To mark the return of the dance hall days to Kildare CYMS (CMWS) on August 10 with The Davitts Country Band, we look back at a feature written in 2011 about those amazing times.
IF Roy Orbison was looking to set up a second home, it would have been at the Curragh of Kildare. So he told Liam Ryan, former director of entertainment at Kildare CYMS. He discussed the idea when he played the Lilywhite venue on April 17 1971.
“He was unbelievable. He appeared in the CYMS and then he went on to the Ritz in Carlow in the same night. I remember the story he gave down from the stage about how I had driven him around Kildare and around the county. He said if he was ever to have a second home, Kildare would be the place he would have liked to settled down.
“I brought him around Kildare, Naas and the Curragh and he was fascinated with the Curragh in itself. He was so taken with it. Roy Orbison was very struck by the county. He said it was so beautiful. He spoke about the fantastic people and the warm welcome he got. He said the Irish people were unreal, ” recalls Liam.
The singer, most famous for “Pretty Woman”, “I Drove All Night” and “Crying”, was without doubt the biggest star to play the venue during it dance hall days. Kildare CYMS’s position as one of the premier music destinations in the country was firmly cemented with a list of top class acts who performed there every Saturday night.
Secretary of the CYMS committee for 39 years now, Eamon Hennessy recounts how the pinnacle of its success was the Orbison concert.
“It was our biggest ever concert. He had a 12 piece orchestra with violins and cellos. When he played “Pretty Woman”, you could feel the floor vibrating. It was amazing, People were mesmerised by him.”
So how did this unknown venue in Kildare town become so famous? It all began when Eamon met Liam Ryan at a gig and asked him if he would come down and have a look at the CYMS hall and see if it would be suitable for holding music shows.
“I have been involved in the entertainment business all my life, from a very early age. I could see quite well that a lot of people were really into the showbands and the country scene. I had been running shows in other ballrooms and I liked Kildare. It was in the centre of the county. Lawlors in Naas had a great ballroom and I realised there was an opportunity in Kildare. Lawlors wouldn’t have been able to hold concerts all the time as they had other events going on. One of their greatest attributes was the late Jimmy Dunney, ” explained Liam.
With Liam’s contacts and showbiz expertise, and the CYMS committee’s hard work, the story began. On October 25 1969 Dermot O’Brien and the Clubmen got the ball rolling. Other big names like Casino, Dixies, Hank Locklin, Johnny Flynn, Graduates, Jim Farley, and The Cowboys all appeared in the first year of its operation.
One of the most controversial decisions made was to refuse admission to women who were wearing trousers. When asked what the thinking behind this was, Liam replies; “We had that rule from the start. RTE even covered that at the time. They came down to do a programme at the Roy Orbison concert. We could see people outside at the door and we told the women who were wearing trousers that they couldn’t come in so they went home and came back half an hour later wearing skirts and dresses.
“At the time I suppose it was a new fashion to have women wearing trousers so we were probably old fashioned in our imagination, then we kind of stuck to those rules.”
The organisers wanted a more formal dress code suitable to the ballroom scene. Eamon remarks; “Margo, Daniel O’Donnell’s sister arrived one night to play with her band and she was in a pair of slacks. Two of the door men didn’t recognise her and refused her. She said ‘you better get the manager, do you know who I am?’ Liam Ryan came down to the door and said it’s okay, that’s Margo.”
Eamon is full of praise for Liam, who is a renowned entertainment consultant and former owner of the Olympic Ballroom. People travelled from Carlow, Baltinglass, Portlaoise and all over the county to Kildare. One of the dances was actually recorded for Canadian television.
“The week after Dana won the Eurovision, she arrived in the CYMS for a performance. That was a great coup for us as well, ” stressed Eamon.
The advent of late licensed venues put an end to the dry hall and the concerts finally wound down. Throughout the years, it hosted many huge talents including the Dubliners, Larry Cunningham, Brendan Boyer, Big Tom, Capitol, Tony Kenny, The Royal Showband, The Miami Showband, Sean Dunphy, Doc Carroll, Smokey Mountain Ramblers, Bandits, Mighty Avons, and Jim Tobin to name but a few.
Liam reminisces; “The ballroom would open at 9pm and it would be full up by 10pm or 10.15pm. It was a wonderful time. Fr Swaine was parish priest at the time and he saw it was badly needed and it brought a lot of people to Kildare town. There was lot of people who met their future wives there.”
“I have great time for the people of Kildare. They were wonderful people to work with.” He praised Eamon and the committee for all their support and hard work.
The CYMS lives on hosting many events and is as busy as ever.