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Friday, 10 July 2015

Dancing in the moonlight

These images of a nighttime roadside dancein County Tipperary in 1958 may look like a light-hearted summertime event, but sadly, church disapproval of dance halls as ‘dens of vice’ meant many people had no other option if they wanted an outlet for social dancing.

Roadside dancing at Kilcoran, Cahir, Co. Tipperary
10 July 1958
The Ken Loach film Jimmy’s Hall was centred around this theme of local people battling against the church authorities and their influence over social, educational, political and business circles. It tells the story of Jimmy Gralton, who tried to reopen a dance hall in County Leitrim in 1932 after his return from the United States, only to come up against the wrath of the local clergy and politicians. Gralton was deported from Ireland in 1933 after he also became involved in fighting evictions of tenant farmers.

The Public Dance Halls Act was brought into force in 1935, whereby a license for a dance hall could only be obtained if approved by a district judge, many of whom were biased against jazz music and even set dancing. In Traditional Music and Irish Society: Historical Perspectives, the historian Kevin Whelan is quoted as saying ‘the impact of the 1935 Act was draconian, making it practically impossible to hold dances without the sanction of the trinity of clergy, police and judiciary.’

This stranglehold over Irish social life continued for the next couple of decades, so people began to create their own pop-up dance halls, usually in quiet, deserted areas where they hoped to be able to escape observation. The dance floors were constructed out of planks of wood, or maybe discarded doors, barrel tops, dismantled packing boxes – anything that provided a level footing for the dancers.

However, raids on these gatherings were common, either by the police or by the clergy. Bryan McMahon is also quoted in Traditional Music and Irish Society recalling how ‘wooden platforms were set on fire by curates; surer still, the priests drove their motorcars backwards and forward over the timber platforms; concertinas were sent flying into hill streams, and those who played the music at dances were branded as outcasts.’

The Dance Hall Act is still in operation, though perhaps not enforced with as much rigidity as previously. However, it was brought back into prominence in the twenty-first century when Peter Stringfellow opened a lap-dancing club in Dublin. Old habits die hard.

All photos available @ Irish Photo Archive