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Top Hat Online Exhibit: Showbands Era 1960s

Before embracing the alternative scene of the 80s and 90s, the early days of the venue saw many showbands walk through its door. It even had its own resident band: the Top Hatters, led by Jim Farley.­­

While artefacts and memories of these shows remain hard to find these days, we do know that the following bands played ­­at the venue: Tony Kenny & The Sands, The Indians, Joe Dolan & The Drifters, D.J. Curtin & The Kerryblues, The Friends, The Times, The Swarbriggs, The Freshmen, Dickie Rock & The Miami, The Gentry, The Capitol, The Virginians, Rob Strong & The Plattermen, Brendan Bowyer & The Royal Showband, The Big 8, The Dreams, Red Hurley & The Nevada, The Cotton Mill Boys, The Arrows, The Conquerors, The Dixies, Earl Gill with Sean Dunphy & The Hoedowners, The Pacific, Cahir O'Doherty& The Dazzle Band, Teddy Palmer & The Rumble Band, Tweed, Larry Cunningham & The Country Blue Boys, Gene Stuart & The Mighty Avons, The Trixons, The Montana, Eileen Reid & The Cadets, Derrick and the Sounds, The Real McCoy, The Glen Curtin Band... and many others.

Interview with Nora, age 72

Interview courtesy Niamh Ballantyne 

Q: What was your favourite part?

I was only once at a dance in the TopHat. I don’t remember much about it except that it was a classy pace. 

Q: How were the gigs different back then?

Girls waited to be asked to dance.

Q: What did you wear?

A miniskirt, stiletto heels, hair back-combed and sprayed.

Q: What did other people wear?

Girls wore miniskirts, men wore suits. 

Q: How is the current Dun Laoghaire scene?

The TopHat is gone. I don’t think there is any dancing venue there now. 

Q: Did you keep any souvenirs from it?

No. 

Q: Did you go with someone?

With my friend Peggy 

Q: Did you meet new people?

I didn’t meet any new boyfriend there. 

Q: How did you get there and where did you go afterwards?

I don’t remember. Bus I suppose. 

Q: Where did you get tickets from and how much were they?

We got tickets at the door. 

Q: How did you hear of it?

We knew all the dance venues back then from word of mouth, I suppose

Q: What was the atmosphere like?

Happy. Not as noisy as nowadays. 

Q: Is there a memory in particular that stands out from going to the TopHat?

People who went there were very sophisticated. 

Q: Do you think that gigs nowadays have the same ‘hype’ as they did back then?

Back then you were very excited about the weekend dance. 

Q: Do you remember the TopHat when it was a roller ring? 

I remember bringing the children there. 

Tim Pearson

I was only in the Top Hat Ballroom on 5 or 6 occasions and that was to do my Intermediate Certificate exams over the space of a week in 1969. 

The normal exam venue for our school (Kingstown School) was the Dún Laoghaire Town Hall but it had been sequestered for elections. I did my exams under disco lights. I was so appalled at the conditions that I wrote to the papers and the Irish Times published my missive. I had also forgotten that some of the exam papers had been stolen and there had been a teacher’s strike! Never had state exams so much drama! The only thing I remember that I did not put in my letter was that if you were sitting Honours Papers they were I think printed on pink paper and were especially hard to read under the Top Hat lights.

Interview with Frank, aged 78

Interview courtesy Niamh Ballantyne.

Q: What was your favourite part?

The bands were always top-class Showbands of the sixties i.e. ‘Clipper Carlton’, ‘Royal’, ‘Dixies’. 

Q: How were the gigs different back then?

Everyone went along to dance to the music. 

Q: What did you wear?

The men all dressed up in suits, shirts and ties. 

Q: What did other people wear?

The ladies wore dresses and high heeled shoes.   

Q: How is the current Dun Laoghaire scene?

No dance halls now. 

Q: Did you keep any souvenirs?

I kept nothing. 

Q: Did you go with someone?

Always went with other lads. 

Q: Did you meet new people?

Yes, I met plenty of girls. 

Q: How did you get there and where did you go afterwards?

Got there by car and went home by car afterwards. 

Q: Where did you get tickets from and how much were they?

Tickets at door. Price ten shillings, which was expensive.

Q: How did you hear of it?

Posters. 

Q: What was the atmosphere like?

Crowded but great. 

Q: Is there a memory in particular that stands out from going to the TopHat?

It was a very posh ballroom and very few country people went, it was mainly Dubs. So a bit intimidating- especially for the girls. 

Q: Do you think that gigs nowadays have the same ‘hype’ as they did back then?

I don’t think you can compare. 

