Ballrooms, Halls, Hotels & Marquees
Current Count: 1,160
venues as of
Lists by venue name:
A through K
L through Z
List by county: Antrim through
Special list of carnival dancing: The
Teddy Palmer and
his Rumble Band rock St. Dominic's Hall in Glenties. (Click photo to enlarge)
Anyone who grew up in Ireland between 1955 and 1985 knows the ballrooms, halls, marquees,
lounge bars, and hotels were home to dancing's "golden age." They might also remember that if it wasn't too cold because of a lack of
heat, it was too hot as dancers jostled for position on crowded dance floors, with the
strange mixture of sweet perfume and foul sweat filling the air. The photo at the right (courtesy of Teddie Palmer) was taken in 1980,
more than a decade "after" the so-called "end" of the showband boom! Hopefully,
this attests to the fact that the era of dancing and ballrooms did
not end with the 60's showbands (and they didn't
end here either)!
Although ballrooms were located in every nook
and cranny of Ireland, dances were held in a wide variety of venues
including town halls, marquees, church halls, community centres,
hotels...in fact, anywhere you could cram a few hundred people into
an enclosed space. We are often asked which county had the most
dances? As we collect info from a wide variety of sources, it has
become quite clear that dancing was quite big in the North of
Ireland, but the county which currently leads the country for the
most dancing venues is Donegal (83), followed by Antrim (82), Cork
(74), Dublin (63) and Mayo (62). As we continue to add venues, these
numbers will change, but after a decade of gathering data, it is
doubtful they will change much.
Filling Your Dance Card
It was the ballrooms that first catered to Irish dancers in
early 20th century. The dance card sample shown right and left was kindly
contributed by Arklow musician, Liam O'Reilly, who also contributed hundreds of
band photos from the showband era. The dance card
is from the Marlsborough Hall in Arklow, which Liam tells us still is in use
today, although not for dancing. The night's entertainment was provided by W.A.
Manahan's Band in 1917. The card provides an interesting insight into the
"event" which a night out a dance was at the turn of the century. The band's
song selection had to be printed up in advance so young ladies could fill their
"engagements" for the evening's dancing. Click on the thumbnails to see the full
Dancing to the big bands and orchestras of the the 30's, 40's,
and 50's finally exploded in the heyday of the showbands, the 1960's. Many new
ballrooms were quickly built to meet the increased need of the
dancing public. The halls were custom built for dancing and usually included a few bathrooms, a cloak room, and a mineral bar. (Mineral is the Irish equivalent of soda pop). Many were more reminiscent of a shed than an
entertainment facility. There was little seating, other than a row of benches around the perimeter of the dance floor. Some included an upstairs balcony area where weary dancers could catch their breath. Halls were often built "in the middle of nowhere," drawing patrons from towns and villages for miles around. Most of the ballrooms
enjoyed an unprecedented run of success for ten or twenty years.
The Miami showband in
Seapoint Ballroom in late 1975
(click photo to enlarge)
Around the same time, the "carnival" craze also hit rural Ireland. In localities where there was no ballroom, the locals put up a tent. Local bars would receive an "exemption" for the period of 10-14 days when the festival was in full swing and soon every parish in Ireland had its own special celebration. Daytime
activities were usually included in the festival program, but it was the bars and the tents that drew the crowds. Of course, the marquees had even worse facilities than the ballrooms, but to some extent, the "punters" didn't mind. After all, it was only once a year! Click here for more about marquees.
As time progressed, hotels starting getting into the dancing business, usually to make up for slow times of the year when tourists were few and far between. The introduction and widespread acceptance of the bar exemption (allowing hotels to serve alcohol until 1 or 2 in the morning) heralded
the death of the ballroom. They were made possible by the hotel serving food (usually chicken and chips) which allowed them to keep the
Guinness and Bacardi flowing.
Although hotels usually had smaller ballrooms, designed for weddings and business meetings, they definitely had better
facilities and more plush surroundings. Some hotels did so well with dancing, they expanded their ballrooms or even added a special club. As discos spread across Ireland
in the late 70's and early 80's, the hotels could see an even better way to make money:
hire a local lad to play records, put up a few colored lights
and a disco ball, and call yourself a "nite club!" It worked, and within a few years only the most popular ballrooms and bands survived and the romantic era of the showbands was all but dead.
Brendan Bowyer and the Royal Showband play to a packed house in the 1960's.
(Click photo to enlarge)
At the same time, small towns around Ireland started building local multi-purpose "community centers." These venues were designed to accommodate everything from basketball to ballroom dancing, and were usually better equipped than ballrooms to handle customer needs. The community centers, although never a threat to the
ballrooms, probably helped to hasten their demise.
The interior of The Flamingo Ballroom, Ballymena (from Billy Swann) shows the ballroom at its
(Click photo to enlarge)
Today, most of the ballrooms are gone, if not physically, then in spirit. Many have been demolished to make way for new development, but most are simply empty and derelict. Often built in remote places, or on the outskirts of town, the land they occupy generally isn't very valuable. Some have been saved by local residents and
renovated. Others have been converted to other uses, such as community centers, motor companies, (car dealerships), furniture stores, warehouses, or factories. Those that are still running have had to reinvent themselves every few years, adopting the model of whatever was popular...at least for a time.
Most of the Irish ballrooms now stand silent or are gone
(demolished or converted), quiet reminders of a happier, more innocent time in
Irish history. We pay tribute to them here...
Lists of Venues (see top of page)
from the collection of Liam O'Reilly
(Click photo to enlarge for
We need your help! In trying to determine the "status" of venues, we have only been able to go by research on the Internet. "Active" only means the venue still exists and may, or may not, run dances any more. "Derelict" means it is still standing,
but not in use.
If you have any updates on any of these venues,
please click here to email us with news! Thanks.
Our lists of venues has been culled from a variety of sources, but is being constantly updated! If you know of any venues left out, please drop us a line and we will add it to the list. We'd also love to get photos of as many of
these venues as possible...old or new! Click on the hotel name if highlighted to see a photo. Click here to go straight to the photo galleries.
Special thanks to: Colly Graham (Ballymena D.J.), Johnny Gallagher
(Bundoran), Joan O'Connell, Shaun Magee (Chips), Mike Niblett, Glen
Brown (Scotland), Jonathan P. Neville (Youghal),
Michael Brennan, J. Kieran Magennis, Declan Colgan, Tom O'Connor, Anthony
Hillick (Bray), Garth Armitage, Martin Carroll, Anthony Hillick, Declan Byrne, Billy Swann
(Cossacks), Jan Lynch (Shelly), and John MacCrossan for their support, information or photos!
A very special thanks to Teddie
Palmer and Pat Hoye for rummaging through their old diaries and memories to help add many venues to this list.
** Photo of Aishling Ballroom,
Clogherhead (taken June, 2004) by Martin Carroll.
***Our thanks to Billy Swann for adding several ballrooms to our list!
****Our thanks to Patrick Hoye for adding many ballrooms to our list!
*****Our thanks to Jan (Shelley) Lynch for adding several ballrooms to our list!
******Our thanks to Liam O'Reilly for adding many ballrooms to the