Mayo Ballrooms Land of the Thousand Dances

 In Music & Dancing

In his memoir of the show band and the ballroom era, Are Ye the band? Jimmy Higgins wrote that Mayo was the land of the thousand dances. There was a huge dance scene in Co. Mayo over the years something that continues today with the social dancing scene. It is true to say that those who experienced the dancing era will never forget it. The 1960’s were the height of the ballrooms and show bands. In 1965 some fifty years ago there were 600 show bands nationwide and 60 – 80 ballrooms and dance venues in Mayo alone.

The show bands included Doc Carroll and the Royal Blues, Jack Ruane Show band, Shay Cribben and the Riveria and The Brose Walsh band and Pat Friel from Westport. Others included Vin Brogan and the San Antones, the Tom Kelly Trio and the Leaders from Westport. The Gallagher Trio came from Church Road Ballina.

The reader can add to this from their own recollections. Tony Chambers had a famous show band and there was the Paschal Cosgrove Show band from Foxford. George B. Jordan had a show band in Ballina also and as had Phil Munnelly in Crossmolina. The Royal Blues were the first band to make the Number One spot from the West with Old Man Trouble in 1966; in the same year the Jack Ruane Show band made the Top 30 in Northern Ireland with The River Moy.

Mayo had some of the finest ballrooms in the land of Ireland – here in Ballina you had the Moyland and Aras Mhuire and there was the town hall too. The Moyland belonged to the Reynolds brothers and was officially opened by Brendan Bowyer on the 6th December 1968. It was located on the Crossmolina Road and dances were held there until the early to mid-seventies. The town hall was very popular and located on Teeling Street. Aras Mhuire was there during the fifties and was located on Tone Street.

Pontoon was the pride of the west for dancing at its best. It opened in August 1962 and was popular during the 1960’ and 1970’s. The hall was capable of holding 2,000 persons and cost some 30,000 to build, it was demolished in 1990 and there is no trace of the ballroom de luxe today sadly. The Palm Court was opened in April 1971 and was one of the many ballrooms around the countryside of Erris, including the Shamrock of Derrynameel that was owned by Pat MacAndrew.

Over in Bonniconlon there was The Grove first opened in May 1951 and still running dances for special times of the year. It was very popular during the 1960’s and buses were run there for the season at a fare of 2s to 2s6d from Ballina via Attymass and Corballa. Tooreen opened in 1951 too. It was a really fine dancehall and social dancing is still held there. The hall was added to in 1963 and dancing continued there until 1969, it was the brainchild of Monsignor James Horan. The Central in Charlestwon opened in 1949 and they flocked from all around east mayo and south Sligo to the place.

The prices of ballrooms have varied over the years early dances in the 1940’s and 1950’s say were 3s to 5s and later during the 1960’s they increased from 6s to 7s6d and if a major act were coming from overseas along with a native show band then the admission cost would be 10s. This was a fair sum of money in 1963 when Jim Reeves came to the Diamond Kiltimagh in June of the year. After the introduction of decimalisation in 1971 dances cost 50p and by 1875 this had increased to 70p and would gradually go up to a pound until today when you can expect to pay 15 euros to gain admission to a dance.

So many halls and so little space, what about the Royal that ran dances in Castlebar from December 1963 until march 2008, and the Starlight in Westport with its revolving or rotating stage the jewel in the crown of the mayo dancehalls and very popular during the 1970’s.

The reader can add to these dance halls and ballrooms there was the Arcadia in Belcarra too; a nice hall where Brose Walsh and his band played on a regular basis, and there was the Brown Memorial in Foxford and the Pavilion in Westport along with the Town Halls in Claremorris and Swinford and the Savoy Ballroom in Claremorris.

Written by James Reddiough (Copyright 2015)

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