Ballroom of Romance: County Leitrim venue harkens back to show band heyday

Ballroom of Romance
Image caption Tourists from County Kerry visited the Ballroom of Romance to relive the showband era

The Rainbow Ballroom of Romance, in Glenfarne, County Leitrim, harks back to a time before discotheques and nightclubs, when dance halls were the centre of the social scene in Ireland.

Its heyday was the show band era from the 1950s to the 1970s, when bands like the Clipper Carlton, the Melody Aces, the Miami and the Mainliners all played here.

There were no dances held during the seven weeks of Lent, and there was no alcohol served in the bar, only tea and minerals.

Following a 500,000 euro (£400,597) refurbishment, the Ballroom of Romance is giving tourists the opportunity to experience those innocent days once again.

After looking at the collection of Showband memorabilia and watching a DVD of the dance hall's history, visitors are offered tea in the mineral bar before the music strikes up and its time to hit the famous bouncing dance floor.

The hall was built in 1934 at a crossroads on a main road between Enniskillen and Sligo, a few miles from the Fermanagh border in County Leitrim, by the late John McGivern.

Image caption John McGivern, the founder of the Ballroom of Romance

During the dances, he would take to the stage for the "romantic interlude", when the lights were dimmed and men folk were encouraged to take their lady friends to the mineral bar.

His son, John McGivern Jr, said: "He went to America in 1929 and came back in 1934, fistful of dollars, and this is what he left behind. It's here 80 years later and the McGivern family is very proud.

"A crowd came from everywhere, all walks of life, they all met here at the Ballroom of Romance and over 200 of them met their future partners and wives here as well, so it was absolutely brilliant.

"With his romantic interlude, I think that's what everyone came for. If they hadn't married or met someone they were going to meet them here guaranteed!"

Today, the mineral bar serves alcohol, but instead of signs telling people not to take drinks onto the dance floor, in the Ballroom of Romance the signs requests no dancing in the bar.

Image caption The Ballroom of Romance in its heyday

The ballroom has been given a new lease of life by the young stars of country music such as Nathan Carter who has recorded a hit song about The Rainbow in Glenfarne.

He presented a gold disc from its record sales to the ballroom.

"John Farry, our manager, wrote a song about this famous ballroom talking about all the showbands that had played here throughout the years and how people met and fell in love," he said.

"My grandparents actually remember coming to this place and dancing in it, so it's kind of strange that it's still here now and people are still coming along to dance and enjoy themselves and to meet new people."

Sean McDermott, chairperson of the Glenfarne Development Trust that runs the ballroom, said the showband era is alive once again.

"We see a lot of young people out jiving, that wasn't taking place five or 10 years ago, they were going to discos.

Image caption Country star Nathan Carter presented a gold disc to the ballroom

"Now, they are as likely to go to jive to a live band, which is amazing.

"I think it's the likes of Derek Ryan and Nathan Carter and people like that that has brought in new people onto the dancing scene."

As well as DVDs and CDs, tourists can even buy a piece of the old maple dance floor which is famous for its bounce.

Sean McDermott said that the wood was laid on old railway girders and sleepers that "create the bounce that you don't get in other halls".

"If you dance on a floor that's very solid you're legs are very tired the next day. We don't have that problem here!" he added.