By Shauna O’Grady 

At the age of 15, my mother told me I would be accompanying my 17 year old sister, Mary, to the local dance that night.

It was the early Sixties and up till then she had been chaperoned by my 19 year old brother, Liam, but he had emigrated that week.

I was ordered to take his place.

Dressed up to the nines in my sister’s clothes, my face made up with her panstick, mascara and lipstick, I looked and felt like a ‘painted doll’.

Before we left the house, my mother’s commands came thick and fast: “Come straight home after the dance! Don’t be alone with a boy. blah ..blah..blah.”

Her instructions were always overacted impersonations of warnings from the Twenties which had been tommy-gunned at her by the nuns. “And you,” she said, looking straight at me, “Look after your sister.” I almost laughed! We arrived at the large well-lit dance hall shortly after 10.30 p.m.

As we entered, I saw a grim line of youths backed against one wall while the girls, who were much more plentiful, stood against the opposite wall.

My sister’s pals spotted her immediately and I was welcomed into the group. There was beautiful blonde-haired Lillian; Kate, who was attractive, but who rarely smiled, and ‘plain Joan’, who was wearing a figure-hugging dress which, given her shape and size, wasn’t the best of choices.

Even though a band was playing popular tunes, there were only a few people on the dance floor.

“Where are all the lads,” I asked. Linda’s reply surprised me: “They don’t come in until after the pubs close.”

Around 11.30 p.m. the dance-hall suddenly became alive as Brendan Bowyer and the Royal Show Band burst onto the stage and began to perform. By then the hall was packed to capacity.

Standing by the wall with Kate and Pauline, I felt like a piece of livestock in an auction. Linda and my sister had been dancing since we arrived and we saw little of them for the rest of the night. The next to disappear into the dance-floor was Kate, who at 19 was actively seeking a husband.

Only two ‘wallflowers’ remained, Pauline and I. “Do you come here often?” asked my first dancing partner as he swept me onto the dance-floor. This is my first dance,” I replied shyly. “The band is great, isn’t it,” he continued “Yes,” I whispered. My shyness prevented me from saying anything else.

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