Dancing in Ireland in the 1950s


My father, Richard Mulholland, died some years ago.  In recent years, two of his siblings have also passed on.  There is now only one left.   Sammy Mulholland, who lives at the top of Portglenone, with wife Matsy, turned 90 years old at the end of January 2021. He spent his career working as a salesman, for Craigs meal company in Kilrea.

I don’t believe that I have ever encountered a fresher 90 year old.  He could pass for someone 20 or 25 years younger.  He gets out every day, and his memory is better than many people half his age. Here’s hoping the Queen gets around to writing to him. This article is dedicated to him.

Church Parties

In Trudger’s tripping the light fantastic era, the early 1980s, church parties were the local social event that one always kept an eye out for.  There were parties all over.  I recall attending church hall parties in places like Drimbolg, Finvoy, Kilrea, Glarryford, and Killymurris.  One met some wonderful people at such events.  But by the time we got old enough, and had access to a car, discos (in places like Ballymena and Portrush) were what we moved on to.

Richard Mulholland bicycle
Richard Mulholland with bicycle

Thirty years earlier, things were a little different for my dad’s generation.  They socialised locally, by necessity – remember the Mulhollands (like most) didn’t have a car til the late 1950s.  By that point, dad (born in 1929) was in his late 20s.

But his late teenage years and most of his twenties were spent socialising locally.  The local hall, Eden Orange Hall, was about a mile and a half away. Dad and his siblings would ride their bicycles to the hall.  They would also go to events in Innisrush, Tamlaght and Portglenone. 

I was only 17 when he died, so I didn’t get the chance to ask him what it was like back then.  He would sometimes speak, in passing, of “guest teas” and “box teas” at some local hall way back years before.  The terms didn’t mean much to me.  

He was such a quiet modest man, that he never mentioned that he was the compere at many of the local gatherings in Eden Orange Hall.  I only found this out recently, when going through old newspaper articles. His brother Sammy compered events too.  Indeed, on at least one occasion, they were joint-comperes at an event in Eden.

Remember, this was the early 1950s.  This was the time before the birth of rock and roll.  Bill Haley and Elvis were still a few years away.

Guest Teas and Box Teas

Guest Teas were still around in my early years.  They seem to have finally died off in the 1970s.  The local church, or some local organisation, would organise a guest tea.  If it was the church, invitations would be handed out for the event (usually held in the church hall), and the local ladies of the congregration would organise food and tea. 

My cousin tells me (I have no recollection), that money/donations would be collected in the hall from those in attendance.  These events, from what we recall, were typically run to raise funds. I just remember big metal urns of tea, white cups, plastic seats, a band, coconut buns and long slim ham sandwiches.

Box Teas on the otherhand were much more fun.   They were all about romance and helping boy meet girl.  The Larne Times explains it well in an article from during the second world war.

War rationing is apparently retarding romance.

In some parts of County Antrim, I am told, they have what are known as “box-teas.”

It seems that to these the maids of the village bring along boxes (made to feed two people) filled with the most appetising eatables, that their abilities as cooks can concoct.

Into the picture then come the eligible young men from all around. They bid in a competition for the boxes, and the rivalry for a particular box is a measure of the glamorous qualities of the girl who brought it along.

When all the boxes have been disposed of, the respective purchasers have the privilege of sharing the contents with the girl responsible for their prize, and of leaving her home.

I’m told that box-teas have matrimonial agencies beaten hopelessly as an inspiration for wedding bells. Unfortunately, however, war-time rationing has curbed the girls of the village to such an extent that they’ve no heart in the boxes now.

Larne Times, 10th May 1941

 

I actually developed this article initially around an old 1950s photo that I have of dad at what is probably a get together at Eden Hall.  My uncle Sammy insists that the girl he is with is Margaret McMaster.

Richard Mulholland and Margaret McMaster orange hall
Margaret McMaster and Richard Mulholland, probably in Eden Hall, mid 1950s

Here are a few examples of media coverage of some local events that dad, and his brother Sammy, attended in the early 1950s. They compered several of the gatherings.

Indeed, in one event below in Portglenone, Sammy won a spot prize for his dancing.

Christmas Night Dance in Eden Orange Hall

Under the auspices of Eden Accordion Band, an enjoyable time was spent at a dance in Eden Orange Hall on Christmas nignt where there was a large attendance.

At midnight supper was served by the lady supporters of the band.

Songs were contributed by Mr. John Hunter.

The winners in a spot dance were Miss Annie Campbell and Mr. Jim Kelso.

The music was supplied by the Victory Dance Band and Mr. Richard Mulholland was the M.C.

Mid-Ulster Mail, 30th December 1950

 

An Orange Ball was held in Portglenone Orange Hall on Friday night last (4th February 1955), under the auspices of L.O.L. No. 910, in aid of the Hall Building Fund.

The hall was filled with enthusiasts from different parts, and bagpipes headed the procession of Orangemen.

Margaret McMaster, Eden, Grange
Margaret McMaster

The opening ceremony was performed in the ancient style by Brother John Holmes, District Treasurer, Tamlaght O’Crilly District No. 9.

The following lodges also took part – Innisrush No. 757, Grange Corner No. 544, Ahoghill No. 653, McNeillstown No. 1071, Tamlaght No. 228, and Portglenone No. 228, and Portglenone No. 910.

At the close of the ceremony Brother Holmes thanked the brethren in Portglenone for their invitation.

