Karen McPhilemy and Mary Lafferty
Joni Mitchell famously lamented about how Americans “paved paradise
[and] put up a parking lot”, a comment on the way they tore down
anything of historic significance in favour of modernity, and Strabane
is in danger of losing more and more of its own history.
Strabane is now practically unrecognisable from the town many loved so
well 20 or 30 years ago. While some of the changes, particularly in
housing standards, have been for the good, many historic buildings have
been lost, most, it has to be conceded, as a result of bomb blasts.
Still the memories linger on, and soon only memories will linger of
another of Strabane’s famous buildings, the Pallidrome.
The old building situated on the Railway Road, renowned for evoking many
flourishing romances in its day, was probably best known for its
phenomenal array of talented showbands. Bands ranging from the Clipper
Carlton to the likes of Van Morrison and Bill Haley, have all graced the
people of Strabane during the era of the Pallidrome.
But as the Strabane Weekly News reported a fortnight ago, the building
is to make way for a new carpet showroom. Since then many former patrons
have been reflecting on their happy times there.
Local Councillor Eugene McMenamin said the Pallidrome in Strabane in the
late fifties and sixties was a mecca for dancing, and young men and
women from all over the North West and further afield flocked to it
every weekend to listen to Ireland’s top showbands.
“It brings back many happy memories, I remember by the late fifties the
social climate was changing rapidly. When the ballrooms sprung up, they
threatened the parish dances and I am sure many parishioners in Strabane
will remember Fr Convey standing outside St Mary’s Hall in Bridge Street
making sure that if you were on your way to the Pallidrome you didn’t
get there as he diverted you into the parish hall.
“However this only lasted a short while because the excitement of
Ireland’s top showbands and international stars playing in the
Pallidrome offered too much.”
Continuing Mr McMenamin spoke of the town’s very own Clipper Carlton,
telling how they “invented the showband phenomenon in Ireland.
“What a band they were, they were fantastic. The Clipper Carlton lit the
fuse that led to the showband explosion of the sixties.
“I remember going to the Pallidrome to see Bill Haley and the Comets
playing the infamous ‘Rock around the Clock’ and our own Van Morrison
who was playing with his band ‘Them’, to name but a few and all the top
showbands of the day.”
Claiming that it would be impossible to explain to people today the kind
of hysteria generated by the showbands, Mr McMenamin believes that
although nothing could compare to those days now, he was sure that there
were numerous people in the North West had fond memories of the
Concluding he said; “The Pallidrome played a very important part in the
lives of anyone who grew up in the sixties. Although the showband days
are long gone, the building always reminded one of the happy times which
were spent dancing away to the small hours at the weekend.
“I will be very sorry to see the building demolished but we will all
have our cherished memories of a wonderful ballroom and all the friends
we met and indeed all the marriages that evolved from couples meeting in
One entertainer who served his ‘apprenticeship’ at the Pallidrome and is
still going strong is Fintona singer, Derrick Mehaffey,.
“I remember playing there when I was in ‘Derrick and the Sounds’, I
guess you could say that the Pallidrome was where I got my first
“I remember the likes of Joe Dolan and the Dixies and Van Morrison
playing there. Van would sing the famous ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’, it was
quite unusual to have the likes of Van Morrison play there at first as
the Pallidrome would have originally played host to showbands.
“The Pallidrome had a good atmosphere, people came from both Donegal and
Derry to go there for a dance and hear the local bands playing.”
For many of the Strabane residents this new development in progression
evokes mixed emotions. Many are clearly sad to see this landmark being
demolished as it is now one of last few concrete pieces of history left
Mr Raymond Kirk, local businessman, commented “Many of the people in
this town hold great memories of the Pallidrome from the days when the
Clipper Carlton played there.
“This was a top showband venue that drew people from a radius of 40-50
miles and people from places such as Belfast. I am extremely sad to see
it going and believe it will be a great loss to the town as it held so