Cormac MacConnell: Hands off in the Ballroom of Nodance

I met a man this week in Galway City who was a close friend in summers way back then, when we were all young and free and footloose, and happy as the fabled Larry.

We had very little money, of course, and that was the reason four or five of us would band together on Sunday nights so we could jointly fund a hackney car to bring us to the big, dry ballrooms that were all the rage.

This was the era when there were hundreds of these ballrooms and hundreds of showbands to play on their stages, under spinning crystal balls.

Those ballrooms in the provinces, as many of you will remember, were about the only arenas where romance flourished, under certain circumstances.

The young ladies of that Ireland of the 1960s did not frequent public houses like they do now.

The dances were about the only opportunities we had to meet them, and maybe Cupid might strike, as Dickie Rock or Larry Cunningham or Brendan Bowyer crooned over us all.

The pure truth, once more.

Anyway, the roads of life divided that merry band, and it was with a shock that my friend and I realised over a coffee the other evening that we had not physically met for over 30 years, though there had been occasional phone contacts, and Christmas cards with red robins and good wishes, at the endings of those years.

Ye know that score too.

He was and is a farmer. When we were merrymaking together, he was slowly being groomed to take over the family farm from his father.

Now, he told me, he is in the process of handing the place over to his second son.

The elder lad was never interested in the land at all, and he is now a teacher in Australia.

It was towards the end of our meeting my friend told me that he occasionally comes across stories I have written.

And he said one he had enjoyed recently was something I wrote — I think maybe here in this space — about the Ballroom of Romance above in Co Leitrim, and its legendary proprietor, John McGivern.

“But Cormac”, says he,” Do you remember the hall in Mayo we used to travel to some Sunday nights, that I always called the Ballroom of Nodance?

“Do you remember that one at all?”.

And dammit, I eventually remember that Mayo ballroom, and his nickname for it, and also the reason for that nickname.

And why he only came twice with the rest of us to the big ballroom in a place called Tooreen, near the town of Ballyhaunis. Here, like everywhere else, the men outnumbered the women two or three to one every Sunday night, and you had to be quick off the mark when the music began, to even get the chance to ask a girl for a dance.

My friend was a tall, handsome young man back then, and he would rarely be refused a first dance.

But, he said, he never got a second one from the partner he fancied.

He figured out that the reason was that he had the work-hardened hands of a farmer, and none of the girls around Tooreen wanted to get involved with a farmer, because they knew too much about the hard enough realities of being a farmer’s wife back in those days.

“The rest of you lads had soft office hands, and there was the chance you were a teacher or worked in the bank or the civil service, so ye got on well enough usually but, to me, until I got sense, and refused to travel any more, it was the Ballroom of Nodance for sure”, is the way he put it.

I just thought the story was worth passing on now, as an echo of the way things were in rural Ireland, not all that long ago either.


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