From Barn Dances to Rock and Roll

In the late 1950s the youth population of Mount Merrion and Kilmacud was expanding at a very fast rate. The idea of local authorities providing any kind of recreational facilities for youth was a long way off. But the young people needed an outlet for their energy. When such needs arise there is always someone to take up the challenge and light the fuse, and at this time the person to step forward was 17-year old Paul Hughes of Roebuck Road.

Close to where Paul lived stood Roebuck Hall a grand house of the 18th century, This was the house where Archbishop Whatley died in 1863. (see Bryan McMahon's book: Eccentric Archbishop Richard Whatley of Redesdale) There was a large disused barn in the grounds with an upstairs loft with a wooden floor, which Paul felt would be ideal for holding dances in. Paul got some friends interested and Peter Richardson, Brian Crowley, Frank Crowley and Kevin King joined the venture. Paul succeeded in getting permission from the owners to run a weekly dance there for friends. The format would be a Record Hop with no charge and to sell minerals at a profit to pay the small expenses accrued. There was no talk of dance licence or insurance. Health and Safety was another story.




The first dance in the barn was on Sunday January 4th/l/ 1957. As these things do, news of the dances in the barn spread and the crowd got bigger each week, there were over 100 members attending regularly. The clergy and local parents also got to hear about the dances and did not like the idea of young people walking up and down dark avenues at night. I feel the owners of the property the Cosgrove family were glad to get their barn back. They sold the property shortly afterwards and Ardilea estate was built on the site.


Monsignor Deery PP. met Paul and the both agreed to move the dances to the old parish hall in Mount Merrion on Saturday nights. This hall was located where the Scouts hall is at present. A group of parents now got involved and the Espoir Club was born. The name Espoir (meaning Hope) was suggested by Monsignor Deery, and a committee of parents and teenagers was formed to run the youth club. Six parents and eight young parishioners formed the first committee. The club over the next 10 years provided a wide range of activities for the youth of the parish. The first dance in the parish hall took place on January 4th 1957. It was agreed to charge 1 shilling entry. This was to be lodged in a parish account for the future development of the club. Paul Hughes shortly afterwards moved to Switzerland to study hotel management, quite successfully it would appear, as he now owns the Abbey Glen Hotel in Connemara.


The club was strictly for parishioners and their friends, and as I was living on the Upper Kilmacud Road I was over the boundary in Dundrum, I needed the help of friends to get me elected as an associate member. Within a year we got the rules changed to allow associate members to get elected to the committee, and immediately I was elected as dance secretary. The President of the Club was Rev. Fr. Devine, and the chairman was Mr Paddy McCarthy, who was chairman of the Labour Court at the time. The Secretary was Terry Byrne, and the Treasurer was a Doctor Cremins of Callary road.


After a few years Mr.Tom Murray who was chairman of the E.S.B., took over as chairman of the club. His son Donal was a very active member, and is now Dr. Donal Murray Bishop of Limerick. The old parish hall had a dance licence to cater for 150 patrons but we often had up to 400 present on special nights. We changed from record hops to bands and increased the price to 2s.6d. In 1960 this old hall, built in 1711, was condemned and we moved across the car park to what had been the old church, and was now known as the new hall.


It was ironic I suppose to be dancing in this building, which had been used a church since the 1930s, as it was built originally as a ballroom by the Pembroke Estate This was the time of Blackboard Jungle and Bill Haley with Rock Around the Clock, and just a few years till we heard of Chubby Checker and the Twist. But things were slow to take on in Ireland in those days, so the dancing was all Foxtrots and Quicksteps, and a few Slow Waltzes to end the night. During the slow numbers, a parent might tap you on the shoulder to tell you keep your distance from your partner, no close dancing allowed. My function as Dance Secretary. was to book all the bands and provide as much variety as possible .Among the bands of the day who played at the Barn as it was still called by most of the young people were, The Green Beats, Crickets, Cyclones, Phantoms, Wolverines, Paul Russell and many more. Derry Lindsay who wrote Irelands first Eurovision winner for Dana All kinds of Everything; played the Barn many times. The dances were held from 8 to 11 and a group of the committee usually headed off to the Paridiso in D'Olier St. or The Trocadero for a meal after we locked up. These were changing times and we went on to organise Rock and Roll and Twist competitions in the early 60s.



No dancing was allowed during Lent, but we still went to the club on Saturday nights and played table tennis, chess, and sat around drinking coffee and listening to music, blaring from an old record player. One lent we organised a disc jockey competition with three different D.Js sharing each night and at the end of lent we had a final to decide who was the best D.J. What started, as a bit of fun had a very happy ending, as the winner was Brendan Balfe who of course went on to make a career out of it. We were always looking for new things to do and these coffee sessions led to the formation of many sub sections.

