Friday, 8 September 2017

Dancehall Days Remembered and Listowel Races 2017 is upon us

Photo: Chris Grayson


My Good Friends, Jim and Nora Sheahan

Nora Sheahan and her son Noel and family with Sarah Marince in The Seanchaí recently

Jim and Nora Sheahan in their cosy welcoming home

 On a recent visit I encouraged Jim to tell me his memories of a different era in Listowel

Jim remembers the days of the dancehalls.  Small local dancehalls were dotted around North Kerry in the 1940s and 50s. These were the main venues for entertainment until the advent of the big ballrooms and the easy availability of transport meant the people went dancing outside their local area.

There were two dancehalls in town, Walshe’s Ballroom and The Plaza. The Plaza which was built by Frankie Chute was a cinema but it held dances on big occasions like the Races.

Walshe’s Ballroom was first located upstairs in a premises in William Street. Sunday night was dance night and older people remember long queues of young people waiting for this hall to open.

When this hall had to close when the floor collapsed, Vincent Walshe moved operations to a site he owned opposite the Astor Cinema. He built a big luxurious state -of -the -art ballroom with a sprung maple floor, a mineral bar and a cloakroom.

The Las Vegas, as it was called had a mineral bar, with “catering by Diana.” The Diana in question was Diana McElligott.

The cloakroom was another luxury you didn’t have in the smaller crossroads halls. For a small fee you could leave your coat in safekeeping for the duration of the dance. You handed in your coat and the cloakroom attendant attached a ticket to the coat and you were given the corresponding ticket stub. If you had no pocket you had to keep the stub safely in your shoe until you came to collect your coat at the end of the dance.

The Las Vegas also had a resident band. Bunny Dalton was the band master. Jim Sheahan played the saxophone with this band for 5 or 6 years. Other members of the band were Jerry Scanlon, Mai Chute, who played the piano, John Moore of Mountcoal who played the saxophone and Jerry Barry  on trumpet. Tim O’Sullivan was Jim’s music teacher. For 1 shilling a lesson he taught him to play the fiddle. Tim also played the saxophone and he spotted Jim’s potential. Jim was already playing the tin whistle and the skills transferred to the saxaphone as the notes were the same. Since he neither drank nor smoked he had plenty of lung power and he took to his new instrument with enthusiasm.  At one stage the band had a vocalist, Johnny Cahill. This is the same Johnny Cahill who played Carthalawn in the first production of Sive.

This was the era of the big band and Vincent Walshe put together a band to rival the best in the land. Bunny Dalton and his band played for the dancing on Wednesday and Sunday nights. Occasionally, Vincent Walshe brought big names like Mick Delahunty and Brendan Boyer to town. These were known as “all night dances’ and they went on until 3.00 a.m. The big band would take a half hour break from 12.00 to 12.30 and the house band would play during this half hour.

People came from far and near to the dances. Many of them came on foot or by bicycle. If patrons were lucky enough to have a car there was ample parking in the vicinity of the hall.

There were no dances during Lent and local drama groups like Danny O’Donoghue of Lixnaw used to put on plays in the hall.

Jim remembers earning 30 shillings a night as a musician. This was good money in those days.

Occasionally the band would play in other local halls. The Walshe’s had a van for carrying the instruments. Most halls had a piano and if they didn’t Mai Fitz had her own piano accordion, which she brought with her.

Jim remembers great meals after dances in Hennesseys in Ballyduff and Doyle’s in Ballyheigue or in Hegartys. Dancehalls in those days were often built adjacent to the owner’s house.

This were the days!


Edel Quinn and Tralee

I come from Kanturk which is the hometown of Edel Quinn. Only last week I spotted this plaque on a wall in Tralee. I learned that she lived and went to school in Tralee.


The Longed For Week has arrived

Very soon the gate will open and the bridge will be thronged with people. Races 2017 is on our doorstep.

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