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Maurice Mulcahy in the Central Ballroom, Ballybunion

By James Bunyan

In l956, The Suez Canal crisis, the Israeli invasion of Egypt, the invasion of Hungary by Russia and Elvis Presley's songs and hip movements were the events that grabbed the world's  news headlines, but the opening of the Central Ballroom Ballybunion on the 29th, June of that year was the main topic of conversation in North Kerry and West Limerick.

I can clearly recall the rumoured opposition to the official opening "The Central" by Pete Roxburgh's English band.  The rumour that the official opening of "The Central" would be the cause of civil disorder on the streets of Ballybunion acquired credibility when it became the main topic of conversation among those attending Coolard National School in the early days of the summer of l956.

However, in keeping with the often strongly held belief that the replay of a game would a more bloody affair than the drawn game (which rarely happens), the official opening of "The Central Ballroom, Ballybunion" did take place on the 29th, June, l956 without any untoward incidents being recorded for posterity and dancing enthusiasts from North Kerry and West Limerick and further afield had a new dancing Mecca to dance the hours away for a period of 25 years.

The official opening of "The Central in Ballybunion" by Pete Roxburgh's band and special guest singing celebrity, Josef Locke was announced in an advertisement the full width of the page in the Kerryman on the Friday, 22nd, June.  The scenes in Ballybunion and the crowds attracted by the this historic event were covered in a two page special feature in the following Friday's Kerryman with the heading "Ballybunion's latest venture gets off to a flying start that promises much" . The article estimated that 10,000 people had turned up in Ballybunion on that never to be forgotten night, Sunday 29th, June, l956.

Pete Roxburgh did not finish the summer season and had no luck for depriving an Irish band of the opportunity of playing on the historic occasion - the band broke up during its summer stay in Ballybunion.

The break up of Pete Roxburgh's band proved to be a lucky break for The Maurice Mulcahy Band of Mitchelstown and it made its first appearance in "The Central" on Saturday night, 8th, September, l956.  This led to a three month stint from June to August, l967 and every year until the mid l970's.

The Maurice Mulcahy Band was formed in l951 when Maurice and his three brothers, Dave, Michael and Joe decided to play at dances in halls in Mitchelstown, Fermoy, Glanworth, Kildorrery and Ballylanders.  Joe was only 14 years and was still attending school in Mitchelstown.

The members of the Maurice Mulcahy Band were thrilled with the summer season booking in "The Central" because it afforded them the opportunity of holidaying with their families in Ballybunion's famed seaside resort while playing six nights of the week in the same venue.  There was no travel, no loading of band instruments into the coach, no unloading them and setting up - the band went on stage and played until 1 a.m. sharp.  Joe Mulcahy played the Hammond organ while the rest of the band went off stage for a break and a cup of tea.  The original singers were Pat Mitchell and Michael McEvoy and the popular tunes of that era were "From a Jack to A King", "Falling in Love" and "Magic Moments".

The social scene in the late l950's in North Kerry revolved the parish dances and going to the pictures in The Astor and The Plaza Cinemas in Listowel but undoubtedly, during the summer season, "The Central Ballroom in Ballybunion" was the venue for real romance from mid June to the 15th, August.

From l956 onwards the Music of Maurice Mulcahy's Band, the dim lights, the cheek to cheek dancing and the ambience of "The Central" was a lethal cocktail that was uneasily tolerated by the Bishop under the strict supervision of the ballroom staff and the watchful eye of the Gardai.

At the end of 1950's new words came into every day use such as Teddyboys, drainpipes, winklepicker shoes and Rock'n Roll.  The new dress style of a certain section of the population of Listowel attracted the attention of the Gardai who proved on more than one occasion that they were equipped and able to deal with the perceived threat to law and order.

I made my dancing debut in "The Central" shortly after my 17th, birthday during the summer of l962. I was a regular patron on Sunday nights thanks to the generosity of a neighbour who provided the transport to Ballybunion.

I sat for my Leaving Certificate in St. Michael's College during the first two weeks of June l963 and with that important task behind me, I was able to dance in "The Central" during mid-week when there was more room to trip the light fantastic.

 The more affluent patrons were able to afford "season tickets" and they danced as often as they liked with the important proviso that dancing ended at midnight on Saturday nights.

 Tragedy struck and the unthinkable happened when after a short illness Maurice Mulcahy died on Sunday 22nd, August, 1963 in Tralee General Hospital.

  There was genuine shock among people of all walks of life in North Kerry and West Limerick that their idol had been called to conduct the great orchestra in Heaven.

The doors of "The Central" were closed during Maurice's funeral and his burial in his beloved Mitchelstown near the picturesque Galtee Mountains.

I was present in "The Central" when the Band came on stage on the following Wednesday night for the first time after Maurice's burial.  A member of the Band came forward to tell us that they knew that Maurice would have expected them to come on stage in the time honoured tradition that "the show must go on"

He told us that the band members had decided that Joe would be the new band leader and he came to the microphone and promised to maintain the unique tradition of the band.  He put the saxophone to his lips, the band played their signature tune "American Patrol" and the show went on for a further 13 years.

I can recall that night as clearly as I can recall being told of the death of John F. Kennedy on the 22nd, November, l963.

I took up residence in Fermoy in August, l975 and I occasionally met the members of the Maurice Mulcahy Band at dances in Fermoy and Mitchelstown.

I still retain nostalgic memories of Joe Mulcahy's inimitable saxophone solos, Saxaphobia and Yakety Sax, of Tommy Fee singing Rosario and the wonderful selection Jim Reeves songs, of Oliver O'Donnell singing The Ships are Leaving Dingle Bay interspersed with those never to be forgotten Glen Millar tunes, American Patrol, In The Mood, Pennsylvania 6500 and Tuxedo Junction when we danced to the music of Maurice Mulcahy in The Central Ballroom, Ballybunion, where only the best was good enough.

Ni bheidh a leithead ann aris !


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