THEY’VE started tearing down the old town hall ballroom, in Killarney, but happy memories of this haven of courtship (sometimes!) will live on long after all traces of the building have disappeared. Many’s the romance that began there under dim lights.

For much of the 20th century, the town hall was an important centre of entertainment in Killarney, with plays, shows and dances packing the place to the rafters on innumerable nights of fun.

In the fifties, theatrical companies put on some fine productions whilst in the sixties and early seventies some of the top showbands graced the stage.

But, the town hall drew more than the ordinary showbands: it was a venue for the more creative bands of the time – Derek Dean and the Freshmen, Rob Strong and the Plattermen, Tony Kenny, the Chessmen and many, many others all played there.

Hard to believe it now, but there was no bar in the building and the only beverages available were those sold by Seamus Kiely in the mineral bar – the start of his successful career as an entrepreneur. It was also prior to the time chippers started to open into the early hours and Dero’s shop was a popular meeting place after dances, with Dero’s family making mounds of sandwiches for the hungry dancers.

In the seventies, Tops of the Town was a major event in Killarney, providing fabulous entertainment in the town hall. Local firms and voluntary organisations put on shows that had people queuing for hours for tickets. The late Brendan Hurley did impressions of Bishop Eamon Casey that brought the house down, whilst Vincent Counihan was well cast in one particular show as an Arabian sheikh.

Another standing-roomonly night in the town hall was a farewell reception given to Bishop Casey by the urban council when he was leaving for Galway. Tense election counts were also held in the town hall, bringing highs and lows depending on what side you were on.

Fianna Fail invariably celebrated and there were many counts when their TDs, John O’Leary and the late Tim (Chub) O’Connor, were both returned. However, for sheer excitement and jubilation, it was hard to match the day the late Mike Moynihan was elected as a Labour TD for South Kerry, in June 1981, after many years of trying. When the result became apparent early enough in the day, word began to spread and Labour supporters from all corners of the constituency began streaming into the town hall quite early in the afternoon. Celebrations continued well into the next day.

To flip the other side of the coin, there was a dismal day for Fine Gael in the town hall, in 1989, when outgoing Fine Gael TD, Michael Begley, lost his seat – a seat that FG have since been struggling to win back.

Now, the town hall site is to become the location for a major property development by Padraig and Janet Treacy, including apartments, shops and at least one financial institution. Once owned by Killarney Town Council, the hall was a people’s facility. It’s a great pity that is was sold by the council in times of financial stringency in the eighties.

Now, a new era begins, but the memories remain.