20 May 2022

SLAUGHTNEIL FEATURE: South Derry's ballroom of romance

Couples share their experiences of the famous disco.

SLAUGHTNEIL FEATURE: South Derry's ballroom of romance

For many couples, Slaughtneil disco was more than just an exercise in adolescent revelry. It became the starting point for the rest of their romantic lives.

Slaughtneil disco ran from 1985 until the mid-2000s and thousands of teenagers from south Derry and beyond arrived on Friday nights and dutifully traipsed the hall in search of love.

The County Derry Post caught up with four couples for whom Slaughtneil will always be a special place.

Sarah and Eamonn Darragh

“One night out at Slaughtneil, Shay asked if I would go with Eamonn and that was it really.”

Kilrea man Eamonn Darragh his wife, Bellaghy woman Sarah have an age-old Slaughtneil ritual to thank for fate bringing them together back in 2002.

In this case, fate had a name.

“Whenever I was at primary school, I was friendly with a fella called Shay Quinn,” said Sarah.

“I played with him on the boys’ football team. He was the year above me and when I got to St Pat’s the year after, him and Eamonn were friends.

“One night out at Slaughtneil, Shay asked if I would go with Eamonn and that was it really. I saw him on nights out at Slaughtneil and in school, and that was how things started.”

The disco holds special significance for Sarah and Eamonn, whose relationship grew as the hills of south Derry reverberated to the incoherent sounds of Mark McCabe.

“Our nights out would have all been at Slaughtneil,” she said.

“You’d have been checking the Mid Ulster Observer every week to check if it was going to be a late night, or if it was a foam party.

“Then you had to be good to your parents all week and put the feelers out on a Wednesday or Thursday to see if you could go.

“Our nights out would have all been at Slaughtneil. Eamonn got the bus up from Kilrea and I would get it from Bellaghy on a Friday night, and we continued our relationship from there.

“If we both weren’t there, we wouldn’t have met each other, we wouldn’t have been married and having a baby if I hadn’t met him through Shay at the disco.”

Enda and Laura Heron

“We were doing the lap of the hall, as you do. I don’t have a great memory of it – Enda remembers more than me!”

For many involved with the GAA, the word ‘lap’ doesn’t conjure up many positive thoughts, but if you ask anyone who crossed the door of Slaughtneil disco, it’s a different story.

Laura Heron was embarking on a lap of the hall when she bumped into the man who would later become her husband, but they were lucky to be there at all.

“We met around the Millennium, when we thought the world was going to end,” she said.

“We were doing the lap of the hall, as you do. I don’t have a great memory of it – Enda remembers more than me!

“We had a wee kiss that night, but we met a year later, when we were 18 or so, going to the Elk and the sparks flew from then on.”

Even the soundtrack to the encounter belied its good fortune, as the pair met to the unmistakable sound of ‘Toca’s Miracle’ by ‘Fragma’.

Memories of going to the disco are still fresh in her mind.

“You were always excited to go, you couldn’t wait until Friday night came,” she said.

“We always got DCs Coaches from Bellaghy. That was part of the fun too, heading up on the bus for that opportunity to have fun with your friends at the weekend, after school was over.

“When you’re that age, going to Slaughtneil when you’re in fourth year or whatever, you think you’re an adult, that you know everything. You don’t realise that you were still a child.

“We got married in 2012 and were going out for about 11 years or so. We went to Australia for a year and came home and settled down from that point, but it all began in Slaughtneil hall.”

Jenna Mulhern and David Donnelly

“If he was driving about, we’d always meet at Slaughtneil and we started going steady when we were 18.”

When Dungiven woman Jenna Mulhern met her husband-to-be David, from Ballinascreen, his time at Slaughtneil disco had been brought to a premature end.

“He was actually known in Slaughtneil as ‘Davy Bash’, because he was always in rows,” said Jenna.

“He couldn’t come in because he was barred from the place for fighting – that’s why he had to drive about outside.

“We got talking, and then the following week, I met him again and we had our first curt.”

Jenna remembers her uncle leaving her and her friends over to the disco and having to suffer their excited, and quite vocal anticipation.

“My uncle used to leave us over and God love him, he had to listen to the biggest pile of rubbish in that car,” she recalled.

“Once we landed it was brilliant, meeting up with everybody and then sneaking out halfway through the night to meet Davy.

“Young ones now will never experience anything like it. We couldn’t wait to get dressed up on a Friday night and have a wee blue WKD on the way over.

“I know a lot who would have went to Slaughtneil and are still with the same people. I’d say a lot of people have met their first loves there.”

Kieran and Paula Tully

“I think it was a spur of the moment thing, but of course I said yes!”

There are dozens of women who can look back at Slaughtneil as the place where they met and their future husbands, but a much lesser number who were proposed to there.

Paula Tully’s husband Kieran, overcome by the intoxicating mix of perfume and freshly cut turf, popped the question after the couple left the hall for some air back in 1985.

“That particular night we came out to be on our own on the bus. I could nearly point out where it was sitting,” said Paula.

“We weren’t saying the Rosary now, but we weren’t doing anything bad either! That’s when Kieran asked me to marry him.”

“I think it was a spur of the moment thing, but of course I said yes. We went steady until just after I was 18. When you think about it now, it’s crazy how young we were.”

With Kieran from Ballerin and Paula from Glenullin, their story has a Romeo and Juliet feel, with love prospering amid the pitched battles going on around them.

“I remember one of my friends fell out with me for a month when I started going with Kieran, because he was from Ballerin and I was from the Glen!

“At that time, you had the gang of boys from the Glen that fought with the gang of boys from Ballerin. She thought I was being a complete traitor.”

The couple continued the Slaughtneil theme throughout their relationship, with DJ Terry McIlvar, who played on the very first night of the disco, performing at their wedding.

“Our weans think it’s hilarious, that it’s crazy,” laughed Paula.

“We had brilliant memories, I don’t regret a second of it. We’ll be 30 years married this August. If I was to do it all again, I would not change a thing.”

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