Ireland’s famous Rainbow Ballroom of Romance is situated in Glenfarne, Co Leitrim at a crossroads in the townland of Brockagh lower along the N16 Enniskillen to Sligo Road. The late John Mc Givern built the Ballroom in early 1934 and it opened the same year. It was then known as Mc Givern’s Dance Hall, although locally it was referred to as the “Nissan Hut”, as its galvanised iron construction was reminiscent of the British Army huts of the same name. The very first function held there consisted of a variety concert, followed by the first dance in the new hall with music provided by the local Glenfarne Dance Band. Dances were regularly held on Sunday nights and often on week nights.
The Dance Hall went from strength to strength over the next two decades and in 1952 John Mc Givern decided to extend it. With the increasing prevalence of electricity and piped water the facilities were upgraded, serving to make the Ballroom more attractive and modern, with large numbers of dancers coming from all over the country. The renovations were completed in 1954 and saw John Mc Givern rename the Dance Hall as the Rainbow Ballroom of Romance, the title it holds to this day. The inception of this name came from John’s introduction at dances of the “romantic interlude”, a fifteen minute period where he would join the band on stage dressed in a black suit, white shirt and black bow tie, to sing romantic songs. In between verses of these songs John would ask the dancing couples to get to know each other (if they had not done so already) by shaking hands, exchanging greetings, etc. Spot prizes were also awarded to lucky couples. Also during the “romantic interlude” the hall lights would be dimmed and the men folk would be encouraged to take their lady friends to the bar for a cup of tea or a mineral (no alcohol in those days) before the end of the dance.
It is believed that a lot of happy marriages resulted from such meetings, hence the addition of “The Ballroom of Romance” to the name of the hall. During the great years of the Showband era from the mid fifties to the early eighties all top bands played in the Rainbow. Bands such as Hugh Toorish and the famous Clipper Carlton from Strabane were regular performers on the Rainbow stage. In fact it was the Clippers (as they were popularly known) that introduced the Showband scene. Other bands to come regularly to the Rainbow included Brendan Bowyer and the Royal, Dickie Rock and the Miami, Joe Mc Carthy and the Dixies, Seán Fagan, Sonny Knowles and the Pacific. the Royal Blues and Doc Carroll, The Black Aces, Maurice Mulcahy Band, Eileen Reid, Gay Mc Intyre from Derry, Big Tom and the Mainliners, Susan Mc Cann, Philomena Begley, Joe Dolan, Brian Coll and the Buckaroos, Larry Cunningham and The Mighty Avons and hundreds more, as at that time it was recorded that there were more than six hundred show bands operating in Ireland. One of the most popular bands with the Rainbow dance patrons was the great Melody Aces from Newtownstewart, which featured singers David Coyle and Shay Hutchinson. There were no dances held in the Rainbow or any other hall in the diocese of Kilmore during the seven weeks of Lent - except on Saint Patrick’s night. This was a rule by the clergy of the diocese. During these weeks of no dancing John would organise concerts and other types of entertainment. Local bands also played in the Rainbow, such as the Breffni Dance Band from Glenfarne;
The Emerald Valley Band from Rossinver; The RhythmSwing Band from Glencar; Kevin Woods Band from Drumshanbo; Frank Murrays band from Carrick-On-Shannon; The Starlight Band from Derrylin; The Red Sunbeam from Swanlinbar; Pat O’Hara and his bandfrom Strandhill; the Golden Eagle from Glangevlin; The Overlanders and many more. The Rainbow found further fame in the 1970’s when the well-known Co Cork writer William Trevor, who when passing the venue became intrigued by the name and was inspired to write his book “The Ballroom of Romance”. Sometime later a BBC producer, having read the book decided to make a film based upon it. As the Rainbow had by then taken on a modern look, the film’s directors decided to look elsewhere for a more old -fashioned hall. This they found in west Co Mayo and most of the filming took place there.
The film “The Ballroom of Romance” was subsequently screened worldwide. In the mid seventies, when John Mc Givern and his wife Maureen retired from the business, the hall was leased to Donegal’s GWD Promotions and later to Tony Loughman Promotions, Monaghan. Dances continued in the Rainbow until it was purchased by the Parish. Some improvements were carried out and it continued to run successfully, with dances still the main entertainment focus.By the mid-nineties however, most of the well known show bands had either retired or disbanded and due to the advent of music lounges and nightclubs, the number of people attending dances in the Rainbow and similar establishments began to deteriorate. For this reason, dances seldom took place in the Rainbow for a few years.In 2004 Glenfarne Development took out a twenty year lease on the Rainbow and in 2008 completed Phase I of a very ambitious refurbishment plan. The Group’s plans for The Rainbow include an Archive incorporating a museum of Showband memorabilia, a Tourism
Information Centre and a fully functional community centre catering for young and old.As well as dancing, many other types of functions take place in the Rainbow, including Ceili dancing, Old Time Dancing, and dancing classes for both children and adults, traditional concerts, variety shows, discos, card games, drama workshops, music classes, keep fit classes, fundraising auctions and sales for local organisations.May 2011 saw the open night of a very successful CD launch as a fundraiser for the development of the ballroom and it featured twenty Showband legends; plus “The Rainbow in Glenfarne” written by John Farry and sung by Nathan Carter. The great night resulted in a three hour double DVD being produced with a great night of nostalgia in the original “Ballroom of Romance”. The DVD and CD can be purchased locally and online – see www.rainbowballroomofromance.com.
In 2012 the group were successful with an application to Leitrim Development Company under the LEADER programme to complete the project. The group received a grant of €485,349.37. This along with our own funds and a loan that we secured from Western Development Commission means that approximately €700,000.00 will be spent on finishing off the Rainbow Project.
The people of Glenfarne are very proud of the Rainbow Ballroom of Romance, as it is the only genuine and original Ballroom of Romance, not only in Ireland, but also in the world. 2014 Sees The Rainbow Reach The Big 80! Phil Hogan officially opened the newly-refurbished ballroom on Saturday, 9th November 2013.