‘Mayo’s Ballrooms of Dancing and Romance’ is well worth seeing

A review by James Reddiough

There is a wealth of reminiscences and folklore about the ballrooms of Mayo, the county that Jimmy Higgins called the land of a thousand dances. Now thankfully all these recollections and folklore has been collected and documented in audio-visual format by Henry McGlade with the excellent technical assistance of Tommy Stenson.

The documentary was broadcast in three half hour episodes on Sky Channel 191 on iMayo TV and it made for interesting and informative viewing for the people who were directly involved with the business of showbands and ballrooms in the decades gone by stretching back to the 1950s and more, but especially the 1960s and 1970s when the ballroom boom hit Mayo, with the building of Pontoon in 1963 and the opening of the Palm Court in 1971.

The documentary material is well illustrated with music from the time and with advertisements from the newspapers of the time as well as photos of the halls, the bands and the scenes from the ballrooms, which means that this is a very authentic form of a social history as the people give eyewitness accounts of the ballroom era which lasted broadly speaking from 1957 to 1967, and in some cases into the early 1970s until the singing lounges and more modern dance venues took over and the halls slowly fell behind and closed.

There are various contributions from people like John Kelly and Tom Kelly as well as Tom Slack and Paddy Moran and Frank McCaffrey and many others like Tom Walsh, who was part of the Brose Walsh Band.

Also there is the folklore of the time, especially about the devil appearing in Tooreen Hall and the stories surrounding this event in 1955.  Then the famous night when, as Michael O’Connor recalls, the Sam Maguire Cup came to the Gaiety Ballroom in Islandneady and Peter Solan displayed it proudly at the dance that night.  Then there was the night of the 6 June 1963 when Jim Reeves was billed to play at the Diamond Ballroom in Kiltimagh but in the end, for whatever reason, refused to sing and departed for The Las Vegas Ballroom in Sligo.

Leo Diamond Junior said that he threw a tantrum when he found he had to play in Sligo and then left the Hall whilst Michael Commins said that people told him the piano was out of tune and Reeves could not perform without a perfectly tuned piano.

Romance was at the centre of the ballroom era and there are many couples featured on the programme telling of how they met in various ballrooms and how their relationships have lasted through the years as they recalled their dancing and romancing days of almost 60 years ago, with fondness and happiness.

In one scene a couple returned to where they met in the Acardia Ballroom in Belcarra and danced a foxtrot and slow waltz for the camera – it is a memorable part of the documentary.

They were happy times and they were innocent times, and these magic moments are well captured in this documentary, which received support from the Mayo library service and it has been posted on YouTube, where you can view it, and what better way is there of spending an hour?

Well done Henry and Tommy on your foresight in capturing this magical time in the cultural and social history of co. Mayo and we look forward to future such documentaries on the social history of Mayo. The documentary was produced with the assistance of Mayo County library, Creative Ireland and Mayo County Council.

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