Dancehall days: when everyone was in stepJune 29, 2012 - 12:00pm
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.