March 22, 2005
Sun Shines Again on Glenfarne's
Rainbow Ballroom of Romance.
John McGivern built the Rainbow Ballroom in Glenfarne in early 1934. John was a
native of Brockagh, Glenfarne, and was well-known in Sligo where he lived up to
his death some years ago. He managed the Savoy Cinema in High Street up to its
In his late teens John, like so many other people from
North Leitrim, emigrated from Glenfarne to the U.S.A. While there he was
involved in the radio and entertainment business. However it was always his
ambition to set up his own entertainment business and he returned to his native
Glenfarne in the early thirties.
He purchased a plot if land at a crossroads in the
townland of Brockagh Lower along the N16 Enniskillen to Sligo road, where he
built the hall, locally known as the "Nissan Hut". This had no connection with
Nissan cars. It got the name due to the fact that the galvanised iron
construction looked like the old British army huts – hence the name Nissan Hut.
The hall opened its doors for the first time in early
1934, know then as McGivern’s Dance Hall. The first function held there
consisted of a variety concert followed by the first dance in the new hall with
music provided by the local Glenfarne Dance Band.
Over the next two decades or so the hall went from success
to success and in 1952 John decided to extend the venue. And with the arrival of
rural electrical supply to the area the newly-extended hall became much more
modern and a few years later a piped water supply was laid on. Up until this
time lighting consisted of tilly and other such oil lamps and the chemical
toilets were then discarded.
This more modern hall continued to attract huge crowds of
dancers from a very wide area. Dances were usually held on Sunday nights with an
odd weeknight dance and with various organisations such as the Garda, nurses,
teachers etc. holding their annual dances there. When John re-opened the hall
after the 1952 renovations he re-named it the Rainbow Ballroom, the name it
holds the present day.
During the great years of the showband era from the mid
fifties to the early eighties all the top bands played in the Rainbow. Bands
such as Hugh Toorish and the famous Clipper Carlton from Strabane were regular
performers on the Rainbow stage. In fact it was the Clippers (as they were
popularly known) that introduced the showband scene.
Other bands to come regularly to the Rainbow included
Brendan Bowyer and the Royal, Dickie Rock and The Miami, Joe McCarthy and the
Dixies, Sean Fagan, Sonny Knowles and the Pacific, The Royal Blues and Doc
Carroll, The Black Aces, Maurice Mulcahy Band, Eileen Reid and the Cadets,
Donnie Collins Band, Gay McIntyre from Derry, Big Tom and the Mainliners, Susan
McCann, Philomena Begley, Joe Dolan, Brian Coll and the Buckaroos and hundreds
more as at that time it was recorded that there were more than six-hundred
showbands operating in Ireland.
One of the most popular bands with the Rainbow dance
patrons was the great Melody Aces from Newtownstewart and which featured singers
David Coyle and Shay Hutchinson.
There were no dances held in the Rainbow or any other hall
in the diocese of Kilmore during the seven weeks of lent – except on St
Patrick’s Night. This was a rule by the clergy of the diocese. During those
weeks of no dancing John would organise concerts and other types of
Local bands also played in the Rainbow such as Breffni
Dance Band from Glenfarne, The Emerald Valley Band from Rossinver, The Rhythm
Swing Band from Glencar, Kevin Woods Band Drumshanbo, Frank Murray’s Band From
Carrick-on-Shannon, The Starlight Band, Derrylin, The Red Sunbeam from
Swanlinbar, Pat O’Hara and his band from Strandhill, The Golden Eagle from
Glangevlin and many more.
It was during those great dancing times in the Rainbow
that John introduced what he called "the romantic interlude". This interlude
consisted of approximately fifteen to twenty minutes during the dance when John
dressed in a black suit, white shirt and black bow tie, would join with the band
on stage and sing such romantic songs as "Have you ever been lonely" the popular
Jim Reeves song "He’ll have to go" and others.
In between verses of these songs John would ask the
dancing couples to get to know each other – if they had not done so already – by
shaking hands, exchanging greetings etc. and he would also give out spot prizes
to lucky couples, which were usually admission tickets for future dances.
Also during this romantic interlude session the hall
lights would be dimmed and the men folk would be encouraged to take their lady
friends to the bar for a cup of tea or a mineral – no alcohol bar in those days
– before the dance would end. It is estimated that a big number of happy
marriages resulted from meeting at these interludes. From this, John then added
"The Ballroom of Romance" to the name of the hall, that is how this name came to
Apart from the dance programme John also held many
concerts during his years in the business. Many of the top groups and solo
performers played in the Rainbow from both Ireland and abroad including The
Dubliners, Foster and Allen, Dublin City Ramblers, Wolfetones, Anna McGoldrick,
Joe Lynch, Ruby Murray, Bridie Gallagher, Daniel O’Donnell, Eileen Donaghy,
Altan (Irish group) Gallowglass Ceili Band and many, many more.
Also from abroad came the Harry Gold Orchestra, Ronnie
Ronald, Victor Sylvester Big Band and Scotland’s favourite The Jimmy Shand Ceili
When John and his wife, Maureen, retired from the business
in the mid-seventies, he leased the hall to the G.W.D Promotions Group from
Donegal and later to Tony Loughman Promotions, Monaghan. Both of these dance
promoters continued to have dances in the Rainbow until the parish bought it
over about twenty-six years ago. After carrying out some improvements it
continued to be run very successfully with dances being the main entertainment.
However about the mid-nineties most of the well-known
showbands had either disbanded or retired and with the advent of the singing and
music lounges etc. numbers attending the dances in places such as the Rainbow
began to fall away. The result meant that very few dances took place in the
Rainbow for a few years.
For the past few years the Glenfarne Development Trust
have been organising very successful dances and last year (2004) the group
leased the hall from the hall owners, St. Phelim's Diocesan Trust. The
development trust are now holding dances on a regular basis with very good
results as the dancing crowds are coming back once again to the Rainbow.
Apart from dancing, many other types of functions take
place in the Rainbow such as ceili dances, dancing classes for both children and
adults, traditional concerts, variety shows, discos, card games, drama
workshops, music classes, fund raising auctions and sales for local and national
The well-known English writer William Trevor while passing through Glenfarne
many years ago noticed the hall with the writing on the front wall "Ballroom of
Romance". After making some inquiries about this name on the hall he decided to
write what became a very interesting book of that name.
Sometime later a BBC television producer, after reading
the book, decided to make a film, and so the film "The Ballroom of Romance" was
screened worldwide. As the Rainbow had by this time taken on a modern look the
film directors decided to look elsewhere for a more old-fashioned hall. This
they found in west County Mayo and most of it was recorded there.
As we are now in the seventy-first year of dancing at this
well-known and famous venue, Glenfarne people are very proud of the fact that
the Rainbow Ballroom in Glenfarne is the original and only genuine Ballroom of
Romance, not only in Ireland but also in the world. Seventy-one years (almost)
of non-stop dancing and entertainment in the same venue must surely be a world
record for a rural area. The community say "Thank you" John McGivern for leaving
such a great legacy.
The Rainbow is still going strong in 2005 with many top
acts booked for this year such as, Declan Nerney on Easter Sunday night and for
the rest of the spring/summer season it will have Robert Mizzell on June 5, The
Wolfe Tones July 29, Mike Denver July 31 and Jimmy Buckley on August 28.