28 November 2020

In the days – and nights – before
the roof of the ‘Blue Hall’ blew in

The roofless ‘Blue Hall’ in Coolcappa, standing against the blue skies of winter in West Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

The ‘Blue Hall’ is in the middle of the countryside in Coolcappa in West Limerick, almost the same distance from Creeves, Rathkeale, and Kilcolman.

In its present state it may be looking ‘blue’ but its walls could hardly ever have been painted blue. And I wondered how it got its present name and why an early forerunner of nightclubs and discos was built in such an apparently remote location.

Tom Aherne, who writes a weekly local history feature in the Limerick Leader, describes this as one of the ‘Ballrooms of Romance’ that could be found all over Co Limerick from the 1930s to the 1950s. Its ‘catchment’ area stretched to Askeaton, five miles away, Ardagh, four miles away, and to Shanagolden and Coolcappa.

It was built as a venue for meetings and fundraising events after Fine Gael was formed in 1933. The then Editor of The Irish Times RM Smyllie, once described its predecessor, Cumann na nGaedheal, as a party ‘who one wished would be open to ideas, until one saw the kind of ideas they were open to.’

The links with Fine Gael and Eoin O’Duffy and his fascist ‘Blue Shirts’ gave the ‘Blue Hall’ its nick-name in the 1930s. ‘Due to its political connections,’ Tom Aherne told me, ‘Fianna Fail supporters would not be seen dead in it.’

In time, however, the image of the ‘Blue Hall’ changed. Its name was changed too, and by the 1940s, it was known as the Casino, O’Duffy was dead, people of all political backgrounds cycled from places miles around to enjoy summer evenings in the Casino at the crossroads near Coolcappa.

In reality, it was no more than a shed, measuring 90 ft by 50 ft, with a galvanised, half-round roof that was more suited for a hay barn or a farmyard shed. A gallery over the door provided the small place for visiting bands and musicians, who included John McKnight and his band, the Glenside Ceili Band, Darkie Devine, Austin Glorney, Eamon O’Shea and many others.

Romance blossomed to the tunes and words of ‘The Isle of Capri,’ ‘Roll along covered wagon,’ ‘Just a little love,’ ‘Play to me Gypsy,’ ‘South of the Border,’ ‘Goldmine in the Sky,’ ‘Buttons and Bows’ and ‘MacNamara’s Band.’

But emigration in 1950s and changing fashions combined to mark the beginning of the end for the ‘Blue Hall.’ The showbands emerged on the scene, large halls sprang up in big towns, bicycles gave way to cars, and the days of the dance halls were coming to a close.

In recent years, in the last roll of the dice for the Casino, the roof of the ‘Blue Hall’ blew in. Today it is exposed to the blue skies, with late night revelries there now no more than a distant memory for an older generation.

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