Frank Brandon’s Column

Julie and James combine to bring  ‘Sound of Music Ballroom’ back to life!

Our man Frank on a hit song in honour of the Sound of Music ballroom; the inspirational Rachael Blackmore; and another family wedding in this strange Covid-19 era…

For all of us who grew up in the wonderful showband era, you will have been familiar with the Sound of Music ballroom in Glenamaddy. If so, I’m sure you will remember when the late Joe O’Neill turned it into one of the most popular dancehalls in the country, with all the top names of the time (like Joe Dolan, Daniel O’Donnell, Margo, Philomena Begley, and Big Tom, amongst others) more than delighted to get a gig in the East Galway village.

But what you might not have known (as indeed I didn’t until this week) is that the place started off as the Esker Ballroom, built in the late 1940s by Jim Keaveney, better known as Jim Pete. When it first opened its doors, dancing went on from 10 pm to 4 am, with full dinner included in the price of twenty shillings. Some of the best bands of the time, such as the Tony Chambers Orchestra, Maurice Mulcahy Orchestra, Johnny Flynn, Bros Walsh, and The Premier Aces from Ballintubber, all graced the Esker Ballroom stage, before Joe O’Neill bought it up in the late 1960s.

O’Neill turned the ballroom into the Las Vegas of the West, with buses coming from all over…full of dancers looking for romance at the newly-renamed Sound of Music. If they weren’t successful in their quest for love, at least they had the consolation of going home full of chips and burgers from the local chip vans – although the mix of a bellyful of porter with a helping of fish, burgers and chips was pretty potent, and many a fellow would be sick as a pig by the time Sunday morning came around.

However, sick or not, the following Saturday it would be full steam ahead again, and back out to the Sound of Music you would head. Then, sadly, the ballroom closed its doors. It would’ve become one of our forgotten treasures only for the fact that Glinsk man James Shevlin put pen to paper and wrote a splendid new song called, ‘The Sound of Music Ballroom’. The song was recorded by Julie Healy, a lady who has been immersed in the world of country music for many years. She presents three shows each week on Irish Country Music Radio, has recorded duets with John Rex Reeves (the nephew of American superstar Jim Reeves), as well as releasing many singles – including My Lovely Glenamaddy – and also a recent album.

However, it is the release of ‘The Sound of Music Ballroom’ that is reaching new heights, being played all over Ireland, Australia, England and the USA, where many Irish emigrants who would have danced in Glenamaddy back in the days are delighted to hear a song bring back those special memories. All our local radio stations – Shannonside, Mid-West, and Galway Bay FM – are playing the socks off the new release, so listen out for it! Or if you want to request a dedication for anyone for a birthday, wedding anniversary, or just to say hello, give them a call and ask them to give Julie’s song a spin – you won’t be disappointed!

She tells me that it is climbing the charts here at home in Ireland, so well done Julie! I wish you and songwriter James every success with this excellent song.

Super Rachael –  she’s ‘just a jockey’!

A few weeks ago we all marvelled at the amazing imprint Rachael Blackmore made in horse racing history when she became the first lady to be the leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival, though she freely admitted afterwards that being pipped on the line in the Gold Cup was a huge disappointment and that it would be a long time before she got over it.

Well, on Saturday last she certainly got over it, once again rewriting the history books by becoming the first lady jockey to win the Aintree Grand National, a race that even non-racing people would know to be the toughest and most demanding in National Hunt racing. Her place as one of Ireland’s sporting heroes is guaranteed for all time.

Yet the most telling comment of all came from her mother, who simply described her daughter as a jockey, not a lady jockey, saying: “She’s just a jockey, it’s just her job”. More than anything, the fact that Rachael doesn’t differentiate between male and female jockeys – and regards them all as equal – could be the biggest and most important legacy she leaves behind. Just how many girls will be inspired by her achievements is as yet unknown, but there can be no doubt that in the future, when Irish girls make their mark on the world stage, a lot of them will say they were inspired by the remarkable Rachael Blackmore.

One of the little twists to the story is that Rachael shares a house with her boyfriend Brian Hayes and their friend Patrick Mullins (son of Willie), and all three of them finished the gruelling course, with Mullins 4th on Burrows Saint and Hayes 15th on Class Conti.

Anyways, once again Rachael is a good news story on this Monday morning. How she can top this I have no idea, but I also know she will somehow find a way.

And finally…

Finally for this week, on Saturday last (for the second time in lockdown) we had a family wedding. Our eldest son Mark got married to his new wife Aoife in Kilanena, Co. Clare.

This time, Covid-19 affected the big day even more. Our last day out, when Lisa got married, was in Lockdown Level 3, when up to fifty people could attend. On Saturday it was confined to just six – both sets of parents and the couple themselves.

You would think that the day would’ve been diminished because of the restrictions, but surprisingly, it wasn’t. The church ceremony – celebrated by a friend of Aoife’s family – was lovely, and while it was obviously a very different day, I really enjoyed it.

The last time I was in Kilanena was more than forty years ago, when we bought furniture in Broderick’s of Kilanena, a family firm which at the time was one of the biggest suppliers of furniture in the entire country. As with a lot of businesses, they have since gone by the wayside, and it was a bit sad to see the old building – still standing, but closed now for a few years.

When Lisa got married, we could go to a hotel and have a reception; this time there was no such event. Hopefully sometime in the future we will have a right hooley to celebrate the wedding, and please God the nightmare of Covid-19 will be a thing of the past!