Sixty six years ago tomorrow, on July 17 1949, Seapoint Ballroom was officially opened by Joe Costelloe, Mayor of Galway, at 10pm.
The sense of anticipation was palpable leading up to the event. “When visited a few days ago while the men were at work, the place reminded one of the interior of a huge bee hive. There were men in twos and threes in all parts of the building putting the finishing touches to a year’s hard work, and tidying and cleaning the place so that everything would be spick and span for the grand opening. Built on the most modern lines the building includes on the ground floor a huge restaurant of approximately 4,000 square feet. When fitted with 90 tables, this will provide accommodation for 350 diners. The kitchen will provide all the confectionery for the restaurant. There will be four small shops in the front of the building which will sell ice cream, sweets, etc. The ballroom situated on the upper level has a floor area of 5,200 square feet which will accommodate over 2,000 dancers. Surrounding the floor is a balcony with seating for a few hundred people.”
It was built on the site of the former seawater baths run by Jim and Mary Cremin. At the time, Salthill was really a village with a few hotels, B&Bs, and shops. Noel Finan realised that young people coming to Salthill wanted a bit more than just the fresh air and to be clean. He sold the family pub (now Killoran’s ) and borrowed heavily to put up the ballroom. It was built in 13 months by McNally’s, which built a breakwater around the perimeter to control the tide. Noel Finan remembered a lot of wheelbarrows during the construction but no cranes.
The maple dance floor, the balcony (for spotting talent ), and the overall luxury and comfort and scale of the ballroom made it an instant success and attracted all the top Irish bands as well as many well known names from abroad. Countless marriages started in this ballroom, which also doubled as a concert hall, a conference venue, an electoral count centre and, when Salthill Church was being renovated, a church. Seapoint transformed Salthill into a 20th century tourist destination. It was a monument to Noel Finan’s vision.
However in the early 1980s it was becoming clear that traditional ballrooms could not survive in competition with the new and trendy discos with their full bar licences. Noel would only allow wine in his restaurant, and he refused to compromise, so he closed down the ballroom in 1985.
Our photograph was taken in 1952 and shows the complex in all its glory. There is an exotic chip van parked to the right. The electricity pole seems to be almost as high as the building. You can see part of a wall behind the pole where they used to hang posters. The registration of the car on the right is IM 9034, the centre car was ZM 1352, and the one on the left was DI 2265.
The Galway Archaeological and Historical Society has just published volume 66 of its journal. As always it is a fascinating mix of articles on subjects like excavations at Terryland; the disastrous Red Cross mission to Spain, 1943; early 19th century cross carvings in Galway, etc. It is profusely illustrated and terrific value if you include membership of the society which is €20 per annum. Highly recommended, in good bookshops.