It was the end of an era, the making of history and a decidedly sad day in the history of many Inishowen and indeed, all Irish people in London last weekend as the National Anthem was played for the last time in the famous Galtymore Ballroom in Cricklewood.
After all the rumours wondering “will they or won’t they” the doors of the Galtymore finally closed for the last time with a truly Irish night when the legendary Big Tom and the Mainliners played the very last waltz to a packed and emotional house. Tom brought down the curtain on decades of prolific entertainers who have graced the Galtymore stage since its opening night in 1952.
Speaking earlier this week, Donegal singing star, Margo, said the famous ballroom was almost a place of sanctuary for many people - that it ‘saved lives’
“I was invited over last weekend by the Burns family but I just could not bring myself to attend - this would have just all been too emotional for me.
“People do not realise the importance of the Galtymore to many Donegal people and indeed people from all over the country. This was one of the few places that people who were forced to emigrate could meet with their friends and find a small ‘piece of Ireland’ in a strange city. It really saved lives - people from remote areas of Donegal, Mayo, Galway and Kerry lived for the weekend at the Galtymore. Without that all important Friday and Saturday night many would have felt totally alone and many would fallen into depression. It was their home from home and kept the spirits high in difficult times.
“Younger people today do not realise the impact of the Galtymore on the Irish community. These were pre-Ryanair days when you went to London, you probably went for good. It was not just a matter of hopping back and forward for the weekend or to work as it is today.Many people never saw their native shores again - all they had was their memories and the Galtymore kept those memories alive.
Tears streaming down face
“I had been playing there since 1967 and in those days it was not Country & Western but just Irish songs. I remember standing on the stage one night and looking down at the crowds. I was singing the ‘Hills of Glenswilly’, the crowd was 20 deep at the stage and the tears were just streaming from their eyes. It finally hit me, I was lucky, I could go home - these people were here to stay. Many did not want to be in this strange land but they had no choice, there was just no work at home.
“Many met at the Galtymore and many married in the same venue - The Galtymore was an Irish institution. It was ironically probably the only place in Ireland which did not recognise borders or religious differences even though it was located in Cricklewood. It crossed all boundaries and if you were irish you were Irish and that was it. That was the only criteria needed.
“I remember arriving one night with my manager and when I stepped out of the car I saw policemen on horses. Now who in God’s name ever saw a Guard on a horse in those days? Mossie Burns just turned around to me and said ‘They are here to control the crowds’ I finally knew that I had made it.
“Indeed there were funny times there as well. Daniel played there a few times and was quite shocked when a couple of lads who minutes earlier had been engrossed in the music, started to beat the heads of each other. In those days it just wasn’t a good dance if you hadn’t a good fight. They weren’t really fights, just some young ‘buckos’ showing their bravado. Anyway, Daniel just stopped the music and looked down at the two lads and said ‘Would you two lads ever stop that barney and show a little respect for each other’.
More innocent then
“I also remember Mulrines, the drinks company introducing a new mineral on the market with a banana flavour. The big joke around the Galtymore was the young man asking his prospective partner ‘Would you like to go for a banana?’ Those were innocent times and regrettably a lot of the changes we have experienced in the last few years have not all been for the good
In those days the Irish community in London would know that all the best bands would be coming to London during Lent because that was the only place where work was available.
Dancing during Lent at that time was frowned upon by the Church authorities. Margo described the closure as a ‘sad sign of the times’ a sentiment which was echoed by Big Tom last weekend.
“I’m sure as Tom went into his final set last week, he had one large lump in his throat. The Galtymore is irreplaceable, it should be treated as a ‘listed’ building for the Irish community in London.”