Dance story Electric Acorn 7 : Fiction : Raymond Fennelly

Electric Acorn 7 : Short Stories:
Raymond Fennelly
Dance Hall Days
Believe it or not, but there was a time in Abbeyfeale when local
band, The Western Star, were every bit as popular as The Beatles.
And indeed, it was even thought that Dickeen Prendiville, was a far
better drummer than Ringo Starr, because Ringo couldn't play for a
Kerry Polka or a Siege of Ennis to save his life!
Abbeyfeale was then the dance capital of Ireland, and Tom Tobin`s
Hall was the most famous and popular dance venue in the country. Bus
loads of dancers arrived from such diverse and distant places as
Dublin, Galway and Cork, and by nine o'clock on a Sunday evening,
Main Street was as busy as Piccadilly Circus in London or Time
Square in New York. At that time, young ladies were shy, graceful,
genteel creatures who neither drank, nor smoked, nor used bad
language in public places. They rarely frequented bars, preferring
instead to amble arm in arm along the main boulevard, whispering and
giggling together, and casting their eyes demurely downwards
whenever a strange male hove into view.
And the lads, faced with such nubile apparitions of loveliness, all
painted and powdered, and with the promise of smouldering inner
passions and provocative allurement, followed their natural
instincts and did what men have been doing in similar situations
since time began. They turned tail and headed for the nearest
Abbeyfeale had a plentiful supply of public houses in those halcyon
days, supplying young men with copious amounts of Dutch courage
before facing the dance hall.
Willie Rourke`s bar (now Flamingo's) was a popular haunt with
dancers. Willie himself has long entered into the folklore of the
locality, having uttered one of the most historic and profound
statements ever made by a member of the licensing trade.
A customer had called in to Willie and, noticing that business was
slack, remarked that there seemed to be a lot of cars in town.
Willie sadly surveyed his empty premises. "Cars," he pronounced,
"don't drink porter."
Having acquired the necessary supply of Dutch courage, it was time
to head for the dance. Inside in the hall, segregation of the sexes
was strictly adhered to, at least in the early part of the evening.
The ladies draped themselves elegantly along by the side of one
wall, while the lads congregated like sheep on the opposite side.
The experienced dancers were always the first out onto the dance
floor. These were the guys who were good at the foxtrot, the tango,
the paso doble and the old time waltz. They always picked the best
looking girls to partner them, and strutted and pranced around the
dance floor like preening peacocks. The lads on the sideline were
rarely impressed by these shenanigans, and the occasional derogatory
remark, hurled from the anonymity of the crowd, often resulted in
As the hall filled up, more and more couples ventured forth, until
the floor became filled with a seething mass of moving bodies, all
swaying to the seductive strains of `Are You Lonesome, tonight` `
He'll Have To Go` `Beautiful Dreamer` or the all time favourite,
`From The Candy Store On The Corner`.
And, of course, the chat-up lines were as many and as diverse as the
song titles. "Do you come here often?" was the one most often used
and, strangely enough, it was the one that most often worked. Other
lines included; "Have they any more like you at home?" "What is a
fine looking thing like you, doing in a dump like this?" "How many
cows have ye?" "Would you like to be buried with my people?" and
"Was it you or your brother that was kilt over in London?"
A positive response to any, or all, of the above approaches and the
next step was to invite the object of your desire to partake of a
little something from the mineral bar. (All alcohol was, of course,
banned in the hall.) And if she consented to go next door with you
to Dan Donoghue`s shop, and sip at a bottle of Nash`s red lemonade
whilst devouring an O`Neill`s cream bun, why then you were half way
to becoming engaged!
Of course, behind all the glitz and the glitter, there was also a
certain amount of heartache and grief. In the dance hall, the laws
of the jungle prevailed. It was very much the survival of the
fittest, and the weak went to the wall. (in every sense of the
Perhaps I can recount here, a little story that perfectly
illustrates what I am rambling on about. It is a sad little story,
but a true one nevertheless, for all the sadness of it.
In a previous existence, back in the early seventies, I masqueraded
for a time as a trainee male nurse in St Joseph's Hospital in
Limerick. One of my most abiding memories of that time is being
eternally short of shillings. And, judging by the miserly pittance
that is paid to our nurses today, very little seems to have changed.
However, I digress.
It was our custom every Saturday night, to go dancing in The Royal
George. This was the biggest dance venue in Limerick at the time and
attracted all the best bands such as Dickie Rock and the Miami,
Butch Moore and the Capitol, Brendan Boyer and the Royal, Kelly and
the Nevada, Eileen Reid and the Cadetts, Joe Dolan and the Drifters.
A veritable galaxy of stars. And on one unforgettable occasion, a
barefoot Sandie Shaw - fresh from her Eurovision triumph - came on
stage and strutted her stuff! (be still, my beating heart).
Mick was a second year nursing student at the hospital and he came
from Mayo. He was an only son, and as nice a fellow as you could ask
to meet, but very quiet and shy. He didn't drink, smoke or bother a
whole lot about women. However, he was one of the gang and tagged
along with us, wherever we went.
We were this night in The Royal George, eyeing the available talent
and letting our hair down after a long (and poorly paid) week of
nursing, when suddenly, Mick spoke. And, as Mick rarely spoke,
unless he had something important to say, we all listened.
"There is a girl over there," said Mick, "and she keeps looking at
Of course, we all turned and craned our necks to see what kind of a
deprived and obviously short-sighted female could find Mick so
fascinating. And, do you know something? She wasn't too bad at all!
Sleek, jet-black hair, thigh-length boots, and a mini-skirt meant to
reveal rather than conceal. We had been out with worse - so we had.
"Go over and ask her to dance." we said.
Oh God, I couldn't do that," said Mick. "She might think me too
"Please yourself, so." and off we went, about our own business.
We came back to Mick several times during the course of the evening.
"She is still looking at me." he said, but he refused to budge.
The evening moved towards it's predictable conclusion and the last
dance was called. At that time, bands always had a few minutes break
before the last set. It gave those who had not been paired off, one
last chance to salvage something from the evening.
We went back to Mick. "She is still looking at me." he informed us.
We entreated, begged, threatened, cajoled and eventually lifted him
bodily from his seat and pointed him in the right direction.
He paused momentarily, gazing across at the girl of his dreams, and
her beauty beckoned to him like a beacon, drawing him helplessly
towards her (this is for all you romantic types).
Making up his mind, he squared his shoulders, straightened his tie
and marched purposely across the empty dance floor and stood before
her. He gazed deeply into her blue eyes and in a firm, clear, polite
voice, he asked her if she would do him the great honour of
partnering him, if not for life, then at least for the final dance.
And she gazed back at him, and a shudder of barely-contained emotion
seemed to course through her whole body. And then, loudly,
succinctly, and in a voice that carried to the four corners of the
hall, she said; "Would you ever feic off outa that and let me alone,
you quare-looking eejit you!"
The callous cow! Mick turned a beetroot red and, wishing that the
ground would open up and swallow him, he made his lonely way back
across the dance floor, while a thousand pairs of eyes watched him
in silent sympathy.
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