Showband exhibition recalls glory of the swinging sixties

GOLDEN folk memories came flooding back yesterday as the National Museum of Ireland Country Life began to celebrate a generation that danced its way into history.

Hucklebuck Time, an exhibition which opened in Turlough Park, Castlebar, Co Mayo, and continues until June 10, focuses on the showband era, which helped transform Irish social life from the late 1950s until the early 1970s.

It is the work of the Museum of Treasures in Waterford, where it was put on view last year, and has been loaned to the National Museum.

The exhibition tells the story of many of the 800 bands that travelled the country to play at 450 dance halls, bringing excitement and glamour to an Ireland emerging from the doldrums of an earlier age.

It was the start of a period of dramatic change. The motor car made faraway places seem near. And television highlighted new ideas for what was regarded as a brighter and better-educated generation.

A ginger-haired young Kennedy was in the White House, and a saintly-looking man named Roncalli was brushing away old cobwebs in the Vatican as Pope John XXIII.

Soviet and American space missions made pilot of the future Dan Dare sound redundant on Radio Luxembourg, and a slip of a girl, Jean Shrimpton, upset people from Ballina to Bangkok, with a dress that became known as the mini.

Symbolic of the new mood were The Beatles and, nearer home, the showbands, with their distinctive brand of music. The Clippers and the Dixies, the Capitol and the Royal Blues, the Miami and the Drifters, were big crowd pullers.

But the most exciting of them all was the Royal Showband from Waterford, with big Brendan Bowyer of the broad smile and the bushy black hair matching the energy of the times with exhausting stage performances.

Dickie Rock, Joe Dolan, Brendan O’Brien, Eileen Reid, Butch Moore, Joe Mac, Big Tom, Larry Cunningham and Tom Dunphy …the list of performers of the period goes on and on.

And their repertoire of hits, that went from The Candy Store on the Corner to The Hucklebuck and Walking the Streets in the Rain to Good Looking Woman and Little Arrows, still bring a smile to those who jived to them all.

Clodagh Doyle, Curator, Irish Folklife Division, National Museum, said showbands affected the lives of ordinary people.

“I think the exhibition is going to bring a lot of memories back to people because so many of them remember going to those dances, sometimes three times in the one week.”

Admission to the exhibition is free. It is being run in association with the TF Royal Hotel and Theatre in Castlebar.

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