Showbands: How Ireland Learned to Party

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Showbands: How Ireland Learned to Party


Ardal O’Hanlon takes a break from his sojourn in Paradise to rattle up and down Ireland in a VW camper van. The purpose? To trace the uniquely Irish phenomenon of the showband. A lively, evocative hour of archive and anecdote explores the circumstances that spawned these “mobile jukeboxes in shiny suits”, oiled their wheels and finally consigned them to history.

For 30 years from the 1950s they toured – north and south of the border – playing English and US hits to nightly shindigs (of up to 3,000 people in their heyday). Born of church dances where stern arbiters went round with a ruler to make sure the Holy Ghost could come between couples, showbands were a huge industry, despite a backdrop of rising sectarian violence – one story from 1975 is just horrific.

It all flew in the face of the musicians’ ethos of playing across the divide. As Steve Travers of the Miami says, “A showband is a perfect blueprint for integration, for working together,” while bandmate Des Lee adds, “As entertainers, we stayed away from politics.”


The showband was a uniquely Irish phenomenon. It was a movement that saw thousands of young people travel up and down the country in the late '50s, '60s and early '70s to the `Dancehalls of Romance' to be entertained by the Royal Showband, the Miami Showband and Big Tom and the Mainliners, and individuals including Dickie Rock, Joe Dolan and Brendan Bowyer. Ardal O'Hanlon looks back at the phenomenon, examining what triggered the infamous era, the people involved, and its eventual end in the 1980s.

Cast & Crew

Presenter Ardal O'Hanlon
Director Mike Connolly
Executive Producer Alison Millar
Executive Producer Emma Cahusac
Producer Mike Connolly