Hugo Duncan: Country roads, take me home... now you're much better to drive on
Forty years ago I made my first appearance as a singer at the renowned Gleneagle Hotel in Killarney, but only after what seemed like a never-ending journey to this landmark venue.
The roads in Ireland in the Seventies were definitely not meant for fast travel, nor were they conducive to maintaining a vehicle in the best working order.
I well remember taking almost eight hours to return to my home in Strabane because of the lateness of the hour, adverse weather and, of course, those treacherous roads.
Fast forward to last weekend, and things were rather different. I had accepted an invitation to perform at a show in the now quite spectacular Gleneagle, and while it was a hive of activity rather than the modest, uninspiring building that I remembered, the fact that I was able to get there in something like four and a half hours made the journey rather more satisfying.
With motorways criss-crossing Ireland nowadays, much of the stress and, indeed, danger has been removed from travelling.
Thus, when I arrived at the Gleneagle, I was in the ideal frame of mind to give my best on stage, which I like to think that I did.
If that was a bonus, then meeting up with old friends such as T R Dallas, Paddy O’Brien, Trudi Lawlor and Billy Morrissey offered me an opportunity to reminisce and swap anecdotes.
The welcome was overwhelming — the camaraderie warm and sincere and the food right out of the top drawer.
T R Dallas has had a number of hits but is best remembered for songs such as Daddy’s Girl, Twenty-one Acres of Land and, of course, monster hit It’s Hard to be Humble.
For many years TR, a brother of Tony Allen, who is one half of the internationally famous Foster and Allen, fronted his own band, playing at dances, festivals and other events throughout the country before he gravitated into the now flourishing social dancing scene where the emphasis is rather more on strict ballroom tempo.
Waterford man Paddy O’Brien still retains a strong fanbase in Ulster to this day because of the popularity he enjoyed in places such as the Bannville House Hotel in Banbridge, the Flamingo Ballroom in Ballymena and the Seagoe in Portadown.
The memories certainly came flooding back as we exchanged stories, and if the truth be told, each of us was trying to outdo the other.
As I absorbed the atmosphere at the Gleneagle, where current stars such as Michael English and Mike Denver fulfil weekly residency slots over the course of the summer, I could not help thinking of the way social habits have changed.
In the Seventies, dancing was the only show in town, with the venues unable to cope with the numbers that flocked to them on a weekly basis.
But with more sophisticated entertainment now available — and in the comfort of one’s own home too — it’s pointless to pine for the old days.
Instead, those of us still able to take to the stage must be thankful that we are still able to entertain people and help them to forget their cares, if only for a little while.
Time has moved on, but Killarney will always have a special place in my heart just the same.