Thirty years ago, a group of like-minded men and women came together to form Ennis’ Dancing for Pleasure group and some of them are still coming together to dance every Sunday evening.
The Auburn Lodge has been the venue for the weekly dancing for the last few years after decades in the West County Hotel.
Sheelagh Abraham was one of the founders of Dancing for Pleasure, while Andy Carmody is a relative newcomer by comparison, having only been involved for 29 and a half years.
The two visited The Clare Champion recently to reflect on a milestone for the club, its 30th year in existence.
Sheelagh remembers how it came into being.
“When we came to Ennis first, I had two sisters in Ennis and my husband had one sister. At the St Patrick’s Day parade, I said to them, “Will there be any dancing tonight?” One said to me there will be loads of dancing but it was all set dancing and we were gone from that for years.
“I said ‘why haven’t ye dancing’ and she said, ‘we never thought about it really’. I said ‘you must know a lot of people’, which she did. One of the first ones she mentioned was Andy. We got them all together at the West County one night.”
Well-known hotel manager John Madden was in charge at the West County Hotel then and he played an important part in the newly-formed club, which had no money at all, flourishing.
He gave them the use of a room for three months free of charge and unexpectedly allowed Dancing for Pleasure to continue on the same terms afterwards.
“When the three months were up, I went down to him and he said you can have it for another three months. We couldn’t have gone ahead without him. Nobody wanted to put in money or had money. Here we are 30 years on.”
Around 200 people go dancing every Sunday night and regarding the style, Andy says, “We dance the same as we did 40 or 50 years ago, when we were courting. The very same dances as we did then.”
The dancers come from all parts of the county and beyond and Andy says it has been great to keep it going for three decades.
“We all thought we were old 30 years ago but here we are 30 years later and, thanks be to God, we’re still dancing,” he laughs.
The club is open to anyone, with a small yearly membership fee and small payment every Sunday also.
Around 20 different bands provide the music and Sheelagh says they are very enthusiastic about playing in Ennis.
“All the bands tell us we have the best club in Ireland. The crowd turns up every Sunday night, hail, rain or snow. We start on the dot at 8.30pm and finish on the dot at 11m. So for people that have longer journeys than I’d have, they are home reasonably early.”
Over the years, the musicians have proved extremely reliable, Andy recalls.
“In that length of time, 30 years, only two bands have let us down. One of them had been suggested by another band, who we used to have but they found another venue closer to home. Anyway, they didn’t come, end of story. The other band had been in England and there was a storm. But when we were on the way out that night, they were coming in; they had come just to let us know what had happened.”
Dancing for Pleasure is open to everyone, even those who mightn’t think they are natural dancers. “My motto is, ‘if you can read you can cook, if you can walk you can dance’,” says Sheelagh.
Last Sunday was the last night of the current season but Dancing for Pleasure will be picking up exactly where it left off in the autumn, as it always does.
By Owen Ryan