The first section formed was table tennis with Hugh Devine as chairman. This group competed in the Dublin Leagues and won many cups. I remember The Behans from Priory were great players; James Behan was later manager of the Adelphi Cinema in Abbey St.




A Mrs. Walsh Chaired the debating section and we held a schools debating competition each year with schools from all over Dublin taking part.

John Curry and Frank Crowley formed the Espoir Model Aeroplane group and had about 20 active members who made their own model aircraft fitted with engines. This group could be seen in the fields at Belfield before UCD moved there, at the weekends flying their models.


We set up a Musical and Dramatic society, which I was Chairman of, and the first play we put on was Lennox Robinson's 'The Whiteheaded Boy'. We were fortunate to get May Craig the Abbey actress to produce and direct. The lead roll was taken by one of the parents Vera King from Trees Road. Over the next few years we successfully staged a number of satires such as The Ploughboy of the Western World And Snow White and the 7 Cork men. Tom Barry from Redesdale Road directed both of these. These turned out to be a great success playing to houses of over 100 for seven nights. We went on to stage them in old folks homes and institutions around Dublin. There were up to 30 young members taking part in these productions. Along with the actors we had stage management, lighting, wardrobe, scenery, and live music provided the members.


The Espoir Canoeing Club was started, by a group of water sport enthusiasts led by Frank Crowley with Michael Flemming of Deerpark Road as Commodore. The club got the use of a corner of land beside the railway at Seapoint and built a hut on it to hold the canoes. This hut was burnt down some years later and the Canoe Club built a new clubhouse, which is still in operation today. It is still a thriving club in Seapoint.


We had many members who went on to greater things such as Brendan Balfe, Charlie Bird and Alan Smurfit, and Donal Murray to mention just a few. The two big events in the parish in the early 60s were the Mount Merrion Horse Show and the Springtime Ball in the Gresham Hotel. Both these events were organised to raise funds for the new church, and both were the places to be seen. It is hard to believe in today's society, that as we moved into our 20s very few of our friends were interested in pubs or alcohol. There just did not seem any need for it. It may have been a very simple life but no one was ever bored, we just started a new venture and this kept us busy. As I look back now over 50 years I think it is the music I remember most. We moved from The Everly Brothers, Perry Como, and Conway Twitty, to Elvis, The Beatles, and on to Roy Orbison, The Supremes and Manfred Mann. The great world of Rock and Roll was born with all its faults, and I for one wouldn't have it any other way.


In many ways music can give us a more accurate picture of the emotion of people and events than any other medium. Music reflects the times, describes the events, and makes us remember forgotten emotions.


Pat Sheridan



Erica Sylvester, Frank Crowley

-------, Vera King, Brian McCarthy

Pat Sheridan and Gerry Boyd

Back Row:

Brian McCarthy, ---, Deirdre Meagher, ----,-----, Jimmy Farrell.

Front Row:

Aine Mullen, Maeve O' Reilly, Vera King, Noel Flood, ----, Angela Donovan

Jimmy Farrell, -----, ------, Angela O' Donovan, Ken Healy, Betty O' Reilly, Noel Flood.


Peter Richardson, Michael Suttle, Jean Rattigan, ----, ----, Frank Crowley.

Deirdre MeagherAnthony Hughes, HughDevine.

Maeve O Reilly, Aine Mullen, ---------,

Vera King, Brian McCarthy, Aine Mullen, Jimmy Farrelly, and Betty O' Reilly

Joan Balfe and Valerie Byrne

Vera King, Mai Craige

Maeve O' Reilly, Brian Hoban, Pat Sheridan, Joan Balfe, Anthony hughes, Peter Richardson

Frank Crowley, Maeve O' Reilly, Eamonn Leonard, Betty O' Reilly, Valerie Byrne, and Pat Sheridan

--------, Jimmy Behan

Noel Flood and Jimmy Farrell, Fr. Devine, Hugh Devine

The Barn.

by Alan Dee


I was born in the summer of 1943 into No.9 Greenfield Road, the house with the big 300 year old oak tree at the back, and have lived all my life in Mount Merrion except for seven years on Taney Road, Dundrum and a spell in North America and Europe working as a musician. After my return I moved into Iris Grove, a cul-de-sac off St.Thomas's Road and have lived there with my family very happily ever since. I remember the dances in The Barn very well, in feet it was there that some of the seeds were planted musically speaking. The first dance I recall was in the Old Barn which stood where The Scouts Hall now exists. The original building was a two story affair with the hall on the second floor. The Band was called" Brien Byrne and the Five Frets". Brien was a bit of an Elvis type from Blackrock I believe. This was in 1958/59 1 was aged about 15 and was refused entry as I was wearing short pants! My mother was very reluctant to get me my first pair of "longers". That was half a century ago! Disappointed I had to watch my pals who were suitably attired go in and I had to content myself with climbing up the iron fire escape at the back of the building and peeking through a hole in the door. That was when I first saw John Keogh who was about my age and was playing the piano in "The Five Frets." John is still to be seen regularly performing in Kielys on the Deerpark Road.


