Documentary on One

Love Letter to Wezz

Memories of Dublin's 'notorious' teen disco. From 'Slow sets' to speed kissing. Hair gel, fake tan and the Drunk Room. From "Lady In Red" to "Maniac". From 4 hours of screamingly-good freedom to 40 years of love and lasting friendships. (2017)

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Jessica Hayden

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Documentary-maker: Ronan Kelly

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Love Letter to Wezz

In 2015, the weekly disco for 13 and 14-year olds at Old Wesley Rugby Club in Donnybrook, Dublin closed.   Thus ended 40 years of one of the country’s most talked-about discos.  

For newspapers, it was where children went to get drunk and get up to no good ("LOCK UP YOUR DAUGHTERS!").   For Dubliners, they were shocked to see, every Friday night outside The Wezz, young girls tottering along in heels that were way too high and skirts that were way too short. 

But for those who actually went to The Wezz, what was it like?  

Jessie Hayden is 23 and she and her friends went every week to Wezz in 2008/9.   In this documentary, she recalls her own nights there ("freedom from adults for a few hours every week") as well as talking to Wezzgoers from the 80s, 90s and 00s.

First, there were the clothes.  While Maeve, in the 80s, wore "lumberjack shirts and Doc Martens", Kalianne, in the 00s, wore Ugg boots that were "heinous".  

Then the hair and make-up:  The boys wore so much hair gel "you could break a piece off", while the girls wore blue eye shadow "that made it look like you had conjunctivitis" and Niamh, in the 90s, had no GHDs, "so we ironed our hair."

Niamh also had a standard Wezz problem for girls: how to get out of the house in clothes your mother would deem ‘inappropriate'.  Her solution, like many other girls, was to leave in a tracksuit ("as if I was going to PE in school") and change behind the petrol station across the road from the rugby club.

Once inside The Wezz, there was the music.  The Bangles, Tribe Called Quest, Maniac, Madonna, Tiesto, Rihanna and, to end the night, every night, in the late 00s, Mundy and Sharon Shannon’s "Galway Girl".

While the newspapers were obsessed with sex acts at The Wezz, Kalianne, who became a bouncer, said they monitored couples ("leave room for Jesus!") and, if things got out of hand, they would threaten to ask the parents to come down to the disco, "a fate worse than death".

And things couples did changed over the 40 years.  In the documentary, Cillian, who went in the 80s, explains to Jessie what a ‘slow set’ was.   While Jessie explains how dancers got together in the late 00s:  a boy would hover behind a girl while she was dancing with a friend, another girl.  If her friend gave her the nod, the girl would turn around, kiss the boy for about 30 seconds and then continue dancing.  The boy would move on.

According to Jessie, drink was more significant.  Young Southside Dubliners even had their own name for getting drink, "fishing" - this involved hanging around outside off-licences and getting older people to go in and buy it for you.

There was no drink served in the Wezz but teenagers would arrive having had drunk alcohol.  As the night wore on, if they couldn’t handle it, they were taken to a ‘drunk room’ or ‘wet room’ where medics were on standby.

For Jessie and those she interviewed, while The Wezz was all about escaping school and parents for a few hours and screaming your head off to latest hits, the lasting effect for many of those there was to form groups of friendships that endured long after they graduated to discos for older teenagers.

And Cillian and Maeve, who met at The Wezz, even got married.

Documentary On One - "Love Letter to Wezz", RTE Radio 1, August 12, 2017 at 1pm.

Produced by Jessie Hayden with Ronan Kelly

First Broadcast at 1pm Saturday August 12th. 

An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One, the home of Irish radio documentaries.

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