Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sepia Saturday #237: 'Tripping the light fantastic' in the ballrooms of Dublin

Mary Ball and Michael Geraghty on the right with friends on their way to a night of dancing.
My mom Mary is holding a box of chocolate given to her by my dad Michael.
Mom recalled this photo as taken early in 1952, a couple of months before her 21st birthday.
She was 20 years old, and they had recently become engaged.
For a while I have been away, in England and in Ireland conducting research for my history work and attending an Irish Studies conference, but now I am home and ready to step back into the swing of things with Sepia Saturday. There could not be a better subject than dancers and chiffon because it reminds me of the stories my dad and mom used to tell me about their dancing days back in Dublin.

When my mom and dad, Mary and Michael, were 'courting' they often went ballroom dancing with a large group of friends. Dad used to call it 'tripping the light fantastic', a phrase popular in the 1940s, which means graceful dancing to musical accompaniment, and in the case of my parents, dancing in an especially graceful manner. According to one of Mom's sisters, they were a stunning couple on the dance floor, moving beautifully and attracting more than their fair share of attention. Their usual haunt was the Olympia Ballroom in Dublin, but they also danced at the Hotel Metropole and the famed Gresham Hotel.

When I was a child, I used to daydream about Mom and Dad going dancing, and imagined her dress swirling as they waltzed around the dance floor, so journey back in time with me, to those evenings when Michael brought his girl Mary out to trip the light fantastic on the dance floors in the ballrooms of Dublin City.

Mary loved to get dressed up. It took her out of the everyday world of duty and discipline that she knew at home. Mary said Michael never looked so fine as he did in his evening clothes. Everything about him was beautifully pressed and finely presented, from the top of his mass of wavy blond hair to the tip of his perfectly polished shoes. More often than not, the beautiful evening wraps and fur stoles Mary wore were borrowed from older relations. The little jewelled evening bags Mary carried were typically the result of months of saving the money she earned at various jobs.

When Michael arrived at her home to pick up his girl Mary, he usually brought with him a small bouquet of flowers, or a corsage Mary would wear at her waistline or décolletage, along with a beautiful assortment of Butler's chocolates in a box wrapped with a lovely ribbon. Before he was allowed to escort her out for an evening of dancing, Michael was required to come into the Ball home at 7 pm, to pray the rosary with Mary and her family, as it was their practice to do this every evening. Stern warnings about proper behaviour followed, given to them by Aunt Alice, and then they were off to enjoy themselves.

Unfortunately, I am unable to identify everyone in the image, but here are the names of those I do know:
Seated on floor: all unknown
Seated in chairs, left to right: Mary 'Mollie' Magee Halpin, Mary Ball, Mary 'May' Halpin Daly Barnwell, unknown
Standing, left to right: unknown, Michael Geraghty, William 'Willie' Halpin, Richard Barnwell, Seamus Barnwell.
One of Mary's favourite events was a charity ball, a dinner/dance, at the Gresham Hotel. Everyone in their group of friends pitched in as much money as they could, and they hired a car to take them to the hotel. Mary said she felt like royalty as the car pulled up in front of the Gresham. The driver opened the car door and gently took her hand to help draw her out of the car. She giggled to herself over all of the people watching them, knowing full well that she, her beau Michael, and their friends had spent their last ten pence to pay for the tickets to that dance and to hire that car. She loved feeling as though, for just a few minutes, their group of friends was the centre of attention that night.

After my parents and brother emigrated to Canada, and I came along, there were fewer evening soirées. There was no ballroom in the city in which they settled, and their days of tripping the light fantastic were fewer and far between. Nevertheless, anytime Mom and Dad had the opportunity to go dancing, they looked forward to it with delight. When they did go to dances, in the early evening while Mom was getting ready, Dad would sweep me up into his arms and dance me around the room happily proclaiming, "We're off tonight, we'll be tripping the light fantastic".

