To mark the passing of William Trevor, RTÉ Documentary On One are repeating a doc first broadcast in 2012 entitled A Backwards Glance At The Ballroom of Romance

The documentary is essentially a 30-year old love letter from a teenage boy to a TV film. That teenage boy was - and is - acclaimed playwright, screenwriter, and actor Eugene O'Brien, author of Eden and Pure Mule.

Below, Eugene O'Brien writes about The Ballroom Of Romance, William Trevor and a summer to remember.

I remember the year 1982 very vividly.

A coming of age year. I turned fifteen in the October. I was beginning to see the world differently. Leaving the last remnants of childhood behind. In the summer there was a horrific murder outside my home town of Edenderry. We were all interviewed by detectives down from Dublin. The murderer turned out to be Malcolm McArthur. From horror there was unbelievable joy as Offaly beat Kerry with a last-minute goal scored by a neighbour of ours, Seamus Darby. I stood on the Canal End that day and have never since witnessed such scenes of almost hysterical joy. Wet crepe ‘Up Offaly’ hats everywhere. The unbeatable had been defeated. Anything was possible. My favourite album of the year was Springsteen’s very stark Nebraska. I did my Inter Cert as Paolo Rossi’s hat trick beat the much fancied Brazil team at the World Cup. The Hurricane won the World Snooker Championship. I had my first ever slow dance at the local youth club to a Commodores song and I saw for the first time, The Ballroom of Romance.

A scene from Pat O'Connor's film of William Trevor's Ballroom Of Romance

There had been a lot of hype about this BBC/RTÉ co- production. It made the cover of the RTÉ Guide and the whole country watched it but many were disappointed. It was too slow for some people. There wasn’t a huge amount of story. I was unsure what I thought until I watched it again when the BBC showed it a week later. Something clicked in me. I identified with Bridie. Her loneliness and her dreams. I taped the film and for years would take out this battered old VHS to show it to people. My own work was greatly influenced by the drama. Themes of loneliness, of lives stuck in a groove, alienation were all concerns in my play Eden and the subsequent film and the Pure Mule TV drama. Also though was the humour, the great talk or ‘spake’ of people.

John Kavanagh and Brenda Fricker in The Ballroom Of Romance

One of the great gifts of watching the Ballroom was that it introduced me to the writing of William Trevor. I have been a huge fan ever since and have read almost all of his work. I re-read Ballroom last Monday when I heard of his passing away. It’s barely fourteen pages long yet captures a whole community, and the inner life of one woman with an almost unbearable intimacy. I won’t bang on about him. Better to just read him. Discover him for yourself.

Two years after The Ballroom the BBC made another drama from a Trevor short story called An Evening with John Joe Dempsey. The drama was called One Of Ourselves and featured a small town boy’s fifteenth birthday and the choices he must make. It was also directed by Pat O’Connor and again featured the brilliant Cyril Cusack and Niall Tobin as well as Pat Leavy and Anita Reeves.

I’d love to see it again but it seems to have disappeared without trace.

The late Cyril Cusack in The Ballroom Of Romance

The thing I remember most about making this radio documentary was standing in the abandoned ballroom itself with Éamon Little and listening to the wind blowing through the place and the odd swallow flying around. A faded crisp packet that cost 2p blowing across the floor of the male toilet where the scene with ‘The man with the long arms’ and the three drunken mountainy men was shot. I recognised every inch of the building. Much smaller than I’d imagined. Éamon made the doc with me, well actually he made the doc. He recorded and edited and I was more the front man. The guy talking.

Documentary On One makers Éamon Little and Eugene O'Brien

Éamon’s grandfather justice Barra O’Briain, bought a lodge in Ballycroy in the thirties and left it in equal measure to his eleven children. Úna, Éamon’s mother had ten children herself. So Éamon has spent time in the area all his life but ironically didn’t visit that summer of '82 as his mother was seriously ill. Because of this he hadn’t heard about the film having been shot there the previous September. But Éamon was always very aware over the years of how much the film meant to the people of the area. He got to know sheep farmer Pat Gallagher who played the Man with the long arms in the film and he in turn introduced us to other locals involved. Also by total chance Pat Gallagher and others had organised a thirty year anniversary dance in the local community centre which we were able to hit off. So now the doc had a parallel structure... cutting from the fictional dance to the real life dance.

Éamon’s mother passed away that October of 1982.

So we are both delighted that our Documentary On One production, A Backwards Glance At The Ballroom of Romance, is being repeated in honor of the great William Trevor. 

Here’s the last paragraph of the story... ‘She rose, saying it was time to go, and they climbed over the gate again. "There's nothing like a Saturday," he said. :"Good night to you so, Bridie." He mounted his bicycle and rode down the hill, and she pushed hers to the top and then mounted it also. She rode through the night as on Saturday nights for years she had ridden and never would ride again because she'd reached a certain age. She would wait now and in time Bowser Egan would seek her out because his Mother would have died. Her Father would probably have died also by then. She would marry Bowser Egan because it would be lonesome being by herself in the farmhouse.'

The Ballroom of Romance. R.I.P William Trevor.

Listen here to Documentary On One: A Backwards Glance At The Ballroom of Romance.