25 May 2022

SLAUGHTNEIL FEATURE: Spinning the soundtrack to a timeless era

Terry McIlvar was DJ at the first ever disco.

SLAUGHTNEIL FEATURE: Spinning the soundtrack to a timeless era

A packed hall in the disco's early days.

Terry McIlvar was only 19 when Henry Kearney walked into his kitchen and set him on journey that would last over 20 years.

“I was doing discos in Maghera club, Ballynease and Ballymaguigan and there was a fella Henry Kearney [from Slaughtneil club], who was a neighbour of my aunt’s,” said Terry.

“He came in one evening and he said, ‘we’re thinking of doing a disco, would you be interested in starting it?’ and I said ‘aye, no problem’.

“So that’s how it started, and I ended up doing every fortnight, while filling in between with other discos.”

Under the banner of Apollo Entertainment, Glenullin native Terry had been establishing himself as one of County Derry’s top DJs since forming the company at just 15.

At the time of its inception, Slaughtneil added to a comprehensive list of local GAA clubs who had similar ideas, but crucially, they secured their own transportation.

“At that time, I was established anyway, because I was doing Maghera club and Ballynease and Ballymaguigan,” said Terry.

“There were a fair few people going to those teenage discos at that time and Slaughtneil was just another option.

“I think it took a month, or six weeks for things to kick in, after word got about. When the buses started to come, it began to kick off.

“They were getting transported up. They were young and they didn’t have to have their mother and father having to leave them up."

As word spread and the disco began to grow in stature and reputation, the crowds funnelled down the narrow roads that led to the GAA club.

That volume of hormonal adolescence in a confined area was sure to cause some friction, and from his perch on the stage, there wasn’t much Terry missed.

“You had the odd row and then the bouncers went in,” he recalled.

“Sometimes it was clean mad. There was a brave bit of fighting. You had the Dungiven boys and the Bellaghy boys, then there was Rasharkin and the Draperstown crowd.

“One thing about the Slaughtneil bouncers was that they stood on the chairs right round the side of the hall and they saw everything. If anyone looked at each other at all, they were straight in.”

Terry’s tenure as DJ at the famous south Derry venue spanned three decades, and with the march of time came the evolution of the music he was spinning.

The rock and pop of the late 1980s gave way as the rave of the mid-90s found its way to rural County Derry.

“In the 80s, you had the rockers, the slow sessions, so many types of music,” recalled Terry.

“I remember then the rave thing started to come in instead of the standard music. Before that it was the 80s and general 90s kind of stuff.

“The first real rave song was called ‘Acid’ and that was one of the first dance songs I was playing in Slaughtneil at the time.”

The hall’s growing reputation as south Derry’s romantic hotspot had an added benefit for the young DJ, as he was able to use the opportunity to create his own work.

“After Slaughtneil I was flat out doing weddings for people who met there,” he said.

“It was a spin-off, because when they were getting married, I was doing the disco because that’s where they’d met.

“At that time, they might have been 15, but 30 years ago, people were getting married a lot younger, so it wasn’t that long after they met in Slaughtneil that they were getting married.

“I started doing Walsh’s Hotel in Maghera in about 2001 as well, and you had that Slaughtneil crowd following you then. It worked out alright for me!”

Terry was privileged to accommodate a number of special guests on the stage, most notably Neighbours star Guy Pearce in 1989, but not all visitors came by way of an invite.

He said: “The Provos landed once – thankfully I wasn’t on that night!

“There were a few groups fighting – I think it was the Draperstown boys fighting the Bellaghy boys – and what they did was give you a list of names that you had to read out.

“They were told if they didn’t behave themselves, the boys would be round. Maybe some chap got a bad beating or a car got badly damaged, and it had got out of hand.

“That was a way of keeping them in line, but they were in and out and away again in maybe 10, 15 minutes.”

Like many who made their way up the the Halgain Road over the twenty years that the disco was running, Terry’s best memories are of the people he met.

“I was there until near enough the end. I think I did nearly 19 years of it – a long pull, but it was enjoyable, you got to know a lot of people,” he said.

“You could have been talking to somebody from Dublin that had come up to stay with friends, or Galway. I remember talking to a girl from Tipperary one night.

“They might have been staying the summer with relations and that was the reason – to get to the Slaughtneil disco.

“That’s my claim to fame, I was the first ever DJ at Slaughtneil disco.”

Terry spun the soundtrack to much of County Derry’s adolescence. The disco may only have lasted three hours on a Friday, but its influence continues to be timeless.

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