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Ballroom Memories of the Flamingo

By Glen Brown

Back in the 60s, down the Antrim Coast Road from Larne at Carnlough, there was a Ballroom (Smiths or Smyths) where showbands performed for the locals and tourists. It was the only local dancehall I never managed to visit. There were plenty of choices within Larne (several regular weekly dances, monthly Record Hops at the Caroline Club, East Antrim Boat Club, Larne Tennis & Bowling Club,  Larne Football Club, Larne Grammar School, Lynn Community Centre, church halls and the public ballrooms including the Kings Arms Hotel, The Laharna Hotel, The Pavilion and the Plaza--the title given to the venue for the popular public night dance at the Larne 'Victoria' Orange Hall).

One other town dance hall known locally as " The Greasy Pig" sat on the site of the present Larne's Glasgow Rangers Club. Maybe I was fortunate that it closed before I joined the dance scene as the name may say a lot about it!.  Just up the road in neighbouring Ballymena was "mecca," The Flamingo Ballroom, the nearest venue for us to see the Big Showbands (The Freshmen, The Royal etc) and hit makers/pop stars from across the water like Tom Jones and The Seekers to name but two of many I enjoyed there. Having only seen Judy of the Seekers on TV or a portrait photo of her face, I realized that TV's 325 lines made her look fatter and smaller than she was live on stage.

Jiving in the Flamingo was allowed strictly down the left and right side of the hall from the stage, with the "mod" dancing performed in the centre (Sammy Barr managed well). When the big stars were on stage very few patrons danced and everyone squeezed up to the stage for a better view. It wasn't only the girls that screamed with happiness and tried to touch their idols.

Like many venues there was the occasional fight and the worse place to be caught-up in a brawl or when a patron was being forcefully evicted by the ballroom staff was on the entrance staircase. The dance floor of the ballroom was on the the first floor. Another major risk associated with attending a dance at the Flamingo was missing your lift home.

Offering to walk a girl home was real adventure especially on first meeting, one often found they lived in the opposite direction of the home trail to Larne. It kept one slim and fit. However having once walked from the Floral Hall, Bellevue, Belfast, after a great night at a Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem 'magic' performance, my blisters and soreness reminded me of what one was prepared to do to see the talent both on stage and (more often than not) on the dance floor! Too much traffic on the roads now to risk such a walk even if there are footpaths.

On another occasion having won a large cream sponge cake raffled for charity in a Larne Ballroom. I walked home in the rain with my prize, after about ten minutes the cake box became sodden, allowing the heavy rain to attack and penetrate my cake, (no litter bug me). You should have seen the state of my suit when I got home and switched on the light. You could not recognised the mush. I wondered what the early morning people thought of any trail I had unknowingly left behind me.

On an other occasion the local RUC came into the ballroom and said that two elderly ladies just arrived off the night ferry had broken down with a puncture at Millbrook a few miles out of Larne on the Belfast Road and would anyone go to their assistance to change the wheel. It had been dry when the dance begun, suffice to say it was raining hard, after changing the wheel and seeing the ladies again on their way the state of my suit was not a site for sore eyes.

The unsung heroes of the ballrooms/dance halls were often the warm up band/groups before the bill toppers came on. Nor should we forget the resident official and unofficial dancers, that broke the ice by starting the evenings dancing.

The Green Angels (formerly the Fontana) were very popular, their rendering of the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem's "Shoals of Herring" was a regular faultless favourite and in contrast their 'Along Came Jones." We were sorry to see them give up their resident Saturday night spot in the Kings Arms Ballroom, Larne.

The local High Seas Showband replaced them and being fresh they proved an overnight success with the patrons. Their mixture also of Irish popular folk, C & W and pop kept the crowd to capacity. When the showband era ended and groups were the in-thing and disco even with the introduction of the sale and consumption of alcohol at the dances began the demise. The "troubles" saw the hotel close and it was demolished with no chance for a revival in peace time. The
site now occupied by a Nursing Home, several smaller shops and a Dunn's Store, where we now push shopping trolleys or our grandchildren in their push chairs we once danced our hearts out, met our loves and began enjoying adult life.

Glen Brown
 

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In Loving Memory of Grant Gallagher: Sept. 21, 1990 - Nov. 18, 2006