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Arcadia

The Arcadia of old, in the heart of St Patrick's Parish, has been raised to the ground. Many of us have had halyson times in this world-renowned dancing venue. Perhaps you would like to drop us a line on your particular memories. We are preparing an article for future publication and all memorabilia, photos, or anecdotes are most welcome*. Please e-mail mail@stpatrickscork.com

*The contributor's permission will be sought before publication, and all materials will be returned on request.

The following article is reproduced with permission from "The Northside Folklore Project" and first published in "The Archive" Issue Number 8, by authors Maureen O'Keefe and Francis Quirke.
Credits are also due to the sponsers of "The Northside Folklore Project"........FAS, Northside Community Enterprises and, University College Cork, Department of Folklore and Ethnology.

 

This famous Lower Road landmark is now just a memory, but lives on the hearts of Leesiders....

The Arcadia, more fondly known as ‘the Arc', was a famous Northside Cork dance hall on the Lower Road. Many people went in single, met their true love there and went on to marry. Michael Prendergast opened it in 1924, first as a roller-skating rink, which wasn't very successful. That option was tried twice more, the last time in the 1970's. It had several owners over the 79 years; first Michael Prendergast, who died in 1937, then his son Michael Junior, who died at the great age of 93 on Valentine's Day. 1984. His son Peter also ran the Arc for many years, coming up with the idea of the Blue Room, where it cost two shillings to get in and hear jazz musicians play on Sunday nights. The Prendergasts owned the Arcadia for 61 years before selling it in 1985 to CIE, who used it as a social club. the Arcadia became the first temple of sound in Cork and hosted many great acts, like Molly O'Shea's band in the 1930's or later on Pat Crowley.

Evening Echo journalist Vincent Power captures the atmosphere of the Arc's 1950's and 60's glory days in his book, Send 'Em Home Sweatin'. Peter Prendergast frequently had a thousand tickets sold before the box office opened on a Saturday night. Dancers got lifts from all parts of the country to the Arc: ‘On Sunday evenings in the early ‘60's queues formed from 8.30 pm outside the doors of ballrooms all over Ireland, where the air smelled of Old Spice aftershave and Sweet Afton cigarettes..... Crowds who have waited patiently for two hours on the street descend on the box office..... The Clippers (The Clipper Carlton Showband) are in town and no one wants to miss them. By 9 pm Peter is at the mike to make the formal introduction: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the stars of our show tonight, the wonderful Clipper Carlton!' Down by the Riverside is the band's signature tune, a favourite in Cork. The Clippers are an antidote to the rather staid orchestras that dominate the dance hall circuit. They are unlike any other band in the country....

In the early ‘50's The Dixies came on the scene playing jazz in Shandon's Francis Hall on a Saturday Night. The would pack the place out. Word got around about The DixieLanders, as they were called then, and instead of trying to compete with them at the Arcadia, Peter decided to book them as a relief band who would come on before headline bands like the Clippers. It was in the Arc in 1958 that the Dixies learned their trade. They would listen to the other bands' performances and take some tips from them. They would practice the bands' songs and sing them louder and better the next Saturday night.

For six weeks on a trot in early 1958 the Dixielanders played at the Crawford Technical School Hall to help out the Marine Students, dancing was from 8 pm to 11 pm, the admission was 2/6d. This brought a new generation of dancers and 'bobby-soxers' to big-time music. Dixies' founder Sean Lucey told us that's what it was all about, copying other bands and making it their own. Soon they had a bigger audience than the headline bands.

We asked Sean how they came to go professional and Sean replied that he was talking to Brendan Bowyer of the Royal Showband, who said ‘You should go pro, the money is great, I have £10,000 saved already!' Sean says: "Hearing that story, and with Peters persuasion, we decided to give it a shot. The only one who didn't want to was our lead singer, so we auditioned for a new vocalist, that's how Brendan O'Brien came to join as singer an rhythm guitarist in 1961." Peter Prendergast put 100% effort into the band, coming up with unique ways to advertise them, just as he had with the Clippers in the ‘50's. When the Dixies arrived back in Cork at about 6 in the morning after a gig, it was not unusual to see the light on in the Arc, where Peter would be working away on new ideas to promote them. In October ‘63 they became the first showband to make personal appearances in Paris and Rome. Peter knew that nobody would believe that they had performed in these places, so he took postcards of scenes such as the Eiffel Tower and St. Peter's Square and superimposed the band's picture on the cards. He posted the cards to DJs and columnists back home. The postcards confirmed it was not fiction.

