End of an era for Irish in London as iconic Galtymore dance hall to close its doors

 

The Galtymore opened in 1952 and became synonymous as an oasis of Irishness in an often hostile city, writes Ronan McGreevy.

THE GALTYMORE dance hall in Cricklewood, north London, has hosted many big nights, but none as big as the night Larry Cunningham played there in early 1967.

Though still working full-time as a builder, Cunningham had recorded hits on both sides of the Irish Sea in the previous year. A Tribute to Jim Reevesmade it into the British single charts, while in Ireland his version of Lovely Leitrimhad improbably knocked the Beatles off the No 1 slot.

A total of 6,850 paying customers saw Cunningham and his band The Mighty Avons that night in the Galtymore - a record, then as now, for a venue which is soon to close its doors for the last time.

"I remember being above in a small little band room and I looked out the door. As far up Cricklewood Broadway as I could see, there was four in a row for the guts of two miles trying to get in," Cunningham recalls.

"I looked out and I remember the fear that went through me because I was a builder and not a singer and I was only doing it for a laugh.

"The bouncers were trying to shove the crowds out of the way to get us on stage.

I was brought down with one bouncer in front and another behind as if you were leading a cow to a bull."

The present owner of the Galtymore, Michael Byrne, has announced that the venue will close for good in early June.

A request for pre-planning advice has been sought to redevelop the site for a mixed-use development of apartments, a hotel complex and retail units.

The Galtymore first opened in 1952 and became well known along with other venues such as the National in Kilburn, the Blarney Club in Tottenham Court Road, the Innisfree in Ealing and the Hibernian in Fulham Broadway as an oasis of Irishness in an indifferent and often hostile city.

The closure of the Galtymore marks the end of an era as the Irish emigrant community in London has dwindled and gotten older while the younger generation has sought out more cosmopolitan venues.

Big Tom and the Mainliners are scheduled to be the last band to play there at a date to be announced soon.

Big Tom McBride, who has played the Galtymore four times a year since 1967, says its closure will make London a "no-go" area for Irish showbands like his.

"It's gone, that London as far as the band is concerned. There is nowhere left that would pull a crowd that would justify us going over there in the first place," he says.

"We noticed things started changing 12 or 14 years ago when people started to move back home, but the Galtymore always seemed to be the one holding its own. It was the one that stood the test of time down through the years.

"The ones that used to go to the dances in the Galtymore have married and settled down and their families are all reared. They would not be as anxious to go dancing as they might have been 10 or 20 years ago."

Longford-born councillor Colum Moloney, who represents the local area, said the loss of the Galtymore will see many Irish organisations in London struggling to find a comparable venue for their events.

"It's part of our heritage. We all met there, got a job, found our digs. It's a credit to the Byrne family that they kept it going, but financially it's very hard anymore with the cost of everything.

"It has been a great resource for the Irish community. It will be a great loss," he said.