Q: Do you remember the TopHat when it was a roller ring? 

Yes, but I was never in it. 

Showbands Gallery - click pictures for an enlarged version

Alan Reilly's Aunt Collette and Uncle Tony at the Top Hat (1962) courtesy of Alan Reilly.

Alan Reilly's Aunt Collette and Uncle Tony at the Top Hat (1962) courtesy of Alan Reilly.

Photo courtesy of an interview with Kay Brady.

Photo courtesy of an interview with Kay Brady.

Exterior of the Top Hat in the 1970s courtesy of Classic Dublin Gigs

Exterior of the Top Hat in the 1970s courtesy of Classic Dublin Gigs

Photo courtesy of an interview with Kay Brady.

Photo courtesy of an interview with Kay Brady.

The Vikings at the Top Hat (1960s) courtesy of Irene Moran

The Vikings at the Top Hat (1960s) courtesy of Irene Moran.

Photo courtesy of an interview with Kay Brady.

Photo courtesy of an interview with Kay Brady.

Michael Leahy

Here's my only Top Hat memory, as I had left Dún Laoghaire before being old enough to join in the real fun 'n games.

At the time, Sallynoggin still had an annual procession from the church out to the football field, with billowing yellow and light blue flags and altar boys shuffling behind the priests. We still had to kneel and pray for the Angelus at six o'clock. We still had benediction once a month.

As if that wasn't enough, for some reason I was brought to the Top Hat one dark night at about the age of 10 or 11 for a screening of a documentary about apparitions in Portugal. My memory of it was that is was probably a 16-mm film. Being young and impressionable, I was suitably stunned by the miracles (the "dancing sun" and the fact that one of the girls could twist her head back at 90°).

Of the Top Hat itself, I remember nothing apart from the creepy malaise about what I was seeing on the screen. I remember walking very slowly back to the car in the car park not knowing what to say. It would be interesting to know who organised these screenings and to what purpose. But I can't help with that. If you could find a ledger for the Top Hat, you might find some interesting details. I think there were other screenings of that nature there.

Interview with Kay Brady

Interview conducted by Katie Brady-Rice. See Kay's photos in the photo gallery above.

I have interviewed my nanny, Mrs. Kay Brady, 73-year-old Tallaght woman. Kay has attended quite a few concerts in the Top Hat to my surprise, including, Dickie Rock and the Miami Showband, Brendan Bowyer and the Royal Showband and Eileen Reid and the Cadets. She does not remember the exact year, but it was when she was about 18 years old, which would be 1965-66. She always went with her good friend Nuala.

Dickie Rock and the Miami was the concert she could remember the most (lucky her). Nuala and Kay got a bus from Tallaght into town and then got a bus from town to Dun Laoghaire. They had to queue for about 45 minutes, and she was always afraid the security would come and stop the line if the venue was at maximum capacity and they would have to journey all the way back to Tallaght.

It was pay at the door as she remembers, and she thinks it was 10 shillings to enter. According to Kay the venue was absolutely jammers. The cloak room was 3 pence to put your coat in, which was called a thruppenny bit to her. The boys stood on the left side of the crowd and the girls on the right. Kay and Nuala went alone but sometimes met friends from work just by chance. 

She says, ‘Fellas used to ask, ‘Would you like an orange?’ they meant a fizzy drink, and they would bring you over and pour you a fizzy orange. It’s mad to think of nowadays’

The concert ended at around 1am so no buses were running to get home. Kay explains that it was very common to hitch a lift home to Tallaght from anyone with a car. Because there was no alcohol served at the venue, some people drove. Some of the boys that drove would fill their cars with people and would give anyone a lift home.

She explains that ‘all the lads were so nice and wouldn’t mind giving people a lift home, people sat in the boot of the car and everything.’

She remembers another night after a different concert, it was freezing cold when they came out of the Top Hat and they could not wait to get home, Nuala and herself hitched a lift home from two boys on mopeds. By the time they got home their whole legs from their ankle to their knee was covered in ice. Sometimes they were only dropped halfway home, and they walked the rest of the way. You would always have to walk some of the way, it was either before or after the hitched lift. 

She remembers that the women used to wear big skirts with underskirts underneath made from horsehair, she says ‘they used to cut the legs of ye.’ Anything for fashion though! She also used to wear bell shaped dresses with a pair of flat ‘wispy’ shoes or ‘spindle’ heels. The wispy shoes were pointy and made for dancing. Dresses were made from the material taffeta and her hair was always back combed up and out.

Great memories were made and shared in the Top Hat Dun Laoghaire. We had a great laugh during the interview about all of her adventures!