Michael Comer, Barnaderg (R.I.P. 30th October, 1988)
Interviewed by Michael Waters in 1982
P. 421 - Killererin - A Parish History
Comer’s Hall: Barnaderg’s Ballroom of Romance
For over a quarter of a century, from 1936 to 1963, Comer’s dancehall in Barnaderg was the only centre of entertainment in the Parish of Killererin.
It served the great need of providing a meeting place for the young, where boy met girl and where much of the romance blossomed. It became the Mecca of dancers for a radius of up to 20 miles or more. The founder of the hall, Michael Comer recalled his memories.
Arrival in Barnderg
“I came to Barnaderg in 1933 and some time later I bought a site in the village from a man named Pat Rabbitte. In 1936, I built a dancehall there and beside it on the same site, I had a house built for myself. As well as building the hall and the house in 1936, I got married that same year, so it was a very busy year for me. I knew there was a need for a dance hall in the area.
Previously there was a small hall in the area at Peak where John Monaghan held dances. Mick O’Connor now owns the land where this hall was located. It used to cost 4 pence in old money to gain admission to Monaghan’s Hall. The music used to be supplied by an accordion player. I remember Martin Fahy and other local musicians playing there. This hall was not licensed, as there was no law governing the running of dances at that time. The Public Dance Halls Act was then passed in 1935, so when I opened my hall in 1936 it had to be licensed. Monaghan’s hall was closed before I built mine”.
Building of Hall
“I got a local builder, Paddy Duffy from Lavally, to build the hall. He was a great all-round tradesman, builder and carpenter. He also built my own house and before that he built the present Garda Station in Barnaderg. He also built the cut-stone grotto which still stands in the village here.”
“I’ll never forget the opening night of my new hall, on St. Stephen’s night 1936. The music was supplied by John White’s band from Ballinastack at a cost of 2 pounds 10 shillings. Whereas the usual price of admission was a shilling, I charged a half-crown that night and that was reckoned to be very expensive then. Between 400 to 500 turned up and they could not get in at the same time. There was even a great crowd outside the hall on the road.
The hall went well after that and we ran dances every Sunday night. Our usual crowd 200 to 300 people and we charged 1 shilling for short dances and 3 shillings or half a crown for all night dances. The licensing laws governing dances were very strict then. In any 1 year, we could only run 8 all-night dances from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. and on other Sunday nights we ran from 8 to 11.30 p.m. which were the short dances. We could not hold dances in Lent or Advent or on eves of Church holidays. Nobody under 18 years or under the influence of drink could be admitted. Gardaí were on duty outside the hall to enforce these laws.”
Things were very primitive in those days. For a start, there was no electricity and to provide light I had 23 paraffin lamps hung around the hall, toilets, mineral bar and cloakroom. This position lasted until I got my own generator during the war, in 1949, which was operated by batteries and the generator provided the light until the E.S.B arrived in December 1953. The bands used to have amplifiers, which were operated by batteries, which they brought with them. I was never really afraid that some rough crowd would set the hall on fire with a paraffin lamp, but I kept a close eye on them myself. I always patrolled the floor and if I saw devilment going on, I would nip it in the bud. But I’ll say one thing; they had great manners and respect that time. My brother and sister and other relatives helped us out at preparing the hall for dances and other functions, assisting at mineral bar etc, until our own family were able to help.”
Travelling to dances
“In those early days, everybody came on foot or on bicycles. After the dance ‘tis many the fellow left his woman home on the crossbar of the bike. They came up to twenty miles. They also used to come very early and it was a regular occurrence to see crowds sitting outside the hall at 8 o’ clock during the summer waiting for the band to arrive. Some of the bands I can remember playing in the hall were Quicksilver, which later became the Capitol Showband, The Ivy Castle, Roscommon; Jimmy Dulaghan, Mountbellew; Stephen Garvey, Castlebar; Aughrim Slopes, Ballinakill Ceilli Band, The Black Diamond, Claremorris; Feerick Bros, Ballinrobe; Hughie Traynor, Armagh; Johnny Flynn, Tuam; Brose Walsh, Jimmy Farragher, The O’Donoghue sisters, Loughrea. I remember Delia Murphy, the famous singer performing there, also Joe Burke the all Ireland champion played here.”
Hall’s Other Uses
“The hall was also used extensively by other organisations. During the war, the local security force and Local Defence Force and the Red Cross trained there. It was not unusual to see a couple of hundred people drilling there 2 or 3 nights a week. All political parties, the G.A.A and other voluntary organisations in the district had their meetings and conventions there.
“I remember one Sunday night during the war when we were running a dance in the hall. We heard the noise of a plane in distress coming from the west. It passed out by the hall skimming the rooftops. We knew there was something very seriously wrong and I’ll say were very frightened. We saw the plane go the direction of Lavally and it crashed there. I stopped the dance and got everyone out of the hall, I got two local Gardaí and I brought a crowd in a lorry to Lavally where we could see flames leaping into the sky. When we arrived we found that there was nothing we could do, as all occupants, 4 or 5, were lost in the crash and fire. They were Canadian soldiers.
The Hard Times
“During the war years, the population in this area was very high. Many people would come home from England because there was no work for them and they got work here down on the bogs at £1.5 shillings a week. They often hadn’t the half crown to get into the Sunday night dance but they were never turned away if they were short. They drank very little, the young lads, in these days, as they had not the price of it. Porter was about 10 old pence a pint and cigarettes 6 pence. In these times people had not a lot of money to spend but enjoyed life to the full. Of course the pubs could not open on a Sunday but if you were a bonafide traveller, which meant if you were 3 miles from home you could get a drink locally. I must say this rule was often abused.
Closing the doors
As my family arrived and grew up they helped me in the hall. I worked hard at it for 27 years and finally in 1963 I closed the doors for good. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my patrons, who supported me down through the years.”
 Interview Michael Comer (Michael Waters Pitch Magazine 1982)