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Chicken suppers, bright lights and busloads of those pesky city slickers!

November 16th, 2021 3:00 PM

By Kieran O'Mahony

The disco lights and large dancefloor at the Venue nightclub in Clonakilty – the times they are a changin’.

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They were the heady days of the dancefloor in West Cork – and almost every town had at least one ‘sweaty’ venue. Our reporter looks back, with rose-tinted disco glasses, on the groovy days of the glitter balls

THERE was a time when The Southern Star would be full every week with glitzy nightclubs advertising their sparkly wares.

From the late 70s onwards, these were the good ‘ol days of discos and nightclubs.

Mind you, they weren’t celebrity hotspots like New York’s Studio 54 or Dublin’s Pink Elephant. They were often more sawdust than glitter, but they fed our dancing appetites on many’s a Friday or Saturday night. And if you were bold enough (or even brave enough), you could also go on Sunday night, and even on a Thursday. Some nights the ladies got in free before 11pm – an idea that probably wouldn’t fly in these PC days now.

From Whispers in Bantry to the Wheel Inn in Castletownbere, or Cleos in Bandon, these were the glory days of nightclubs where every self-respecting town had at least one good venue.

Dunmanway had Gatsby’s, Skibbereen had the Eldon, while Clonakilty had The Venue. Plenty of relationships – and even marriages – were sealed on those very wobbly dancefloors under the bright, neon disco lights.

Take Bandon, for example. Cleos was no doubt one of West Cork’s best-known venus for many young men and (women) of twenty. You even had busloads from Cork city arriving down at the weekend.

Of course, those pesky city slickers weren’t always there just to sample the disco lights and the ambience.

Plenty of fist fights took place outside ‘Burger Park’ after the doors closed at 2am, much to the amusement of the other sozzled punters, weary bouncers and frustrated local gardaí.

It always struck me as strange that the city folk would come down west when they had their choice of great clubs in the city, like Chandra’s, Spider’s, Zoe’s and DeLacy’s.

It wasn’t quite murder on the dancefloor, but close enough.

And it always made for an interesting distraction if you had the misfortune of not getting ‘the shift’.

Or, if you had no spin home. There were no taxis back then, so we often walked home – several miles. They have it so easy these days!

What was great about Cleos was that you got live music, too, and even a chicken supper (in order to adhere to the archaic but strict licensing laws of course).

Who didn’t love some chips, chicken and mushy peas to go down with a pint bottle of Bulmer’s or bottle of Satzenbrau (or Ritz if you were posh) on a Saturday night?

I sampled plenty of chicken suppers after we managed to get past the notoriously strict and snarly bouncers.

Sure, we got to see the likes of Linda Martin & Chips, Smokie, Gina Dale Haze and The Champions and who can forget Joanna & Tequila Sunrise? Johnny Logan even appeared there at one stage following his Hold Me Now Eurovision win back in 1987.

Come the late 80s, Cleos was no more and morphed into Wilbury’s, an altogether much slicker affair, with cutting edge smoke machines, a new dancefloor and lots of mirrors.

Out went the bands – and the slow set, much to the disappointment of everyone – and the DJ was now the focal point, especially as the house and dance music scene took off. But the girls still danced around their handbags.

At one stage, Bandon even boasted three nightclubs with Wilbury’s, occasional discos at the Bandon Rugby Club and Heaven (remember Heaven?), so we were truly spoilt for choice.

Nearby in Dunmanway, Gatsby’s became the West Cork mecca for dance music fans and it was a common sight to see buses from across West Cork pull up at the Square on a Friday night. It was a case of shirts off for the lads and pumping house tunes all night that established it as the ‘sweat’ capital of West Cork.

Bantry also had two venues – Whispers and Amadeus – so there was plenty of dancing to be had down west. Whether it was Rock the Boat or the Macarena, clubbers from each decade had their chosen song and party piece. Thankfully, there were no mobile phones back then to capture our awkward dancing moves … and God knows what else!

Sadly, those heady fun-filled nights are no more. I hung up my dancing shoes and disco crown many moons ago but I won’t rule out a return to the dancefloor of a Saturday night just yet, strutting my stuff – albeit very carefully, and provided I’m home and tucked in bed by 1am.

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