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Glenfarne (Irish: Gleann Fearna) is a small village located in the north of County Leitrim, Ireland. It is the site of the original "Ballroom of Romance", which inspired a short story by William Trevor and was subsequently turned into a movie by the BBC. Glenfarne also has a lakeside forest near Lough MacNean, a lake bordering parts of Northern Ireland, including towns such as Belcoo in County Fermanagh.


The name of the village is an anglicisation of Gleann-fearna, meaning "valley of the alders".[1] It was referred to by this name in the Annals of the Four Masters as far back as 1235[2] as a location in West Bréifne and under a further derivation, Clann-Fearmaighe as far back as 1217, where it is cited as "containing 20 quarters of land".[3]

Historical remains

  • Tottenham House Ruins – in Glenfarne Forest Park, which formed part of the Tottenham estate, the ruins of the old house, Glenfarne Hall, can still be seen. The estate passed from the Tottenhams to Edward Harland (of Harland and Wolff shipbuilders, Belfast). Edward Harland died in Glenfarne hall on 24 December 1895. It's said that the flag stones that line the Titanic quay come from quarries in Glenfarne.
  • Myles Big Stone – this is thought to have been an ancient place of worship. Nearby is the Fort of Sile O'Reilly which is reputed to have been an ancient burial ground and a famine graveyard for infants.
Sculpture in Glenfarne Forest

Glenfarne Demense

The Glenfarne Demesne lies on the shores of Lough MacNean. The lake marks the border between the counties of Leitrim, Cavan and Fermanagh. In 2000, a cross-border and cross-community arts project was concluded with the aim to promote the bonds between the communities of these three counties through the medium of sculpture and the visual arts. A number of sculptures are still in the Demesne.[4]

The Ballroom of Romance

Rainbow Ballroom of Romance, 2008

The late John McGivern built the Rainbow Ballroom in Glenfarne in early 1934. John was a native of Brockagh, Glenfarne, and was well known in Sligo, where he lived up to his death some years ago. He managed the Savoy Cinema in High Street up to its closure. In his late teens John, like so many other people from North Leitrim, emigrated from Glenfarne to the U.S.A. While there he was involved in the radio and entertainment business. However, it was always his ambition to set up his own entertainment business, and he returned to his native Glenfarne in the early thirties. He purchased a plot of land at a crossroads in the townland of Brockagh Lower along the N16 Enniskillen to Sligo road, where he built the hall, locally known as the "Nissen Hut"; it got the name due to the fact that the galvanised iron construction looked like the old British army huts. The hall opened its doors for the first time in early 1934, known then as McGivern's Dance Hall. The first function held there consisted of a variety concert followed by the first dance in the new hall with music provided by the local Glenfarne Dance Band.

Over the next two decades or so the hall went from success to success, and in 1952 John decided to extend the venue. With the arrival of rural electrical supply to the area, the newly extended hall became much more modern, and a few years later a piped water supply was laid on. Up until this time lighting consisted of Tilley lamps and other oil lamps, and the toilets were chemical toilets. This more modern hall continued to attract huge crowds of dancers from a very wide area. Dances were usually held on Sunday nights with an odd weeknight dance and with various organisations such as the Garda, nurses, teachers etc. holding their annual dances there. When John reopened the hall after the 1952 renovations he renamed it the Rainbow Ballroom, the name it holds to the present day.

During the great years of the showband era from the mid fifties to the early eighties all the top bands played in the Rainbow. Bands such as Hugh Toorish and the famous [Clipper Carlton from Strabane were regular performers on the Rainbow stage. In fact it was the Clippers (as they were popularly know) that introduced the showband scene. Other bands to come regularly to the Rainbow included Brendan Bowyer and the Royal, Dickie Rock and The Miami, Joe McCarthy and the Dixies, Sean Fagan, Sonny Knowles and the Pacific, The Royal Blues and Doc Carroll, The Black Ages, Maurice Mulcahy Band, Eileen Reid and the Cadets, Donnie Collins Band, Gay McIntyre from Derry, Big Tom and the Mainliners, Susan McCann, Philmeona Begley, Joe Dolan, Brian Coll and the Buckaroos and hundreds more as at that time it was recorded that there were more than six-hundred showbands operating in Ireland. One of the most popular bands with the Rainbow dance patrons was the great Melody Aces from Newtownstuart] and which featured singers David Coyle and Shay Hutchinson. There were no dances held in the Rainbow or any other hall in the diocese of Kilmore during the seven weeks of lent – except on St Patrick's Night. This was a rule by the clergy of the diocese. During those weeks of no dancing John would organise concerts and other types of entertainment. Local bands also played in the Rainbow such as Breffni Dance Band from Glenfarne, The Emerald Valley Band from Rossinver, The Rhythm Swing Band from Glencar, Kevin Woods Band Drumshanbo, Frank Murray's Band From Carrick-on-Shannon, The Starlight Band, Derrylin, The Red Sunbeam from Swanlinbar, Pat O'Hara and his band from Strandhill, The Golden Eagle from Glangevlin and many others.

