20 May 2022

SLAUGHTNEIL FEATURE: If you build it, they will come: Slaughtneil’s famous disco days

How one 17-year old's dream sparked two decades of dancing.

If you build it, they will come: Slaughtneil’s famous disco days

Up to 20 buses would file through the gates every Friday.

Shane Cassidy was still a minor back in 1985, but his foresight belied his years, and it was his suggestion that led to a disco that altered the lives of generations of teenagers in south Derry.

Incredibly, given the roaring success that became of Slaughtneil disco, the idea did not meet with immediate approval in the committee room.

“I was laughed out the door,” recalled Shane.

“They were talking about making money for the club and I suggested running a disco in the hall. They all said, ‘how would anyone pay money to go to a disco in Slaughtneil?’

“At that time people would barely pay money to come into the club, let alone come to a disco! I said if they ran a bus to it there would get a fair crowd, but it was sort of shot down.

“Everybody was cautious. There would have been nothing in the hall only céilí dancing and to bring in what would have been called ‘British music’ at that time was controversial.”

Despite their initial scepticism, the committee mulled over the idea and decided that they would give it a go, and after a few quiet opening weeks, it exploded.

Shane wasn’t surprised at its popularity. He maintained the attitude that would spawn the 1989 film ‘Field of Dreams’. If you build it, they will come.

“I suppose at the initial meeting, people thought nobody would go, but at that time the youth were all looking discos, they were looking for somewhere to go,” he said.

“Nobody anticipated at that time that it would grow. None of the buses would even come at the start, because the money wasn’t guaranteed, so they asked for a fee.

“The first few nights, there wasn’t a full hall, but at the finish up there was barely any room in it.”

Everyone has the same reaction when you mention Slaughtneil disco. They grin. It is a reaction that suggests they are silently filtering memories in their head for public consumption.

After the GAA club went on their remarkable run of success in the mid-2000s, people began to point to the disco as the foundation of their success, but its influence goes further than that.

For many, it conjures up memories of a hugely happy time in their lives, when their week revolved around getting dressed up and ready to head off for the bus on a Friday night.

Audrey Donaghy posted a tribute to the disco on her Facebook page last week that resonated with hundreds of people who passed through the narrow door to the hall as teenagers.

In it, she describes the disco as a ‘rite of passage’ that has slowly been eroded as the years have moved on and teenagers’ entertainment options become more varied.

The disco spanned the period of the Troubles that led up to the Good Friday Agreement, and part of its success was that it provided a safe outlet for young people to have fun.

“You were still in the middle of the Troubles at that time,” said DJ Terry McIlvar.

“The weans were being taken on a bus to a GAA club that was being bounced, parents were sure nothing was going to happen that way.

“Nobody was heading to cities like Derry or Belfast at that time, they tried to stick within their own community boundaries. At Slaughtneil, 90% of the weans were from a 15-mile radius.”

As the years wore on, that radius continued to grow, with new bus routes popping up as far away as Greysteel, while busloads from neighbouring Antrim and Tyrone were consistent.

The Mid Ulster Observer would religiously carry the disco’s advertisement each week, with details of the entertainment, the price and crucially, if it was a late night or not.

A late night meant the disco lasted an extra half hour, until 1.00am, and carried with it an extra charge of 50p, but it caused ripples of excitement throughout south Derry.

The mid-2000s brought a decline in numbers at Slaughtneil as other pursuits began to take over and the disco was finally discontinued around 2006.

Its legacy can be seen in the smiles of all those who attended and heard in the laughter of all the stories shared and passed on – no doubt in embellished or redacted form.

It had huge benefits for the club as well, who, for over 20 years, maintained a hugely popular disco alongside all their development on the pitch.

“The amount of stewards and bouncers took a lot of time and a lot of work,” says Shane Cassidy.

“We took a chance on it. If you make a pound, you make a pound and if you make a thousand, you make a thousand. You were taking a chance to try and raise money for the club.

“When the money did come in, they were spending it on the club. Everybody got new sets of jerseys then!”

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