Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dirty dancing

A passage from Bearnard Ó Lubhaing's memoir of growing up in Ventry village:
A little way outside the village was Mickey Martin's house. Mickey, his wife Kate, and his young family returned from America during the depression and he built a fine stone house, two storeys over a cellar with a dance hall beside it. A new age had arrived, jazz and foxtrots and the luxurious music of the saxophone in the Ballroom of Romance.
When we arrived from America with our young family in 1972 we lived briefly in Mikey Martin's house, except it didn't belong to Mickey any more and the dance hall was now a café. Young people held their céilís next door in the new village hall, and the old folks danced Kerry sets on Sunday evenings in Quinn's pub.

It was a different story in the 1930s. As Ó Lubhaing tells us, the clergy wasn't happy with what was going on in Mickey's dance hall, all those un-married young people dancing to (what the priests called) "jungle music." "Now the young boys and girls had a place to meet free from sanction and life was bold and reckless," writes Ó Lubhaing. "The roads were speckled with people going to the dance hall."

All the railing from the pulpit couldn't stop the tide of modernity that was washing against the shores of Ireland, all that traffic back and forth from America: pious Irish priests, brothers and nuns going west to Brooklyn, Iowa and Tennessee with their message of renunciation; saxophones and shiny suits coming east. The Church had won Ventry back from the Protestants in the 19th century. It would lose the generation of Mickey's grandchildren by its stubborn refusal to admit even a few rays of joyful frolic into the lives of the people.