THE end of an era for the Irish in Britain looms with the planned closure of
the Galtymore Ballroom in Cricklewood in North London.
For 56 years it was home from home for Irish exiles while they struggled to
settle into a city which many initially found to be unfriendly and where more
than a few experienced downright hostility, particularly during the Troubles
in Northern Ireland.
The Galtymore is to close for good in June, after which it will be redeveloped
as apartments, a hotel complex and retail units.
It opened in 1952 during the height of emigration to Britain, and within months
was established as the main social headquarters for the Irish in London. Its
closure coincides with a growing tendency among younger Irish emigrants and
second generation Irish born in London to seek out more cosmopolitan venues.
Big Tom McBride and the Mainliners from Co. Monaghan are scheduled to be the
last band to play there.
McBride has played the Galtymore four times a year since 1967. He says its closure
will mean an end to performances in London for Irish showbands like his.
“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 place holding
its own. It was the one that stood the test of time down through the years,”
“The fans 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.”
All the major Irish showbands performed there at some time. The biggest occasion
of all is said to have been one night in 1967 when more than 6,800 customers
saw Larry Cunningham and the Mighty Avons top the bill after their record, “A
Tribute to Jim Reeves” made it into the British singles charts the previous
year. Their version of “Lovely Leitrim” relegated the Beatles from
the top slot in the charts back home.
Cunningham told The Irish Times, “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.”
Inside, the hall was so packed that bouncers had to shove members of the crowd
out of the way so the band could reach the stage.
Colum Moloney, a Longford native who represents Cricklewood on Brent council,
said the loss of the Galtymore will see many Irish organizations in London struggling
to find a comparable venue for their events.
“It’s part of our heritage. We all met there, got a job there and
found our digs (lodgings) there. It has been a great resource for the Irish
community. It will be a great loss,” he said.