The Arc opened six nights a week; admission ranged from one shilling and threepence to ten shillings on a special night such as the Muskerry Ball. The most famous events were the Cork Farmers' Union dance, the Stephen's Night party, and of course the New Year's Eve dance where there were streamers, hats and presents hanging from the ceiling. In the ‘40's and ‘50's you had the; lads with their bicycles. On a busy night, the bicycle park inside the lower door was usually packed. "Would you like a crossbar home?" was a popular pick-up line, which usually answered with acceptance or a snort of refusal. If he were a gentleman he would lay his coat on the crossbar for the lady to sit on. Dancing styles ranged from the foxtrot and quickstep to the Charlston, rumba, tango and jive. In the early ‘70's The Four Tops and Rory Gallagher played there, as did U2 later. It was a huge status symbol for aspiring acts to appear there - if you could make it in Cork, you could make it anywhere.

Many people went to visit the old place while it was being demolished, some even taking bricks for souvenirs. Member of the various show bans also went. We asked Sean Lucey and Brendan O'Brien how they felt about the place being demolished. Their reply was, "Very sad to see the place go, but it hasn't been the same since the mid ‘80's it had its time". Peter Prendergast had asked Sean and Brendan to buy the Arcadia in 1982. When asked if it would have made a difference had they had more insight into the building's destiny they replied, "No, it would have cost too much to insure. By the ‘80's showbands were gone, discos and pubs were the 'in' thing. It would have never taken off second time around"

It seems like every Cork person went to the 'Arc' at one stage or another, from the 1920's right through to the ‘90's, and all have fond memories of it. Today the great dance hall is just rubble, the site soon to be a forty-eight unit block of student apartments with an underground car park.

Note: there are some wonderful articles about Northside Cork of long ago produced in ‘The Archive'. Parishioners, particularly those who are abroad might wish to take a nostalgic journey into the past and this can be done by logging on to ............................... www.ucc.ie/research/nfp

 

Cork ..................1st. December 2007

A reasonably large group of 'latter day rockers' turned up at the site of the old Arcadia Ballroom to meet with members of famous bands who played at this venue in days gone by. The real purpose of this gathering was the 'opening' of the 20 brass inscribed plaques fitted into the footpath in memory of the past.

Among the gathering was Bishop John Buckley who blessed the event and those who brought so much joy to so many people, all so long ago.

Some of the Showbands of the '50s, '60s and '70s who entertained the 'Multitudes' at the Arcadia Ballroom, Cork, are listed below and honoured with a plaque:

Airchords, Arrivals, Clipper Carlton, Capitol, Cadets, Champions, Dixies, Drifters, Freshmen, Miami, Mainliners, Michael O'Callaghan, Mighty Avons, Nevada, Pacific, Plattermen, Royal, Regal, and Victors.

 

Pics by JK@ 01122007

Email received from Eric MISTELET on 3rd. May 2008 for which we are very grateful. Perhaps some of our readers might recall Eric of some 26 years ago and may wish to make contact, Eric's email address is :

<misteric69@hotmail.com>

Hello there,

I found your web page at http://www.stpatrickscork.com/history-arcadia.htm this
evening after I had the idea to look after the Arcadia in Google while thinking
about the past.

I was in Cork in August 1982 as a student to improve my english since I'm a french
fellow.
Cork was my first time in Ireland (out of 3 times) and I still have such nice
souvenirs from there !
I also have very particular souvenirs from the Arcadia since I was there almost
every evenings improving not only my english, but also roller skills and also
discovering the real youth Irish life thanks mainly to very nice Irish girls I met
there...and also their brothers & friends ;-).

We were a group of french students boys and girls and I do remember that at our very
first time at the Arcadia, we were told by the boss that we could have discount
prices if we could come back with other french guys... We came back the days afters
with almost all the french students of our group and never paid again our entry...
except the bar oops... :-)

This is really the place where, during 3 weeks, I used to learn most of my "real"
english, much better than at school.

Thanks to your article, I learned the history of the Arcadia this evening ... almost
26 years later ! Better later than never...

I just wanted here to send all my thanks to people from Cork that were so nice when
I had the chance to visit this city where it was really one of the best souvenir I
have from some any summer vacations I had "out of France" during my student time.
I was "only" 16 at that time but.... memory is still there.
Thanks also to every person I could have met there , especially at the Arcadia
during August '82..... I still remember our favorite song at that time "come on
Eileen" from Dexy's Midnigth Runners & the emerald Express.
With a special thinking to this nice brunette called Jane who was living not far
from the Arcadia and used to work there :-)

Unfortunately, appart from the ones that remains in my brain, I do not have any
pictures from that time. Sorry for that.

Eric MISTELET

We are very grateful for comments below from Ber in Australia, thanks Ber.

Very fond memories from the 60's and early 70's. Saw some great bands including Acker Bilk, Victor Sylvestor Jnr and many others including the Irish Show bands. Sad to know the place is no longer there. Visited when it was a Sport club but unfortunately didn't get any photos.

Ber Australia