The Plaza Ballroom has been at the heart of the community in Buncrana for more than 60 years. News that it has been significantly damaged by Sunday night’s fire on the town’s Main Street has been met with great sadness by locals.
Last August marked the sixtieth anniversary of the opening of the Plaza Ballroom, and an extensive piece in the Donegal News looked back on what had been one of Donegal’s best known dance venues.
In recent years the Plaza has been used as a community facility and was the hub of all fund-raising events that went on in the town. It was also well-known as a popular bingo spot with bus-loads of gamers coming from across Donegal and Derry to try their luck.
The Plaza was originally owned by the Barr family, Eddie and Catherine and their children. The first Plaza was referred to as the old Plaza and was built by Eddie Barr and sons during World War Two when materials were incredibly scarce. In 1957, the Barrs decided to build what came to be known as ‘The Big Plaza’ or ‘The New Plaza’. At that time there were sheds where the main dancehall stands today.
Perhaps its most famous feature which brought renown from across Ireland, was its sprung dance floor, an innovation by Sean Barr, son of the owners, the like of which had never been seen before in the country.
Thomas ‘The Miller’ Doherty was one of many local men who worked on building the new hall, fitting it out and installing the innovative American Oak sprung dance floor for Eddie and Catherine Barr and their family.
The American Oak had been destined for a planned extension to the knitting room of McCarter’s factory that ended up not going ahead. Sean and Eddie Barr bought the wood, and Sean, a gifted engineering student, designed what would become the sprung floor. After putting his thoughts to paper, he bought 90 coil springs and installed a buffer system between them to prevent them from breaking.
“At the time, no one recognised the benefit of it – they just thought it was a moving floor. But later on, and today, people now realise what a wonderful dance floor it was – Sean was way ahead of his time. That floor is 4,000 square feet and was a sight to behold and feel when up to 2,000 dancers got their rhythm from the floor,” said Mr Doherty.
They used every carpenter in the local area that was available for work and when it came to constructing the concrete top for the stage, Eddie Barr, faced with a shortage of re-inforcing iron, dismantled some old brass beds in the house and used the metal for the frame.
All the curtains were made by Madeline Barr, daughter of the owners, on an old Singer sewing machine on site while Raineys of Letterkenny laid all of the carpet on the balcony.
Jimmy Crockaheeny (McDaid) made the railings which still surround the balcony today while Harry McGee cut all of the glass at the Building Supply on Main Street (now Oscar’s Restaurant).
The creation of The Plaza in its early days was a real community effort and that theme continued into the modern day when in 2002 it was bought by a locally based voluntary group for €1.4 million who assured it would be used as a community complex. Their plans, which came to fruition, saw the building being used in recent years as a theatre, concert, social and cultural centre for people of all ages.
Posted: 4:36 pm February 4, 2019