It was during those dancing times in the Rainbow that John introduced what he called "the romantic interlude". This interlude consisted of approximately fifteen to twenty minutes during the dance when John dressed in a black suit, white shirt and black bow tie, would join with the band on stage and sing such romantic songs as "Have you ever been lonely" the popular Jim Reeves song "He'll have to go" and others. In between verses of these songs John would ask the dancing couples to get to know each other – if they had not done so already – by shaking hands, exchanging greetings etc. and he would also give out spot prizes to lucky couples, which were usually admission tickets for future dances. Also during this romantic interlude session the hall lights would be dimmed and the men folk would be encouraged to take their lady friends to the bar for a cup of tea or a mineral – no alcohol bar in those days – before the dance would end. It is estimated that a big number of happy marriages resulted from meeting at these interludes. From this, John then added "The Ballroom of Romance" to the name of the hall, that is how this name came to be.

Apart from the dance programme John also held many concerts during his years in the business. Many of the top groups and solo performers played in the Rainbow from both Ireland and abroad including The Dubliners, Foster and Allen, Dublin City Ramblers, Wolfe Tones, Anna McGoldrick, Joe Lynch, Ruby Murray, Bridie Gallagher, Daniel O'Donnell, Eileen Donaghy, Altan (Irish group) Gallowglass Ceili Band and many others. Also from abroad came the Harry Gold Orchestra, Ronnie Ronald, Victor Sylvester Big Band and Scotland's favourite The Jimmy Shand Ceili Band. When John and his wife, Maureen, retired from the business in the mid-seventies, he leased the hall to the G.W.D Promotions Group from Donegal and later to Tony Loughman Promotions, Monaghan. Both of these dance promoters continued to have dances in the Rainbow until the parish bought it over about twenty-six years ago. After carrying out some improvements it continued to be run very successfully with dances being the main entertainment. However about the mid-nineties most of the well-known showbands had either disbanded or retired and with the advent of the singing and music lounges etc. numbers attending the dances in places such as the Rainbow began to fall away. The result meant that very few dances took place in the Rainbow for a few years. For the past few years the Glenfarne Development Trust have been organising very successful dances and last year (2004) the group leased the hall from the hall owners, St Phelims Diocesan Trust. The development trust are now holding dances on a regular basis with very good results as the dancing crowds are coming back once again to the Rainbow. Apart from dancing, many other types of functions take place in the Rainbow such as ceili dances, dancing classes for both children and adults, traditional concerts, variety shows, discos, card games, drama workshops, music classes, fund raising auctions and sales for local and national organisations.

The well-known Irish writer William Trevor while passing through Glenfarne many years ago noticed the hall with the writing on the front wall "Ballroom of Romance". After making some inquiries about this name on the hall he decided to write what became a very interesting book of that name. Sometime later a BBC television producer, after reading the book, decided to make a film, and so the film The Ballroom of Romance was screened worldwide. As the Rainbow had by this time taken on a modern look the film directors decided to look elsewhere for a more old-fashioned hall. This they found in west County Mayo and most of the film was recorded there. After seventy-odd years of non-stop dancing and entertainment in the same rural venue John McGivern left a considerable legacy. The Rainbow is still going strong with many top acts playing at the venue such as recent visitors The Wolfe Tones and Louise Morrissey.

Walking Tours

Glenfarne is an appropriate starting point for a long walk on the Leitrim Way which takes the walker south towards Dowra. The Leitrim Way leads over the hills and through an 'Area of Special Conservation' related to the bird life of the area.


Rail transport

Glenfarne railway station was the Sligo, Leitrim and Northern Counties Railway line from Eniskillen to Sligo opened on 1 January 1880 and finally closed on 1 October 1957.[5] The nearest operational station is Sligo railway station.

Coach/bus transport

Glenfarne is a stop on the Bus Éireann Sligo-Manorhamilton-Enniskillen Expressway route 66. It is also served by local route 470 on Saturdays only (Sligo-Calry-Leckaun-Manorhamilton-Kiltyclogher-Glenfarne).[6][7] Bus Éireann services from Manorhamilton stop at Sligo bus station which is beside Sligo railway station.


  1. ^ Joyce, P. W. (1887). The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places. I (5th ed.). Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son. p. 515. 
  2. ^ O'Donovan, John, ed. (1856). "From the earliest period to the year 1616". Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland. VII (2nd ed.). Dublin: Hodges, Smith and Co. p. 64. 
  3. ^ O'Donovan, John, ed. (1856). "From the earliest period to the year 1616". Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland. VII (2nd ed.). Dublin: Hodges, Smith and Co. p. 29. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Glenfarne station" (PDF). Railscot – Irish Railways. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  6. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-09-28. Retrieved 2014-07-06. 
  7. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-10-25. Retrieved 2013-05-04.

See also

Coordinates: 54°17′N 7°59′W / 54.283°N 7.983°W / 54.283; -7.983