Dancing like it’s 1942 to wartime favourite tunes

The 75th Anniversary of US Troops coming to Northern Ireland at the Ulster Hall in Belfast. The event organised by Belfast City Council aimed to bring back memories of music and dance from the 1940s and war time camaraderie, featuring the Belfast Jazz Orchestra.
 Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
The 75th Anniversary of US Troops coming to Northern Ireland at the Ulster Hall in Belfast. The event organised by Belfast City Council aimed to bring back memories of music and dance from the 1940s and war time camaraderie, featuring the Belfast Jazz Orchestra. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

The Ulster Hall played host to a special event yesterday to mark the 75th anniversary of US troops arriving in Northern Ireland.

Organised by Belfast City Council, the old style dance aimed to recreate the mood of 1942 with a swing band performing wartime favourites and US troops mingling among a female-dominated crowd of willing dance partners.

From L-R Mike Gilmore, Bill Eames and Alan Hamilton at the Ulster Hall event to mark the 75th anniversary of US Troops coming to Northern Ireland. 
Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

From L-R Mike Gilmore, Bill Eames and Alan Hamilton at the Ulster Hall event to mark the 75th anniversary of US Troops coming to Northern Ireland. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

For one lady it proved to be a very emotional occasion.

Marie Brennan’s father was in the US Airforce, having met her mother from Co Meath following World War Two.

Although she considers herself to be an American, Marie now lives in Northern Ireland with her husband whom she met in Austria.

She said: “My father and mother met in London around 1949. I’ve spent most of my life back and forth between America and England, but now I call Northern Ireland my home.”

Marie Brennan remembers her father Neil McGhee, a US airman. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Marie Brennan remembers her father Neil McGhee, a US airman. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Marie said her father served in Vietnam and Korea and was also sent to Cape Canaveral.

“I’ve nearly been in tears so many times,” she said of yesterday’s event.

“My mother and father are both dead and this has brought back so many happy memories of them.”

Also attending the event was 93-year-old Bill Eames, a flight lieutenant with the RAF during World War Two.

Marie Brennan's father Neil McGhee who served in a number of conflict as a US airman.

Marie Brennan's father Neil McGhee who served in a number of conflict as a US airman.

Mr Eames, who is originally from Enniskillen, was being trained in the US when American troops arrived in his homeland.

The pilot, who made one of the first D-Day landings in his glider, said dances such as the one taking place yesterday were not really his scene, though he added it had been a “pleasant day”.

Joyce McMullan, 86, said she remembered the US servicemen being in Northern Ireland but had not met any personally.

Joyce herself came to Northern Ireland from Jamaica when she married a soldier from Bushmills.

John Graham along with Jenny Haslett of the Northern Ireland War Memorial organisation at the 75th anniversary event. 
Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

John Graham along with Jenny Haslett of the Northern Ireland War Memorial organisation at the 75th anniversary event. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

A resident at Sydenham Court, a supported housing scheme for people living with dementia, Joyce said she loved life in Northern Ireland and really enjoyed get togethers like yesterday’s anniversary event.

John Graham, 87, said the Ulster Hall event brought back memories of the first time he was there to see a boxing match between Benny Lynch and Jimmy Warnock.

“I must have been about 10, and I remember my dad pointing up to the ceiling above the ring at the gas lights,” he said. “It’s changed a bit since then.”

He said the American troops had taken command of the Plaza Ballroom in Belfast, adding his family had enjoyed a memorable Christmas there thanks to their US hospitality.

The American troops in attendance at the dance were a group of history enthusiasts from Wartime Living History.

Joyce McMullan enjoyed the dance in the Ulster Hall. 
Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Joyce McMullan enjoyed the dance in the Ulster Hall. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker