“There are a hundred thousand stories about the Fiesta, some of them may have happened, some of them may have been altered by time and experience. Our memories are strange things. I like to think of them as a favourite book. Every time we open the pages, we scribble notes in the margins or cross out some of the printed words. We might remember strange things such as the scent of perfume or the colour of a wall, but we put other memories away and they are only triggered when we hear a piece of music or see an old photograph.
The tea ladies of Letterkenny’s Fiesta Ballroom. Relive the memories at An Grianán Theatre this July!
“The stories I’ve heard about the Fiesta would fill an entire book, though some of them might not be printable. Some of the people I spoke to remembered the sense of magic, the faces and the music. Others remember not getting turned because of the crowds and the cigarette smoke that filled the room, stinging eyes.
“I’ve heard stories of dress hems going up and down, depending on the fashions; orders from Leo that there were to be ‘No hotpants’; the bouncers and their own code of honour; the sandwich makers and the mineral bar ladies; the terror of a lost cloakroom ticket; wives meeting husbands with two left feet; husbands meeting wives, dancing to a certain tune; the lines of couples courting out the back while the bus drivers, parked up, smoked cigarettes and watched the side-show; sailors from Scotland, Holland and Cape Verde, dancing the nights away; the musicians’ stories of playing there, either in the relief bands or as the main act, the girls all lined up at the front, staring at them; the Austins towing cut-off Morris Minors, converted into trailers; the glowing false teeth under ultra-violet lights; the bingo nights and the concerts.
The opening night of the Fiesta Ballroom, Oct 1962. Photo from the Derry People Donegal News.
“I’ve also heard stories beyond the Fiesta, of Letterkenny and how it developed; the factories and industry of Knitcraft, Gaeltex, Oatfields, Cortaulds, the Model bakery, the old port at Ballyraine. I’ve heard stories of emigration and return, the Glasgow connections, the boats that took people away and brought them home again for the summer.
“The Fiesta wasn’t just a dancehall, it was the story of this corner of Donegal, its rise and fall part of the social and economic history of the town. For the people I talked to, the Fiesta was a special place, full of sound and life; the dances and the music; the people who owned it, worked in it, played in it. It was simply the Fiesta and for those who slid and shimmied across the dance floor, it was magical.”
Guy Le Jeune is the author of Fiesta, a new drama commission co-produced by Earagail Arts Festival, An Grianán Theatre and Donegal County Council Arts Office and supported by the Arts Council of Ireland, Failte Ireland and Donegal County Council.
His previous work for An Grianán includes the reminiscence theatre project A Sense of Memory and the play On the Camel’s Hump. His short story ‘Jamesy’ was commended in the 2011 Sean O’Faolain Prize, he was shortlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize 2012 and his story ‘Small Town Removal’ was placed third in the inaugural Costa Book Awards, short story prize in January 2013. His novel extract ‘Essex Road’ was Highly Commended in the 2014 Irish Writers’ Centre, Novel Fair Competition.
Fiesta, Sat 12 to Mon 14 July 2014 at 8pm. More info here.