Dancing days: Breathing new life into old West Limerick 'ballroom of romance'

Norma Prendiville

Reporter:

Norma Prendiville

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normap@limerickleader.ie

Committee members were pictured at the Ashford Tavern to launch of a series of fundraising dances to be held in The Hall, Raheenagh, in aid of the new Ashford Community Centre Resource Centre

Committee members were pictured at the Ashford Tavern to launch of a series of fundraising dances to be held in The Hall, Raheenagh, in aid of the new Ashford Community Centre Resource Centre

FOR many years, the Ashford Tavern held a very special place in the lives and hearts of West Limerick people. It was their very own Ballroom of Romance, and they flocked there in their hundreds each week.

But it wasn’t just West Limerick people who thronged the dance floor in Ashford. According to Vincent Murray, who played a key role in bringing many of the big band names to Ashdord, they came from all over Limerick and from North Cork.

“It was known far and wide,” Vincent declared. “At one stage it was the biggest dancing venue in West Limerick and one of the biggest in the county.”

All the big names came to Ashford, Vincent recalled: the Wolfe Tones, Brendan Bowyer, Joe Dolan, Johnny McEvoy , Big Tom, Dublin City Ramblers. Later came acts such as Louise Morrissey, Declan Nerney, TR Dallas and many, many more.

But those heady days ended, and for the past many years, the Ashford Tavern has remained closed up and silent.

Now, however, a new future beckons as the local community has come together to breathe new life into the building and transform it into the Ashford Community Resource Centre.

It is an ambitious project which is estimated to cost up to €450,000 but the centre, when complete, will house meeting rooms, a Teach Cheoil, a youth hub and a heritage centre. The plans also make provision for a community cafe and a centre for the many walkers and cyclists coming into the area.

In a bid to make this project a reality, the local community has embarked on a massive fund-raising campaign. So far, the Buy a Brick initiative has proved successful, raising over €30,000 and now moving outwards to the Diaspora and surrounding communities.

But this week sees the start of a new avenue of fund-raising: the return of the dance-halls days. “We are hoping to get people to relive the great nights of dancing,” enthused Vincent. And the plan is to bring back many of the bands that played the Ashford Tavern in the good old days.

The monthly dances will take place in the Community Hall in Raheenagh and the first one kicks off this Friday with John Hogan and his band. Future acts will include Michael Collins and his band, JP Murrihy and TR Dallas.

“I hope it will be a success,” local community activist Mary Winters said, one of many local people who remember the huge crowds who came to the Ashford dances and to the annual Queen of the West festival. She and a dozen or so others set up a Tidy Towns committee last year and are delighted with the plan to transform the Ashford Tavern.

“Physically it is such a large structure and when it is cleaned up it will enhance the physcial aspect of the village,” she said. “We can't really go forward with plans until it is cleaned up. It will be a huge asset,” she adds.

Meanwhile, the message is, put on your dancing shoes this Friday and every first Friday for the next six months. The doors open at Raheenagh hall at 9pm and dancing will get underway each at 9.30pm. Admission is just €10, a small price to pay to re-ignite the dream.