Lifestyle – Series of books chronicle memories of older people of what life was like in bygone years. Judy Murphy spoke to Pauline Bermingham Scully who has compiled the oral histories.
The devil has all the best tunes, according to the old saying, but in the 1950s and 1960s the town of Gort had the best bands. That’s according to Loughrea man Pat Barrett, who makes his observation in a new collection of oral histories complied by Ardrahan woman Pauline Bermingham Scully.
This is the third in Pauline’s collection, South Galway Stories: Oral Narratives, and it captures the memories of 35 local people, all of whom are over 70, with most being in their 80s and some in their 90s.
Among them is Pat Barrett from Loughrea and his brother Joe. Pat told Pauline about a time in the late 1950s, before the town’s new Temperance Hall existed, when dancing opportunities locally were limited.
The Loughrea lads used to go over to Gort for their weekly dance – until “one night there was a big row”, he recalls.
Hurling supporters from Loughrea and Craughwell took each other on in a barney over a match, and their hosts in Gort were not impressed with their behaviour, as Pat explained to Pauline for the book.
“After the row, the Loughrea lads were barred for a year, I think it was. We missed Gort as they had all the big bands; we had no big hall in Loughrea. We had the Town Hall which would only hold about 300 . . .
“The Classic Ballroom in Gort was one of the best dancehalls in the county, apart from Seapoint and other big dancehalls in Galway,” he added, explaining that it could hold 1,000 people.
The owner of the Classic Ballroom was Paddy Mullins and Pauline also interviewed him for this book. Born in 1926, Paddy now lives in a nursing home in Kilcolgan and shared many happy memories of the dancehall days, when the Classic hosted showbands like Big Tom and the Mainliners and the Dixies as well as “all the good céilí bands, the Tulla and Kilfenora”.
The Classic attracted big numbers, Paddy told Pauline – something due in large part to his business skills.
“I used to be running buses from Galway and Ennis. It was 18 miles from Ennis and 20 miles from Galway. . . you had some great dancers that time, and they liked dancing. It used to be packed, no drinking only the mineral bar, I never had any trouble, I wouldn’t let in the ones that would be drunk. . . there was manners in my place.”
That the Classic had never had or never needed bouncers was a source of great pride to Paddy.
Pauline’s face lights up during our interview in Gort’s Gallery Café as she recalls interviewing these men and many other older people from South Galway – by now, it seems like there can’t be anyone left whom she hasn’t recorded since she first began working on a history project while studying for a History and Geography degree in NUIG in the early 2000s.
Pauline, a mature student, had to pick a module for her course, and oral history was a natural choice for someone who grew up listening to stories of ‘the old days’.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.