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Horizon Ballroom - planning permission granted for bar and restaurant development
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A recent picture of the Horizon Ballroom, Patrick Street, Mullingar.

By Ronan Casey

Westmeath County Council has granted planning permission for a bar and restaurant development on the site of the Horizon Ballroom, Grange/Patrick Street, Mullingar. The planning permission allows for the change of use from a dance hall to a licensed public house and restaurant premises. The building has been vacant for many years. Former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds and his brother Jim operated it as a dance hall over a long period.

The successful applicants were the buildings owners, Reynolds Dancing ltd, 24 Main Street, Longford. It is not known when development will commence on the site of the former ballroom and concert venue as it will take a month for the decision to be fully ratified.

Development history

Plans for a development of this nature at the Horizon have been floating around for many years. After the ballroom closed its doors to the public in the early eighties an application to build a motel on the spot was lodged in 1983. This plan never materialised and the building fell into disuse. In 1989 the first application to build a bar and restaurant was lodged. In 1992 a boundary wall was built enclosing the site but little in the way of development was heard of until last year when an ambitious application was lodged for the demolition of the Horizon and the erection of a three floor apartment complex with a stand alone bar and restaurant to the front of the site.

The apartment complex (23 two-bedroomed apartments) seems to have been removed from the equation with the planning permission granted this week allowing for a bar and restaurant complex in the existing Horizon building. Facade changes will take place and the grounds will be landscaped to include a car park.

The area on which the Horizon stands was designated residential in the 1994 County Development plan. Under the draft Town Plan for Mullingar, drawn up last year, the area was designated as “mixed use”.

From maps available at the County Council planning office the new bar will be over two floors with food and drink served from a central bar. A conference/function room has also be mooted.

The concert venue in the Midlands

From the late 1950’s until it closed, the Horizon was THE concert venue in the Midlands and catered for all tastes of music. Just about every major UK and Irish bands played there at one stage or another, from the premier rock acts such as Thin Lizzy to some of the great UK jazz acts and solo performers including Johnny Cash, Chubby Checker, The John Barry Seven, Aker Bilk, Roy Orbison and, of course, Joe Dolan. Tuesday nights at the venue became legendary and were widely regarded as the biggest and busiest Tuesday night one could find.

Local acts also got a look in with late night music at the venue being an integral part of the social scene in Westmeath. All that changed with the advent of disco and the construction of the Grange estates in the early eighties. Although the Horizon fought back following trends (anyone remember the Roller Skate discos?) the live music scene in Ireland was in a dark period of decline. The Horizon finally succumbed to that decline and closed its doors, seemingly for ever, in the early eighties.

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