Sunday 21 January 2018

Ballroom of romance is back

New exhibition to recreate magic of the dancehall days

Brian McDonald

THE tradition was beautiful in its simple genius.

One sister headed off to an early dance in one part of Galway and arranged to leave her dancing shoes in a hole in a wall for an older sister to collect on her way to a later dance.

Seapoint and the Hangar Ballrooms in Salthill were where love stories really did begin, once the sun set on Galway Bay.

And now the heaving dancehalls of the West in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s are being brought back to life.

The golden dancing days are now to be recalled in a special exhibition to be staged at Galway City Museum this summer. Part of the People's History of Galway project, the exhibition, entitled Dancehall Days, is collecting memorabilia and memories of those who were either dancefloor show-offs or wallflowers.

Thousands of dancers thronged the venues each week in search of a good night out . . . and maybe more, but only between Sunday and Friday nights.

The then Bishop of Galway, Dr Michael Browne, banned dancing on Saturday nights, as it would inevitably interfere with the faithful turning up to Mass the next morning.

Ann Fahy (nee Kelly) was a young girl when she started working in Seapoint Ballroom in 1963.

It was the year JFK visited Galway and his helicopter took off from outside Seapoint on his way to fly home to the US from Shannon.

"We lived across the road from Seapoint and the helicopter took off from almost outside our front door. They were brilliant days in Seapoint and there was a great buzz throughout the 60s with all the showbands," Ann said.

"The big stars were Brendan Bowyer, Dickie Rock and Butch Moore. Then there was Eileen Reid, Maisie McDaniels, Victor Sylvester, Acker Bilk, the American Drifters and Kenny Ball -- they were all lovely people.

"There would be anything up to 1,800 people in Seapoint on a busy Thursday or Sunday night -- they came from all over.

"The craic was mighty for everyone, even those of us who were working there."

One of the most remarkable nights in Seapoint's history was when the Clancy Brothers arrived to play in the 1960s. They were so popular that the doors had to be closed after more than 2,500 fans had paid their way in.

"The place was absolutely jammed and there was still a big crowd outside.

"Some of them even climbed up on the canopy on the front of the building and tried to get in a window that was only about 12 inches wide," Ann said.

She is still in touch with a number of the showband legends from the 1960s and receives Christmas cards from performers including Gene Stuart and Margo.

She is playing her part in the exhibition by donating the showband suit of Des Kelly who had his own band, while Jimmy Higgins, formerly of the Millionaires and the Raindrops, is loaning his well-travelled trumpet.

The museum is looking for a loan of "that special dress" from a dancer as well as a pair of shoes worn on a night out in the 1960s.

Irish Independent

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