Together they bought The Longford Arms Hotel in the town's Main Street in 1961. "In 1969, my brother and I had a number of differences about where the business should go," Albert Reynolds would later say. "He wanted to stay in the ballroom business and expand, I was convinced changes were coming and it was not worth the investment... I wanted out and resigned, I was ready to move on to something new."

However, the break was less than cordial and some of the showbands they did business with got caught in the crossfire that ensued.

Albert Reynolds made a second fortune in the pet food business before concentrating on politics. During his first successful campaign for the Dail in 1977, Jim supported one of Albert's opponents, Independent TD Joe Sheridan, who was also successfully elected for the Longford/Westmeath constituency.

Meanwhile, Jim Reynolds made The Longford Arms Hotel one of the most successful hotels in the midlands. It was later discovered when the Court Services went to renovate the imposing courthouse, which was next door to the hotel, that he had colonised part of the disused basement and built a block of toilets there.

In the ballroom business, he was well-know for buying sites or property to prevent competition. He purchased The Fountain Blue, a motel on the road into Longford and later closed it down, as he did with the Annaly Hotel in the town's Main Street, when they threatened his core business.

Jim Reynolds died at his home in Longford at the age of 85, last Sunday, the day after his wife Anne passed away. They were buried together last Wednesday after Requiem Mass in St Mel's Cathedral. The couple are survived by daughters Angela and Orlagh, and sons John and James.

Sunday Independent

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