Neil’s nostalgic tribute to Coach Inn heydays
Initially published as a serialised account in Blitzed magazine, Neill Scott has kindly shared his nostalgic account with us, which we are publishing here in condensed form.
You don't realise what you have until it's gone. In early November 2020, The Coach closed its doors permanently, a victim of lockdown.
This went unnoticed by many. But for hundreds of thousands of people the closure of The Coach was the end of an era.
In the late seventies, every Friday night my family used to visit relatives. Dad would drive through Banbridge, and every week we'd comment on the huge queue outside The Coach that snaked past Crozier's regency-style house.
And then disco fever took over my older sister and she joined that queue - and she'd relate tales to me of The Coach, its style, its music and teenaged dramas.
The Coach became a right of passage for Banbridge teenagers, and as the Troubles gripped the North, it became a meeting place, a hub, a place to be, to be seen, and to mix for many.
The Coach was renowned across the North of Ireland. People rarely travelled in to Belfast for clubbing, many thought the risks were just too great.
No wonder the queues on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings stretched far along the footpath - this was the place the new world was fomenting.
The generation who would make the world better congregated here for the serious business of being cool, listening to great music and meeting other cool people.
The Coach was an anomaly in an anomalous town. Banbridge wasn't segregated into Protestant and Catholic housing areas like most of the neighbouring towns. We all mixed outside sports and outside our segregated schools.
Provincial towns, like Banbridge, were attractive because of the ability to leave your colours at the door and because they felt safe. Banbridge night life thrived.
The late '60s disco nights in The Coach were the first in Ireland, and then in the next 20 years became the biggest, and best.
The disco expanded into a huge complex of cocktail bars, bars, patios, food bars and alternative dancefloors and party rooms, a place to feel part of something, a place where some of us lived and worked to get to at the weekends.
Catholics and Protestants, unionist and nationalist, met, mixed, laughed, danced and fell in love in this place apart, this place that left The Troubles safely at the door.
This short piece on The Coach really cannot convey the history and legacy it left.
Lots of families would not exist, only for it. Lots of Northern Irish music and culture and art sprang from it.
And we were bloody cool and beautiful draping ourselves around its walls, on its stairs, patios, foodbar and bars - and its dancefloor.”