The Carnegie Arts Centre was established in 2008 as a cultural centre for the people of South Kerry and the Beara Peninsula. It is envisaged as a hub for artistic activity in the local community for present and future generations.
Since its foundation in 1670, Kenmare, the Jewel in the Ring of Kerry, has been a haven of artistic and cultural activity. The centre aims to foster the creative arts in the local community and to attract national and international arts performers to the splendid surrounds of Kenmare.
This multi-purpose arts centre has a 140-seat theatre, a full-size cinema screen, a performance area and a gallery space for art exhibitions. Technical features include high-quality stage lighting and sound system fully equipped for concerts, lectures, drama and exhibitions.
At the official launch of the centre in November 2008, Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue said, “Facilities like the Carnegie Arts Centre have an important role to play in enriching the quality of life for people in their own place.”
Kenmare in Irish (Neidín) means “little cradle” or “little nest”. The Carnegie Arts centre will nurture the artistic child in the little cradle that is Kenmare.
Carnegie Arts Centre – Our Story
In the late nineties, seeing the need for a theatre and associated art facilities in the Kenmare area, a small group of local visionaries formed a committee with a view to supporting and promoting all aspects of Irish art, culture and tradition with the aim to offer world class music, song, dance, art and drama. Their dream was to rejuvenate the defunct Carnegie Hall. After 13 years of painstaking work, including fundraising, lobbying and encountering objections along the way it succeeded in creating a contemporary, purpose-built, 140 seat theatre and gallery space fitting for the cultural requirements of a rural town and its hinterland in the 21st. century.
The old Carnegie Hall is a fitting location for the new centre as the building is steeped in history. Andrew Carnegie was the Scottish-American benefactor of libraries throughout Ireland. Between 1897 and 1913, Carnegie promised over £170,000 to pay for the building of some 80 libraries in Ireland, of which 62 survive to the present day, including Kenmare.
Like the present Board of Directors of the Carnegie Arts Centre, the enthusiasts of the early 1900s, who saw the need for a library and associated community centre, met with many obstacles with regard to plans and feasibility of a library. However, like the present Board, they persisted and their plans were eventually approved. A grant of £1,500 was sanctioned and building work was started in August 1913 under the supervision of Anthony Scott.
The library and community hall were opened in 1916. As well as a library, the building was multi-purpose. Cumann Na mBan held first-aid sessions there, and the Irish language enthusiasts held classes on the premises. Concerts and dances were also common events. However, its purpose was short lived as the political events of the 1920s unfolded. It was taken over and occupied by the British Army for a period of seven months in 1921, and later was burned down during the Civil War in September 1922.
By the end of the Civil War, the building was a burnt-out shell. £3,000 was awarded for its refurbishment and it was reconstructed in 1924 under the direction of R. M. Butler. Some changes were made to the original, but the new building retained the two storey part to the front and the single storey to the back. The latter section was extended to almost three times its original length and a stage was an addition in the new plan.
By 1926, the Carnegie had returned to its original purpose, supporting the cultural life of the area, hosting a variety of events from dances to card games, concerts, Saturday night ceilís for the youth, FCA training, etc. The reading library was confined to the upstairs section. However, with the progress of time, it began to fade as a venue with the Silver Slipper Ballroom opening in the mid 1960s and, later, the Riversdale and Kenmare Bay Hotels being more attractive venues. The hall slowly deteriorated into a ghost venue and became defunct as a social outlet for the wider Kenmare area.
The newly furbished Kenmare Carnegie Arts Centre was officially opened by the Minister for Arts, Mr. John O’Donoghue in May 2008. It was wonderful to be able to open the Carnegie to the public once again and do what we do best - bring drama, arts and culture to the people. In its first year it was run by Deryn O’Callaghan and, since May 2010, it has been managed by Claire Bunbury and her team, who are passionate advocates of the arts. During that time, full programmes of film, concert, drama and the visual arts have been developed. Monthly matinees are the delight of many who recall the Carnegie’s dancing days, while weekly film nights compensate for the absence of a cinema in the town. The Carnegie has made its mark as one of the four main art centres in Kerry.
Attached to it, a branch of the Kerry County Library continues to provide a great selection of reading material as well as a warm reading room and an internet service. Under the stewardship of Carmel Moriarty and Breda Harrington, it has become an open, friendly, welcoming service where children, in particular, are encouraged in their reading.
Culture is an instrument of diplomacy. Gifted dramatists are one thing Ireland has never been short of. Names like Beckett, Synge, Wilde, Joyce, Friel, etc. resonate just as much at home as they do abroad. The arts can multiply Ireland’s reach far beyond the efforts of all our other agencies combined. Museums, galleries, theatres and libraries are important educational institutions. They have been a place of repose, of public education and a repository of collections that have challenged and excited us. They impact on our wider cultural life.
The opportunity to perform on a national stage and work with top class artists is an experience that young people countrywide would love to have. The Carnegie Arts Centre gives them that very opportunity. There are many young, and not so young, talented people in the Kenmare area and, by being part of the Carnegie Arts Centre, they can mix with the best and really learn their craft.
Our aim in the Carnegie Arts Centre is to develop confidence, creativity and communication skills for all age groups in a fun-filled, safe environment where every individual is valued. Young people are encouraged to use their imagination and to develop all their talents while making new friends and learning social skills that will give them a life-long social edge.
Andrew Carnegie’s legacy to the town has been enormous, and has been built on over the years by all those who gave of their time, expertise and financial support to promote the well-being of the wider community. The Carnegie Arts Centre endeavours to continue with that same spirit and has provided an excellent platform for our social and cultural activities. It is now up to the people to make use of it. Attending music, art, drama and film events is a great way to lift oneself out of the ordinary. Evenings with events start with a cup of tea or glass of wine in the lobby, which also acts as a small art gallery, and you can drop in anytime to look at the artworks, pick up a programme and have a chat with Claire and her team about upcoming events.
In a climate in which cut-backs have become commonplace, it is refreshing to see worthwhile projects getting off the ground. In order to continue doing this, funding is of vital importance to cover the day-to-day running costs of the Centre, from lighting to heating, from staff wages to productions. The most important thing to realise is that these events just don’t happen. It is the combined efforts of volunteers, professional staff, programmes and other financial resources. We need to maintain a certain level of investment in the arts or we will go backwards. That means maintaining a good level of support and high quality facilities. Funding is vital to this aim. We need your help to continue with the legacy of Andrew Carnegie. All donations will be greatly appreciated, no matter how small.
Kenmare is nestled in scenic South Kerry, ideally situated on the Wild Atlantic Way. It is well placed for access to the famous Ring of Kerry and the Beara Peninsula of West Cork, and is in close proximity to Killarney and the equally scenic areas of South West Cork. It is a very popular holiday spot with lots of hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, pubs, walking trails and, of course, the Carnegie Arts Centre.