12th June 2018 – Entertainment in Independent Ireland: a Skerries perspective

Quinn School of Business, Distance Learning staff – Ger Dooley
by Ger Dooley
(Skerries Historical Society Meeting – June 2018)

Entertainment in Independent Ireland: a Skerries perspective.
Skerries Historical Society wound up the summer season with a wonderfully entertaining talk by Ger Dooley whose topic, appropriately enough, was ‘A History of Entertainment in Independent Ireland’ with a special focus on Skerries. Ger’s ‘helicopter tour’ of the subject was fascinating and we learned lots of details about life in Skerries over the last century.

One ancient practice which dates from Pagan times was the Hunting of the Wren. Every St Stephen’s Day mummers went from house to house presenting a short play in which the evil deeds of the wicked wren were brought home to it. As nationalism took a hold in Ireland, the wren was portrayed as a betrayer of true Irish warriors to the invading English. Now we know who started the trouble.

Let’s look at a more modern form of entertainment – the first movie reel shot in Ireland is over a century old. Pathé News filmed Queen Victoria’s progress through Kingstown, now Dun Laoghaire, in 1900. The first piece of footage to feature Skerries is from 1930 – it is another Pathé News reel showing the Leinster 100 motorcycle race which moved to Skerries in that year. We can be reasonably certain that Skerries people flocked to see their town captured on celluloid in the Skerries Recreation Hall which began showing films around 1910.

Skerries has always had an association with music and dancing. And what could be more traditional than dancing? But the Church in post-Independence Ireland was not happy about the idea of members of the opposite sex keeping company together. Such licentiousness! Dr Thomas Gilmartin, Archbishop of

Tuam, stated quite clearly that priests were forbidden to allow dances to be held on church property. Thomas O’Doherty, Bishop of Galway insisted that dance-halls were doing the devil’s work and he had something to say about the evils of mixed bathing too.

The Church looked to the State to control the ‘goings on’ in the dance halls and the Public Dance Halls Act of 1935 gave it that control. Anyone putting on a dance had to have a licence for it and licences could be withdrawn if dances got out of hand. The Tower Ballrooms in Skerries seems to have managed fairly well to keep the authorities happy as they had an official exemption allowing the dances to continue after midnight right up to 2am. Until, in 1947, representatives of the Church pointed out that dancing all night meant that the revellers were too tired to go to church in the morning. The Tower Ballroom assured the authorities that their clientele could always be up in time for the 11.30 mass but their arguments were not persuasive enough. The dances stopped at midnight.

There were also dances in the upstairs room of the Carnegie library and, in the ‘50s, next door in Floraville. Although we didn’t manage to get a tune out of them, some of the members of The Graduates who kept Floraville hopping were present and there was plenty of appreciation for them within the audience. You can find more of Ger’s historical research on his website www.gerdooley.com

Report by Oona Roycroft