|Ballroom Memories of the Flamingo
By Glen Brown
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'
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
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
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.