It was only to be expected that in discussions arising from the series of articles on the carnivals, the memories and era of the showbands would eventually come to the fore. But before going any further perhaps I could be forgiven for touching, however briefly, on the big news of the week, which was of course the publication of the Mahon Report.
As I listened on and off to all the national media outlets delightedly delving into a myriad of detail - most of which we were already aware of or strongly suspected - some thoughts jumped off the pages or out of the radio and TV. Firstly, is it not glaringly obvious that the tribunal itself was a cumbersome and inappropriate vehicle, unsuited to the task of disentangling the web of allegations, denials, claims and counter claims? Surely it should have been more practical - and a lot less costly - to call in the Revenue, the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Garda Fraud Squad, augmented, if necessary, by some forensic accountants of which, due to the recession, there are many available.
We have only to look across the Irish Sea to London and the appointment of the Scott Enquiry to lend weight to the above assertion. Scott, a high court judge, and two assistants were appointed to enquire into a huge number of allegations and malpractice by MPs. In what looked like a matter of months they produced a concise and no-nonsense report which resulted directly in dismissals, resignations, fines and even imprisonment for a whole raft of individuals. We have a long history of copying what the British do - so why not in this case?
Secondly - and we will stop at this point - why did so many elected representatives, some of them with many years of legislative experience, allow themselves to be cajoled into actions which disgraced themselves, their families, their supporters and their parties for "rewards" which, in the context the overall value of the developments, were only derisive pittances?
Back to the showbands
There is no doubt but that a few paragraphs on the Irish showband era will be more of a pleasant chore - and will leave much happier memories - for those who recall it than any musings on the outcome of the Mahon Tribunal, and that is as it should be.
To understand the rise of the showbands and their domination of the commercial dancing scene it is necessary to go back a little in history and take a look at what went before. Going back to the end of the nineteenth century and into the early years of the twentieth the dance hall, particularly the rural dance hall, became part and parcel of dancing and general entertainment scene. It must be understood, of course, that the dance halls in this context are those constructed, managed and frequented by the general peasantry. In earlier days these were of a very basic genre - disused barns and granaries previously in the ownership of the gentry; hastily constructed timber and galvanised iron premises which might accommodate 50 to 100 people or any kind of building with a wooden floor and shelter from the elements.
There were other types of dance halls spread out throughout the countryside. For instance all the great houses had their dance halls - strictly for the gentry and known as ballrooms; the established Church had an impressive system of meeting houses which also served as dance halls and in the northern part of the country, including Cavan and Monaghan, the Orange Hall was a regular feature.
As the country settled down after independence many Catholic parishes built dance halls - many still in situ and known as Parochial Halls. They had a two-fold purpose, one, to help bring order to what church authorities perceived as a chaotic social scene and, two, to raise funds for the renovation of churches and the construction of national schools. Other vocational cultural or social organisations also provided dual or multi-purpose buildings which served as dance halls. These included trade unions, the forresters, the temperance movement and political parties.
All of the above would, to greater or lesser degrees, have reached their zeniths in the 1930s and 1940s. History will show that in terms of deprivation, poverty and harsh social conditions these two decades were the worst endured by the Irish peasantry since the Gorta Mór in the 1840s. The Economic War of the '30s and the World War of the '40s had dire effects on all aspects of rural living and among other hardships severely limited all types of travel other than shank's mare or bicycle. This meant that for diversion during the week you played cards, skittles or football and on Sunday night you went to the local dance hall.
Continued next week.
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|Date:||Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at 12:17:17 AM|