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Lenten days when the bands stopped playing and the dancing died

by Conor Keane

GOOD Friday brings back bad memories for musicians and performers of the showband era because they could not find work during Lent. Thanks to the influence of the Catholic Church, every dance hall in the country was forced to close for 40 nights from Shrove Tuesday, with one exception on Paddy’s Day.
Musician Paddy Cole remembers the era well. The Castleblaney man said it was not as bad for people living in the border area as they continued to get some gigs in Northern Ireland but dancing in the 26 counties was banned.

“An exception was made for St Patrick’s Day and that was one of the biggest nights of the year, everywhere was open and bands were in big demand. There was a glut of bands travelling to England at that time of the year and most of the bigger bands also went to the States. It was great. We got to travel and meet with the other bands that were on the road as well. We all seemed to meet up when we were abroad during Lent,” he recalled.

Mr Cole said people tried to get around the ban on dancing, which, of course, generated some great stories.
“Joe Mac tells a great story of a musician in Cork who had a six children. The man brought his family to the Bishop’s palace and asked the Bishop how he was supposed to feed and keep his family during Lent.
“He asked the Bishop would he keep them,” the musician said with a smile.

He said he has very fond memories of their forced temporary exile as it enabled the former Capital showband members and his colleagues to meet up with bands like the Dixies and Joe Dolan while they were abroad.
“Times have changed. Imagine telling people today they were not allowed to go dancing during Lent,” he said.


© Irish Examiner, 2000

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