My mom used to say that my dad had 'a terrible habit' of tucking her up under his arm so that she looked
as though she was tipping sideways. Mom didn't much care for this photo, but I love it.
It is 1949, Dad is 20 years old and Mom is 18. Dad looks thrilled (and maybe a little nervous) to have her on his arm.
Mom made the evening gloves she is wearing.

My mom described this dress and wrap as having very fine lace trim
 and little pearl beadwork over the floral fabric on the bodice.
My mom had cut-out the photo to make it look like a fashion doll.
I have loved this photograph of my mother ever since I was a young child.
Be sure to stop by the Sepia Saturday Blog to see how others have interpreted today's inspiration image, and perhaps you'll be inspired too.


Copyright©irisheyesjg2014.
Images in this post originally appeared  in 2012.

16 comments:

  1. What a beautiful selection of photos. I love the story of having to say the rosary before you went out dancing. Classic!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks very much for your comments Alex. I love the story of the rosary before all evenings out too, another part of Aunt Alice's strict rule over the Ball household.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  2. My parents would go dancing dressed up like this around 1950 in Dublin and I have some photos of them in their fine apparel.
    They emigrated to Canada with me in 1957.

    On a side note, my great grandmother was a Halpin.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks very much for your comments Jackie. I'm glad to know you have photos of your parents too. Our Halpin connection comes via my granduncle William 'Willie' Halpin and his sister Mary 'May' Halpin Daly Barnwell. Their parents were Robert (1878-1960) and Kathleen Halpin (1878-1970) of 208 Pearse Street Dublin. Robert, his wife Kathleen, and Willie and Willie's wife Mary 'Mollie' Magee Halpin are all interred together in Deansgrange Cemetery. Any possible connection to your Halpin family members?

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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    2. Thanks, Jennifer for getting back to me.

      I wrote a post about the Halpins and included some documentation from the Irish census. I have a note in my mother's handwriting showing a William and Mary Halpin as well. Their parents would have been Mary O'Reilly and Alexander Halpin.

      http://junkboattravels.blogspot.ca/2013/10/sepia-saturday-oct-26.html

      Jackie

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    3. Hi Jackie,

      There may not be a direct connection, but I suppose they could be cousins. I have not done a lot of collateral research on the Halpin family since granduncle Willie was connected by marriage to my paternal grandmother Annie — married to her sister Mollie — but now this has me very curious.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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    4. I am curious too! I'll let you know if I find anything else out. I will call my maternal aunt in Montreal this week and see what she remembers.

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  3. I don't know whether my parents went ballroom dancing when they were young. When I was young they used to do square dancing.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks very much for your comments Postcardy. I'm not sure if my parents ever went square dancing, but Céilí dancing certainly includes square dancing formations, so they may have done.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  4. It's neat that you know about the handmade elements of your mother's dress. Standards for formal attire seem to have declined around here as it is rare to see people in public so well dressed as your parents and their friends.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks very much for your comments Mike. My mum was quite good with a needle, and in fact used to make evening clothes for my Barbie dolls when I was a child. I agree it is quite rare to see people dressed up these days; even wedding attire seems a little more casual.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  5. What a beautiful life! I love evening bags. I bought a couple at an estate sale even though I don't have that many occasions to use them. They are just fun.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for your comments Wendy. I feel the same way about evening bags; they are just fun.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

      Delete
  6. I noticed your mom's shoes in the third photograph. As someone who has two left feet, it's hard to imagine dancing in those shoes. It's too bad home movie cameras weren't available then; and now that they are, not many people dance the way your mom and dad did.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks very much for your comments Nancy. I feel the same way. My mom used to talk about those dancing shoes. The silver satin ones were her favourite. She said the heels were high and they had a small platform, yet she remembered them as very comfortable. Apparently somewhere in the archive of a news company there is film footage of them dancing at a charity ball at the Gresham; how I would love to find that footage. It would be wonderful to see it.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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Cheers, Jennifer

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