In the late 1960's, Nos. 1 & 2 Stradbally Road were demolished to make way for the Link Road (the original name of James Fintan Lalor Avenue). Number 2 was vacant in 1850, but later became the home of Margaret Byrne, widow and Tea Merchant. On Census Night 1901, Margaret, her two nieces - Maria and Easter (sic) Moore, described as assistants - and five boarders (four carpenters and a railway engine driver) were present in the house. One of the carpenters, Peter Elmer, had the distinction of being one of only four people with that surname in the entire country. In April 1911, Margaret Byrne and Maria Moore were keeping two boarders: George Morris, a bricklayer from King's County and Thomas Droney, a carpenter from Tipperary. In later years, Maria lived here with her brother Jimmy who worked in the ESB. The Moore family came originally from Kyle.
In the 1850's, Elizabeth Brennan lived in No. 1, the house nearest the river. In 1901, it was occupied by William and Hugh Dunne, a father-and-son team of blacksmiths1. A decade later, the forge was run by Hugh and, later still, by Ned Conroy, an uncle of Jimmy Conroy who, as we've seen, also had a forge in Chapel Lane/Church Avenue. There were steps down to the Triogue and, like the wheelwright Lalors across the road, the farrier Dunnes and Conroys also used the river in their line of work.
About twenty metres behind the white van in the picture, and facing on to the New Road, once stood Danceland2, a mecca for jivers, twisters, hucklebuckers, rock'n'rollers, old-time waltzers, foxtrotters and two-left-footer who, from its opening night in December 1962 - New Canadian Floor! Continental Lighting! - came here in busloads. All the top showbands - the Royal, Drifters, Miami (Spit on me, Dickie!), Capitol - played in Danceland, but dancers also got to shake a leg to such exotic visitors as Sensational American Coloured Singing Idol Mel Deane, and genuine stars like The Searchers (UK #1 with Sweets for my Sweet), Freddie and the Dreamers (I'm Telling You Now, #2) and Brian Poole & the Tremeloes3) whose Do You Love Me? and Twist and Shout both hit the Top Ten in 1963. The Everly Brothers, probably the most enduring and influential of all the acts that appeared here, took to the stage on Friday, April 22, 1966. If ballad groups were more to your liking, you could have raised your bottle of lemonade - no alcohol in Danceland! - and sung along - Ah, you're drunk you're drunk you silly ould fool... - with The Dubliners on November 10th, 1967.
By the end of the decade, the showband craze had peaked and the huge dancehalls were, for the most part, on their last legs. So, in March 1970, the County Council placed this notice in the national papers: Tenders are invited for the demolition of the premises known as Danceland Ballroom, Portlaoise. Materials which may be salvaged, including maple floor, other floor, stage etc. will become the property of the person whose tender is accepted.
In pre-Reynolds days, Danceland was the Coliseum Ballroom which opened on Easter Sunday night, 1943. Music was by Toby Bannan (who we've already met back in the Market Square) and his band. Specially augmented for the occasion, its repertoire on the night included one steps, paul joneses, foxtrots and slow waltzes. Dancing continued until 4 a.m. - certainly not a night for the weak-kneed or faint-hearted - and admission, including tax and supper, was thirteen shillings and six pence (13/6). In May 1946 you could have danced the night away at the Firemen's Ball. This time the music was supplied by Billie Dingle and his Orchestra who prided themselves on being Resident orchestra at Clery's Ballroom, Dublin. Admission was five shillings with refreshments extra .
If the rag trade was more in your line, the Coliseum was the place to be on March 29, 1955 for the Mannequin Parade which featured the new season's fashions in Ladies Coats, Suits, Skirts, Jumpers etc. Miss Betty Whelan compered the show and incidental music was by organist Norman Metcalfe4; all in aid of the District Nursing Association.
On December 19th 1958, decked out in Western outfits, the Royal Showband played their very first Portlaoise gig (a word, incidentally, never in common usage at that time) in the Coliseum. According to local lore, there was such a small crowd that tickets were given away free. The second time the Royal appeared, the place was jammed and the rest, as they say, is history....
1 I have been told that, in earlier times, this was the site of 'The Red Cow', an inn run by the Senior family. It is possible that the owner was Richard Senior who lived on the Well Road in the 1850's, but I have been unable to substantiate this.
2 Danceland was run by the Reynolds brothers - Jim and future Taoiseach, Albert - whose musical empire stretched from Barrowland in New Ross through Dreamland in Athy, Lakeland in Mullingar and Fairyland in Roscommon, to Borderland in Clones. They were indeed lands of a thousand dances.
3 Len Hawkes, a later member of the group, was the father of Chesney who had a huge international hit with The One and Only in 1991.
In the 1960's, he was well-known as the smiley provider of musical clues on the popular television quiz show Quicksilver. Stop the lights!
The presenter was Bunny Carr and if the following isn't true, it has certainly become the stuff of urban legend: