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13th September, 2001

Remembering when the Pallidrome was a mecca

By Karen McPhilemy and Mary Lafferty

THE songwriter Joni Mitchell famously lamented about how Americans “paved paradise [and] put up a parking lot”, a comment on the way they tore down anything of historic significance in favour of modernity, and Strabane is in danger of losing more and more of its own history.
Strabane is now practically unrecognisable from the town many loved so well 20 or 30 years ago. While some of the changes, particularly in housing standards, have been for the good, many historic buildings have been lost, most, it has to be conceded, as a result of bomb blasts.
Still the memories linger on, and soon only memories will linger of another of Strabane’s famous buildings, the Pallidrome.
The old building situated on the Railway Road, renowned for evoking many flourishing romances in its day, was probably best known for its phenomenal array of talented showbands. Bands ranging from the Clipper Carlton to the likes of Van Morrison and Bill Haley, have all graced the people of Strabane during the era of the Pallidrome.
But as the Strabane Weekly News reported a fortnight ago, the building is to make way for a new carpet showroom. Since then many former patrons have been reflecting on their happy times there.
Local Councillor Eugene McMenamin said the Pallidrome in Strabane in the late fifties and sixties was a mecca for dancing, and young men and women from all over the North West and further afield flocked to it every weekend to listen to Ireland’s top showbands.
“It brings back many happy memories, I remember by the late fifties the social climate was changing rapidly. When the ballrooms sprung up, they threatened the parish dances and I am sure many parishioners in Strabane will remember Fr Convey standing outside St Mary’s Hall in Bridge Street making sure that if you were on your way to the Pallidrome you didn’t get there as he diverted you into the parish hall.
“However this only lasted a short while because the excitement of Ireland’s top showbands and international stars playing in the Pallidrome offered too much.”
Continuing Mr McMenamin spoke of the town’s very own Clipper Carlton, telling how they “invented the showband phenomenon in Ireland.
“What a band they were, they were fantastic. The Clipper Carlton lit the fuse that led to the showband explosion of the sixties.
“I remember going to the Pallidrome to see Bill Haley and the Comets playing the infamous ‘Rock around the Clock’ and our own Van Morrison who was playing with his band ‘Them’, to name but a few and all the top showbands of the day.”
Claiming that it would be impossible to explain to people today the kind of hysteria generated by the showbands, Mr McMenamin believes that although nothing could compare to those days now, he was sure that there were numerous people in the North West had fond memories of the Pallidrome.
Concluding he said; “The Pallidrome played a very important part in the lives of anyone who grew up in the sixties. Although the showband days are long gone, the building always reminded one of the happy times which were spent dancing away to the small hours at the weekend.
“I will be very sorry to see the building demolished but we will all have our cherished memories of a wonderful ballroom and all the friends we met and indeed all the marriages that evolved from couples meeting in the Pallidrome.”
One entertainer who served his ‘apprenticeship’ at the Pallidrome and is still going strong is Fintona singer, Derrick Mehaffey,.
“I remember playing there when I was in ‘Derrick and the Sounds’, I guess you could say that the Pallidrome was where I got my first successful break.
“I remember the likes of Joe Dolan and the Dixies and Van Morrison playing there. Van would sing the famous ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’, it was quite unusual to have the likes of Van Morrison play there at first as the Pallidrome would have originally played host to showbands.
“The Pallidrome had a good atmosphere, people came from both Donegal and Derry to go there for a dance and hear the local bands playing.”
For many of the Strabane residents this new development in progression evokes mixed emotions. Many are clearly sad to see this landmark being demolished as it is now one of last few concrete pieces of history left in Strabane.
Mr Raymond Kirk, local businessman, commented “Many of the people in this town hold great memories of the Pallidrome from the days when the Clipper Carlton played there.
“This was a top showband venue that drew people from a radius of 40-50 miles and people from places such as Belfast. I am extremely sad to see it going and believe it will be a great loss to the town as it held so many memories.”


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