Special Prizes

Spot dance prizes were won by Miss Edith Lowry, Gortaherron, Mr S. Mulholland, Eden, Miss Margaret Greer, and Mr James Bristow, Main Street, Portglenone.

A prize was won by Mr D. Berne, Innisrush.

An enjoyable supper was supplied by the Ladies’ Committee. At the conclusion, Brother John Weir thanked all who had helped in any way to make the night so successful and especially the Misses Bristow, who made the tea. Moore Brothers supplied the music and the duties of M.C. were carried out by Brother John Weir.

Ballymena Weekly Telegraph, 11th February 1955

 

Social at Eden

Samuel Mulholland of Eden, Portglenone
Sammy Mulholland, 1959

A social and dance was held in Eden Orange Hall recently, in aid of Eden Accordion band.

The hall was packed to capacity.

This being the first dance held in Eden for some considerable time, it proved to be a jolly one.

A ballot prize of a cake, presented by Mrs R. J. Armstrong, Drumnacannon, Upperlands, was won by Mrs Charles Riddell, Eden. Miss Hessie Patterson, Tamlaght O’Crilly, and Mr Sandy Kirkpatrick, Lislea, were spot dance prize-winners.

Mr Samuel Mulholland, Eden, carried out the duties of M. C.

A delicious supper was supplied by the Ladies’ Committee. Dancing continued until late, to music supplied by the Moyola Valley Dance Band.

Ballymena Observer, 8th April 1955

 

Do you remember box teas, guest teas, suppers in the local halls? Did you attend? Perhaps your parents were at events in Eden Hall, or other local halls.  Do you recall the midnight suppers and the gatherings on Christmas night. I’d love to hear your stories, thoughts and see any photos. Leave a comment below, or contact me.

Trudger

"I have spread my dreams beneath your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

12 thoughts on “Dancing in Ireland in the 1950s

  1. What a wonderful, and emotional, article. Don’t Guest Teas and Box Teas sound great, and indeed my Auntie Maggie (mentioned in your article) had suggested that I should attend such events, in the hope of finding a suitable girl, ie someone who can put on a good spread.

    It must add to your pride that Richie had unknown qualities that contributed to integration of the local community. I, and I’m sure many Mulholland’s throughout the world, consider these people as ‘family’ – we are connected up one family line, to an uncertain common ancestor circa 1700s, and down another line, to grandfathers that were neighbours!

    I have to say there is considerable debate amongst my cousins whether the woman in your photo is my Auntie Margaret Mulholland (McMaster). The few pictures of her in her youth vary from a cute girl, to quite an agricultural teenager, to an immaculate young woman, and the best mother anyone could hope for. It could well be her and until someone suggests another name, I will follow your Sammy’s recollection rather than my cousins’, who weren’t there in the 50s.

  2. thanks for the kind comment, Barry.

    Yes, I did mean to add that there was some doubt among a few within your family, that the girl was Margaret McMaster.

    I must also add, that Uncle Sammy has been wrong on at least one other occasion about the identity of someone in an old photo. But in this case, he attended those same parties and I am hoping he has called it right. Hopefully, in the future, someone local, reading this article, will be able to confirm, or not, who the lady was.

    Those who attended those social events will be in their late 80s or early 90s now. Thus, most will be no longer around.

    As dad always said “you had to make your own fun” back then. If he had lived, I could have asked him about the Box Teas, and the girls he left home. A wonderful moment in time.

    Thanks for the lovely words. Yes, I am tremendously proud of dad (and mum). Good, decent, modest, quiet, hard-working people (like so many of their generation). Indeed, when I left Ireland in 2008, I prepared a video tribute in memory of what would have been my father’s 80th birthday (in 2009). Maybe some day I will get the courage to publish it on the website.

  3. Wonderful recollections of years gone bye.

    It’s these recollections that help me to picture what my father’s distant family were like. I wish that he could have had the chance to know them.

    I am sure there would have been a lot of merry making had the Irish and Australian cousins met (merry making is mild to what it would have been).

    Vickie

    1. Agreed Liz. The fun back then was usually home grown and the pleasures much more simple.

      Dad often reflected the same sentiment.

  4. Definitely Vickie. There would have been much fun if they had all met up.

    The first half of dad’s life was in the pre-car era (and pre-rock and roll era). Just like his father and uncles before him, the distance of his social life depended upon how far he wanted to, or could, ride his bicyle.

    It was a much more innocent time.

    An aunt, on my mum’s side, told me that she always remembers dad (by now in the car era of the early 1960s), coming home evenings from Kilrea, hungry, and cutting a tomato, adding salt and pepper. He liked a tomato.

    1. thanks for the comment, John.

      Yes, re box teas. I was never clear whether the guys KNEW which girl owned each box, before bidding.

      The larne Times article suggests that they did know beforehand.

      It’s a cute way of enabling guys and girls to meet. Though I imagine for some girls, it might be a very cruel event.

  5. Very interesting read, enjoyed it. I was particularly interested in the reference to Ahoghill LOL 653, being from there before our family emigrated to Canada in 1953. Have been back many times and visited Portglenone several times. Keep up the good work

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Robin. Glad you enjoyed the article.

      Interesting to hear of the LOL 653 aspect.

      Regarding Ahoghill, I have been busy since the middle of last year, taking a few hours here and there, when I could find time, to transcribe the graves in the Old Ahoghill graveyard, and also the graveyard at Gracehill.

      All my best.

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