An aerial view of the Tara Ballroom in the 1960’s.
almost 60 years since construction started on the Tara Ballroom in 1946,
yet a part of Courtown’s history looks like being consigned to just that
When The Echo broke the news
four weeks ago that the owner wanted to demolish the former ballroom and
replace it with apartments, many people across the county recalled its
golden era with nostalgia.
Once the ballroom first opened
its doors in 1947, boasting the largest dance floor in the whole of
Leinster, busloads of young people arrived there from far and wide - all
eager to put their dancing skills to use.
The golden era of ballroom
dancing lasted through the 1940s and 50s, and when the Tara Ballroom was
in its heyday, it played host to the likes of Val Doonican, The Royal
Showband, The Cadet Showband with Eileen Reid, the Smith Brothers from
Waterford, Brendan Bowyer, Dickie Rock, Mick Tuohy, Mick Delahunty, The
Clipper Carltons, and Jimmy Cawley and his band to name but a few.
It was built by localman Peter
Redmond to replace the The Tara Hall which had been used as a dance hall
since it was built in 1914. Originally a handball alley built by Lord
Courtown, it was converted into The Tara Hall by Mr. Redmond’s father.
Due to the dancing craze which
had been imported from America however, the original hall was deemed too
small for requirements, so Mr. Redmond - who also owned the Taravie
Hotel - embarked on the ambitious project of building the Tara Ballroom.
The Courtown native hired Dan
Tomkins, a contractor from Esmonde Street in Gorey, to build the dance
hall with the biggest dance floor space in Leinster.
Localman Jim Dowdall, who lives
opposite where the The Beacon is now, worked as a carpenter on the site.
“They used to do everything by hand in those days,” he recalls. “Even
the blocks were made on site. Everything was handmade, so it was a major
project to build it. And when it was built it was huge - there was
nothing big here in those times!”
When it was finished and it
first opened its doors to the public, it was a very modern,
sophisticated ballroom. The dance floor was the big attraction - a maple
sprung floor which remains today. It was sprung on big coil springs,
down in barrels of oil. Dancers at the time recalled how the floor would
swing with them, compared to other venues which had concrete floors with
no give in them.
It was an immediate success and
its popularity meant that it had to be extended shortly after it was
built. The Tara Bar flanked it later on, but since then there have been
no major changes or alterations, and the building has remained
practically the same down through the years. The biggest changes were
made when it became The Beacon in recent years, and the likes of
Abrakebabra was added.
Once it opened it became the
dominant attraction in the north of the county, attracting the best
showbands in the country to the venue, and bringing scores of young
people to Courtown to share in the excitement.
People came from near and far,
from a radius of around 30 miles away and even further. The ballroom
brought a lot of people to Courtown and created a lot of spin-off
opportunities for the town, with hotels and shops getting a boost from
the extra visitors.
People would get lifts where
possible, either by bus or by a hackney which would take seven people.
Some visitors to the town would stay overnight.
“People didn’t mind travelling
30 miles, and you’d book your seat in the hackney,” recalls local
historian Anna Kinsella. “I know of one fella who missed his lift home,
so he walked back to Wexford after a disco, and another who carried a
girl back to Clonegal on the crossbar of his bicycle. They were good
strong men in those days, reared on hairy bacon and cabbage!”
She adds that they would have
been dancing until three o’clock in the morning.
“The dances went from eight to
three o’clock, so it was really a marathon effort. And you would have to
get up to go to work after that, and you could have three of them in a
week! It was mad, but so enjoyable.”
The Tara Ballroom played host to
company dances as well, for the likes of the Old Leather Factory - now
long gone. Supper would be included in the entrance price for these
events. There was very often a dance in aid of a local group such as the
Gorey footballers or the Gorey Pipe Band.
The Gorey Craobh of Comhaltas
held weekly céilís there during the summer season, which had many
educational benefits for the youth of North Wexford.
Dances took place through the
week during the summer, while things quietened down a bit in the winter,
with perhaps the odd film being shown on one night a week.
The big attraction during the
winter was the Island Hunt Ball after Christmas every year, when locals
would gather to see the fashions worn by people going in. Tables were
set with a full meal and it was always a great night for anyone involved
in the hunt.
The dance craze was not
restricted to Courtown however, and anyone who has ever found himself
before Judge Donnchadh O Buachalla will be interested to know that
dances took place in the Courthouse in Gorey.
There were also dances hosted in
the Old School House, and the old picture-house, where Murphy’s Funeral
Home is now. Of course the Gorey Town Hall, which was situated on the
Arklow Road, also serviced the town as a dance hall for many years.
Nothing could compare with the
Tara Ballroom however, which could hold around 2,000 people. It had a
central globe, a mirror-ball, which put spun stars around the ceiling
when the lights went down. This was the opportunity for close dancing
between young couples.
“It was very innocent at the
time,” remembers Anna Kinsella who wrote about the history of the area
in The Windswept Shore. “Yet it was an occasion of sin - the church
objected to it at the time. And then when the 1950s came in, and rock
and roll came with it, we were damned altogether! We were the
Old-time waltzing was very
popular in the 1940s, as was céilí dancing before the more modern dances
took over, such as the foxtrots, sambas, rumbas and tangos.
“Those were for the real
dancers,” Anna points out. “We used to practice and all, and the thing
is that you would know who the good dancers were, so some people were
more popular than others. You’d always want a good dancer for the
If a girl refused a dance and
was seen dancing later on with someone else, it was a terrible insult,
and the girl could be thrown out of the ballroom.
It was in the Tara Ballroom that
many couples set romantic eyes on each other for the first time,
according to local historian Michael Fitzpatrick, and many ended up in
Licensing laws were very strict
at the time - there was no alcohol available in the Tara Ballroom. Even
in the likes of The Taravie, drink was only served through a hatch -
there was no bar or counter there at the time.
Dancers had to make do with
minerals - if they could afford them after paying their way in. “Club
Orange was the strongest thing you could get,” remembers Jim Dowdall.
“If you could get a Club Orange you were a wealthy man! They were about
4 pence at the time.”
Peter Redmond offered a season
ticket to locals which represented the best value for keen dancers. When
the big bands came to town, however, the prices went up. Supper would
include tea and a slice of cake.
“If a fella bought a mineral for
a girl that was a big deal,” Anna explains, “that meant he was declaring
an interest. If he bought her supper it was really serious! That would
be followed up with a date.”
The popularity of the ballroom
lasted through the years until disco started to take over in the 60s and
70s. Nothing else could really compare to it when it was going strong,
and its demise is heartfelt by many.
“They were great times. It was a
totally different world. It’s like everything else, the wheel keeps
turning you know,” Anna says ruefully.
In November 1995, the building
was sold at auction for the sum of £425,000. It was decided by the new
owners to invest £750,000 to restore it to its former glory, and there
were massive tax incentives granted under the sea-side resort renewal
If the application to demolish
the old ballroom and replace it with apartments and shops is successful,
it will consign part of Courtown’s history to the memory of so many
people who may have met their wife or husband there.
The old Tara Ballroom would be
replaced with a development ranging from two to five storeys, containing
34 apartments and nine shops, and including a 1,125 square metre
As Elvis once sung: “Life
goes on and this old world will keep on turning.”