Later The Barn moved across the car park to the old chapel then disused since the new church was built I attended religiously each Saturday. The band I best remember was "The Bob Ormsby All Stars" featuring, as described on their posters, Sean Pagan (Ireland's Elvis Presley) and Roland Soper (Irelands Nat King Cole) and combined as Irelands Everly Brothers! They would arrive in a Volkswagen Minibus which had the band's name on a plastic sign on the roof which lit up. Very impressive I thought. I really wanted to be a guitar player at the time and was heavily influenced by their guitarist Jimmy Dumpleton who had a red solid Gibson the first electric guitar I had ever clapped eyes on. Oh the sound of it as he played "Guitar Boogie Shuffle"! It could be heard all over Mount Merrion! When I went home my ears would be ringing quite pleasantly for at least a day afterwards. He and Sean Fagan went on with Sonny Knowles to form "The Pacific Showband" and of course Roland Soper wrote "Come back to stay" which Dickie Rock sang for Ireland at the European Song Contest.


These "Teenage Dances" as they were called were very strictly supervised usually by some local parents and of course a priest or two would drop in to see that all was as it should be. I gained a certain notoriety among my peers by being put off the floor once by a very embarrassed lady for the crime of "close dancing". The girl I was dancing with was called Adele I recall. Adele from Blackrock oh yes. "Go out side if you want to do that sort of thing" we were told! The motivation was rebelliousness as much as passion I think having seen James Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause" at the Stella Cinema around that time. I formed a skiffle group with two of my pals from Greenfield Road, the late Charlie O'Reilly and Des O'Loughlin.We called ourselves "The Hot Dogs". We played a few times in The Barn before going our separate ways. I joined "The Chessmen" in 1963 and remained a professional musician the rest of my life. Hail, Hail Rock n' Roll! It was a great day for Mount Merrion when sense prevailed and the building was saved from demolition a few years back and duly restored. All credit must go to those who brought about the excellent result.


Alan Donaldson. (Alan Dee). 



The Ormonde Cinema in Stillorgan was opened in the mid fifties and I was there to see the first picture - The Grace Moore Story, a biography of the opera singer who was played, if memory serves, by Kathryn Grayson. The film was dire, particularly for a 9-year old like me. 

It was surpassed sometime later when the Stella Cinema opened when we went to see Aida, billed as a stirring adventure set in Egypt with centurions, pyramids and thousands of extras supporting Sophia Loren in the lead role. We didn't know that there would be singing too: it was the opera by Verdi, with Miss Loren's voice dubbed by, I think, Renata Tebaldi. Again, torture for young chaps.


The films that did stir the emotions were Rio Bravo, the best western of all, with John Wayne, Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson. There was Tony Curtis prancing about in tights in The Purple Mask and all those Scotland Yard films introduced by Edgar Lustgarten and starring Russell Napier as the Chief Inspector .


The most memorable was Some Like It Hot, Billy Wilder's comedy with Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe. We viewed it from the front row of the Stella - me, Phil Hannigan and Des Connolly- as was our custom. We could talk and pass comment on the film without disturbing the rest of the paying customers.


One particular soap commercial required some audience interaction: it ran ' There's White Lux, Blue Lux, Pink Lux  ..''  and, as one, the audience joined in with ' ...and Bol-Lux' .



I ran the dances in The Barn for a while, so The Stella House was the opposition. Dave Whittern was the owner and hired bands like Bluesville, the R&B band from Trinity College led by Ian Whitcomb as lead singer, with Barry Richardson, Peter Adler and (I think) Ken Wrigley. The drummer was Ian McGarry, later a good friend and colleague, currently directing  Fair City on RTE Television.

There was a group called The Stellas, with Dave Pennefather, Peter Kerr and Mark Chapman  (not the one who shot John Lennon, just to be sure). Dave became a good pal and eventually headed up Universal Records, while Peter Kerr became a serious opera singer. You can have a bit too much of the opera, though. 

Brendan Balfe