John Baird
Ireland in the 1960s Rocked, Hucklebucked and Jived to the sound of the Showbands.

John Baird has written the definitive Story of The Showband Era as seen through the
Stories and Pictures of the people who  Danced and Performed in
The  Fiesta Ballroom Letterkenny.Co Donegal
The Ballroom played an important role in the social life of Letterkenny
at a time when there were few alternative Venues for young people to meet and enjoy themselves.
It recaptures the heady atmosphere and excitement of the Golden Showband Era.
and the Innocence of those Ballroom days.
My Congratulations to John on a job well done
  Ian Gallagher

John is the Main Contributer to my Showband Site
his knowledge of the Showband Era is unsurpassed


Picture of John in his dancing days
Love the Pompadore


THE FIESTA LETTERKENNY

     The story of one of the best and much loved dancing venues in the country
by John Baird
   Probably one of the first Biographies of a Ballroom ever to be written in this country, this A5 size 107 page
book tells the story of a local institution, the Fiesta, owned and operated by the popular Keeney family.
Illustrated by approx. 100 B/W photographs, many of them archive and also old adverts from
local newspapers, this all helps to tell the story of the people who worked,
operated and performed in one of the finest ballrooms in the country.
The author, himself a regular dancer in the Fiesta during the 1960,s, goes into great depth to
bring back the glory days of the dancehall and the Showband era.
Priced at €12.50 plus €2.50 postage and packing to the USA,
part of the proceeds of the sale being donated to The Cystic Fibrosis Assoc.,
the official launch will take place in The County Museum,
High Rd. Letterkenny on Tuesday the 25 th, July at 3.30 pm.
Des Kelly, former bandleader of the famous Capitol Showband,
the band that played at the opening dance in the Fiesta in 1962 will officially launch the book and everyone
is invited to attend. Hopefully a few “ old showband heads” will turn up and it will a nice get together.

     The book which is of a limited edition issue will go on sale in local outlets immediately after the official launch.

    “ The Fiesta” is written and published by John Baird , design layout by Deirdre Ward and printed by
The Donegal Printing Co. Pinehill Industrial Estate, Mountain Top, Letterkenny. Co. Donegal.


The Capitol On Stage Opening Night Oct  1962

******************************************************************************************
Fiesta Book Launch
 
 

On the 5th October 1962 the Fiesta Ballroom opened for the first time
to the sound of the Capitol Showband and for almost two decades it
was the top entertainment venue in the northwest where many a romance
blossomed.

 On Wednesday a fabulous book with the stories and pictorial images
of that magical era was launched in the County Museum, Letterkenny.
The author is John Baird who was there on that first night and 20
years later was present when the famous Port Road dance hall hosted
it's final showband performance.

 The book is dedicated to the Keeney family owners of the Fiesta and
the patrons, staff and performers that made the ballroom such a
special place of entertainment.

 John Baird was born in Drumnahoe just outside the town and from his
early teens was a big fan of the showbands. He remembers the Devlin
Hall but there was a realisation that Letterkenny needed a bigger
more modern entertainment venue for the dancing population. The
Keeney family spotted the opportunity buying two plots of land on the
Port Road for the new building. They paid £600 to Sam Roulstone and
£300 to Joe Patterson with Con Harvey & Sons commencing construction
in February 1962. The 8,000 square feet dance hall was opened on the
5th October 1962 by the famous Butch Moore and the Capitol Showband.

 "Having been around most of the dance halls the Fiesta was
definitely one of the best run venues in the country. The Keeneys
were great people and treated everyone with respect. It was a place
that catered for all age groups from married couples to teenagers. It
was like a community centre. You could sit around after the dance and
have chat at the snack bar," says John . The Fiesta ran dances on
Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Competition was to come from venues
like Borderland, Muff, the Pavisi, Donegal Town and the Butt in
Ballybofey. When the top bands were in town up 2,500 dancers squeezed
into the entertainment venue. And the leading entertainers like Big
Tom, The Royal Showband, The Capitol and the Dixies were familiar
sounds in Letterkenny. Others to play the venue were Evelyn and
Envoys, Philomena Begley, Larry Cunningham and Margo.

