Music plays again at ballroom

THE music will sound again this month in a remote village dance hall made famous as the Ballroom of Romance by author William Trevor.

Margo, Daniel O’Donnell’s singing sister, used to do her homework in the 1960s behind the stage of the Rainbow Ballroom, Glenfarne, Co Leitrim, while waiting for her turn to sing with the Keynotes band as they set up.

Big Tom was given his first major dance-hall chance and named his band The Mainliners at the venue.

Margo said: “The Rainbow was one of the good memories for me, but I was too young to know a lot about the romance that was going on. I was only 13 when I first sang there. I used to do my homework while the band was setting up the instruments.”

A €500,000 renovation of the centre is set to be completed in August. It will hold a hall of memorabilia recalling the great showband days. The work of John McGivern, a returned US emigrant who opened the ballroom in 1934, will also be recalled in a museum at the centre.

The building, now run by Glenfarne Community Development Trust under a lease from the parish council, is set for a night of nostalgia on May 19 when a restoration fundraising CD will be launched, featuring 20 of Ireland’s showband legends. Among the stars on the record will be Margo, her younger brother Daniel, Big Tom, Larry Cunningham, Susan McCann, Philomena Begley, Paddy Cole and others.

The CD will also have 20-year-old Nathan Carter singing the history of the Rainbow written by John Farry, who lives just over the border from Glenfarne.

Local historian Gerry Finneran, who worked in the Rainbow, prompted John to write The Rainbow in Glenfarne. Gerry, cousin of original owner John McGivern, said: “What I remember most is how everybody dressed. The men always had their best suits, and a shirt and tie. If they weren’t properly dressed they wouldn’t get in.”

Pascal Mooney, a country DJ before he became a senator, will be MC on the night and Fr Brian D’Arcy, showbiz priest for nearly four decades, will be VIP guest.

Glenfarne Trust chairman Sean McDermott said: “Since the Rainbow became world-famous through William Trevor’s book and the subsequent BBC film tourists file by to take photographs. The idea of a museum and a tourism centre is to persuade them to spend a little more time in the village.”

The ballroom became famous in the 1970s when William Trevor was driving by and noted the sign over the entrance, which read: The Ballroom of Romance.

With the arrival of electricity to rural Ireland, McGivern was able to abandon the tilly and other oil lamps and extend and refurbish the hall in 1952. Dressed in bow-tie, he used to join the band on stage for 20 minutes, with lights dimmed, to encourage couples to get to know each other in a romantic interlude.

He retired from the business in the 1970s and the ballroom transferred to other owners before becoming the property of the parish council.


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