Date Published: 29-Jun-2012
AS HE sits in front of the whitewashed fireplace, the embers glowing in the hearth, you can see the glint in his eye as he recalls the days when going out in town meant a four-mile cycle to Salthill, often in the pouring rain.
Every Saturday and Sunday night hundreds of bicycles would descend on Salthill as people arrived from all over the county and city to attend one of the dancehalls there. Galway native Joe Thornton, 83, from Corcullen was one of these people.
Back in 1952, Salthill was the social capital of Galway with Seapoint and the Hangar being two of the most popular places to frequent on a night out. The scarcity that followed the war still hung in the air and this in turn led to a lack of petrol, making bicycles the only form of transport available.
The Hangar as it was affectionately known was established in 1924 when three councillors, Mr Bailey, Eyre Square, Martin Cooke, and John Coogan, bought an aeroplane hangar for the Urban Council for £400. It had been used by the RAF in Oranmore during the war and was re-erected in Salthill Park as the Pavilion Ballroom, but everyone knew it as ‘the Hangar’.
A typical night would start in a bar in Salthill before going into the dancehall. “You’d have a couple of pints before the dance if you had the money, not everyone did. We used to go to Helly’s in Salthill. There were some grand nights there. We just had pints. You used to be able to get 24 pints for a pound in 1952.
“There was no alcohol sold in the dancehalls then. There was no drink at all that time really. You either had a few pints beforehand, if you had a half a crown, or else you didn’t have it at all. All the dancehalls had at that time was a mineral bar. So if you had the price of two minerals then you brought someone up with you, and that’s just the way it was,” Joe recalls.
The music of the day was generally Céilí and Old Time Music and the dances would run from 9 until 12, or an ‘all-night’ went on until 2. “In those days, it would cost two and six (about 15cent ) to get in,” Joe remembers.
“Some people who’d be fond of the drink would be drunk coming into the dancehall and they would often cause trouble and be thrown out. But there wouldn’t be many that way. There would have been more people not drunk than drunk. Around St. Stephen’s
night there would always be people that would be drunk and there would always be trouble,” he said.
Arguments and fights outside dancehalls were no less common back in the 50s than they are today: “There used to be a lot of people starting arguments and walking on girls toes. If the girls refused them they’d abuse them. I was ashamed to see it. It wasn’t an easy time for girls because the men were kind of rough I thought.”
After you paid into the dancehall, you’d receive a pass that would let you back in if you stepped out for a breath of fresh air or a cigarette. Joe remembers that on some occasions, somebody who was fed up might give you their pass and you’d get in for free, or else they might sell it for half price.
Unlike today, during the 50s and 60s, men would stand on one side of the ballroom and the women on the other side. “As soon as the band would start playing, the men would run across the hall and ask a girl to dance. If you could waltz in those days, you could ask any girl to dance, because you wouldn’t be taking the toes off her,” Joe laughs.
The way we were – Protecting archives of our past
People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.
Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.
She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.
Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.
Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.
When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.
Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.
And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.
All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.
“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”
That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.
For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here
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