independent

Thursday 22 August 2019

CAMROSS HALL

Camross Hall has seen its fair share of dancing and drama over the past 40 years. Now it's preparing for a new era.

WORDS: MARIA PEPPER

The ballroom of romance is still alive in Camross Hall which is celebrating 40 years in its current incarnation. Originally built in the 1920's, the hall was reconstructed for the second time in 1972 when a top class maple floor was laid.

It is this milestone that was celebrated recently with large numbers of people turning up for a special dance.

'We sent them home sweatin,' said Camross Hall P.R.O. Breda Banville whose most vivid early memory of the iconic building was attending a performance of John B. Keane's 'The Field' there in the mid-1960's when she was about 10 years old.

The play was presented by Arklow Drama Group with Tom Honan, later to become a well-known drama adjudicator, playing The Bull McCabe.

The audience was so enrapt that when the Bishop's character came on stage and blessed himself, everyone in the crowd blessed themselves too.

Breda went on to become an amateur actress herself and is currently chairperson of Camross Drama Group which is over 50 years old and has won a number of All-Ireland awards.

Drama played an important role in the life of the hall in the years after it had been built with local people using horses and carts to draw sand from Cullenstown beach for the construction.

In those early days, travelling road shows came to Camross to present plays to packed audiences who came from far and near.

Actors like John Cowley aka Tom in 'The Riordans' and Abbey stalwart Louis Dalton honed their craft in venues like Camross before making it big on television and the national stage.

Drama still features highly on the hall agenda with the Passion Play drawing huge crowds in 2,000, 2006 and also last Easter.

Throughout the 1930's, '40's and '50's, whist drives, mumming competitions, ceilis and poultry classes were held in the hall. Not to mention dances which were a regular attraction with various organisations of the time such as Taghmon Coursing Club, Dungeer Mummers, Carroreigh Branch of the Gaelic League, carrigbyrne Red Cross, the Beet Growers Association and the local GAA club all hosting their own events.

The hall was rebuilt and extended in 1960, re-opening on February 19, 1961.

Abotu 1,000 people attended the opening dance in April of that year, with the Hurricane Showband providing music for an admission price of six shillings.

Dancing continued during the 1960's with many young men and women meeting their future wives and husbands on the floor.

Camross Macra and Camross ICA came on the scene at this time and filled the calendar with drama competitions, card drives, question times and socials.

The hall closed again for rebuilding in 1967 and this time no expense was spared.

A huge fundraising effort ensured that when it reopened in May 1972, the 8,000 sq ft hall ranked among the biggest and best in the country.

Camross proudly entered the rollerball era just as the Irish showband scene was exploding.

All 'modern day requirements' were met - the lighting and sound systems were updated and that maple floor was just crying out for people to 'do the hucklebuck'.

Brendan O' Reilly cut the tape on the opening night Dickie Rock and the Miami Showband played a sensational set.

Camross Ballroom as it became known was one of the leading venues for the biggest rock bands of the era including Tweed, Joe Dolan, Smokey, Horslips, Gina Dale Hayes and the Champions and Alvin Stardust. There is a story behind the Alvin Stardust gig. The hall committee heard he was coming from England to play in Cork and realised he would have to pass by Camross en route from Rosslare.

So they contacted his agent and asked if he would play a concert in Camross before heading to Cork. He agreed.

It was a last minute arrangement and it was too late to put up posters.

Instead, a group of local men travelled around in a car with a loudhailer, announcing the event.

The hall could hardly hold the number of people who turned up.

The glorious ballroom era came to an end in the mid-'80's but Camross Hall continued to open its doors for American Tea Parties, Hunt dances, school concert and other local events.

The annual New Year's Eve Ball was an occasion not to be missed and continued up to the late '90's with The Moynihans always providing the music.

Camross was renowned for the weekly bingo sessions which started in 1973 and kept going until 2004 with busloads of bingo fans arriving from all over the county.

They're still dancing in the hall. A proper dance with a mineral bar is held there on the first Friday of each month.

The next one is on Friday, August 3 when The Dreamers will have everyone waltzing on the maple. Tea will be served, of course. 'Tea is very important,' said Breda. ' We stopped doing tea for a while and people were complaining.'

'It's marvellous to watch older couples who can really dance. They love a bit of space,' she said.

'On the night of the anniversary dance, there was one couple in their 80's who never got off the floor.'

Camross hall may hark back to a nostalgic era but it is still very much central to the life of the local community.

The youth club and the ICA meet there. It's where the Drama Group have their rehearsals and where Irish dancing and keep fit classes are held.

There are Easter and autumn bazaars and a Santa Village at Christmas.

The reason the hall survives is down to the work of a committee which has to raise funds to keep it in good condition.

It is a busy memorial to their continuing efforts.

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