 During the season of Lent concerts were put on with Alexander
Brothers and Andy Stewart coming from Scotland while other household
names to appear were Val Doonican and the Clancy Brothers and Tommy
Makem. Billy Patterson was MC for Tuesday's launch's and he told
guests about a different era when alcohol wasn't served on the premises.

 A member of the Patterson singing group he acknowledged the role
that the Fiesta played in their musical careers. Mayor Ciaran Brogan
paid tribute to the magnificent work that had gone into the book and
highlighted the importance of such a publication in preserving the
rich history that the Fiesta had in the development of Letterkenny.

 After a couple of words in the native tongue prepared by Paddy Joe
O'Donnell, John Baird said he was overwhelmed by the presence of so
many people and in particular the turnout of entertainers including
Hughie McClean, the Ponsonbys, members of the Capitol and Marine
Showbands among others.

 He had a special mention for Mary B Gallagher who prepared the meals
for all the visiting bands. "It was a labour of love for me. I would
like to thank Deirdre Ward who designed the book and Brid McGinty who
did all the typing. The Fiesta was a very special place and it was
run by very special people" he said.

 The official launch of 'The Fiesta Letterkenny' was performed by Des
Kelly of the Capitol Showband who spoke about the great working
relationship that existed with the Keeney family on their visits to
the town. "It was a good time we made a few bob and the Keeneys made
a few bob too. More than any other venue they were very accommodating
allowing us into rehearse and Leo [Keeney] would always be there to
open up for us."

 Those sentiments were echoed by another member of the Capitol
Showband Eamon Monaghan, the piano player from Mountcharles.

 He praised the Keeney's for their honesty when it came to the
takings on the door with the band always getting their just share
from the pay box. John Baird's love of the Fiesta era prompted him to
write the book that runs to 107 pages. He has plenty of tales from
the famous dance hall many that can't go into print he says. However
he did admit that the action out the back of the Fiesta was
marginally better than the antics that the teenagers got up to under
the Dry Arch. His interest in the showbands has seen him pen articles
for local newspapers and produce a CD 'Donegal Showbands' which
raised £6,500 for the Adrian Mitchell Fund.

 For many years John Baird was the best known sign writer in north
Donegal and he is a self taught artist who has painted most of the
images of old Letterkenny. He is a big fan of traditional jazz and
the Capitol was his favourite band and he has no bother naming out
it's members - the Kelly brothers, Eamon Monaghan, Paul Sweeney
(Dungloe), Don Long, Paddy Cole, Jimmy Hogan and Butch Moore. And
it's no surprise that it was in the Fiesta with Johnny McEvoy playing
that he met his wife Jane a native of Fahan.

 Johnny Baird junior and Brid McGinty were doing a brisk trade on the
book sales at the County Museum which had a special offer price tag
of 710 just for Wednesday's launch. The book will retail for 712.50
in the shops. A donation from the proceeds of the book is being made
to Cystic Fibrosis Society.

Declan Kerr.

Tirconaill Tribune
Milford  Co Donegal


(Clipper Carlton) , Des Kelly and Eamonn Mohahan (Capitol) Joe “Cooey” Doherty ( Mighty Rhythm Boys), Paddy Joe O, Donnell ( Slieve Foy and Keynotes) and Denis Eccles and Colm Smith ( Mighty Rhythm Boys)
Photo: Paddy Meehan, The Donegal Times.
 


L-R  Eamonn Monahan , John Baird , Des Kelly and Paul Sweeney.


Jane Baird and Maire Rua Gallagher in background


Jane Baird and Catherine Kerr


A large Attendance

From  John Bairds collection
     bairdart@iol.ie
 

 
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