Thursday, May 19, 2011

Athy Arts Centre / Margaret Brady / Garret Fitzgerald

Last Saturday night a large crowd gathered in the Community Arts Centre in Woodstock Street for a dual celebration.  One year on, the Arts Centre celebrated its first anniversary and the occasion coincided with the launch of Brian Hughes’ collection of Irish airs played on whistles, uilleann pipes and various stringed instruments.  It was a joyful celebratory occasion as volunteers involved in the running of the Arts Centre came together to reflect on the years happenings. 

Even before the Centre opened its doors a considerable amount of work and effort was required to get Athy’s first dedicated Arts Centre up and running.  That work started in earnest over six years ago when an approach was made to the Town Council with a proposal to develop the dispensary building and the adjoining Council yard located in Meeting Lane as a community arts centre.  Several meetings were held, resulting in the preparation of plans by an architect for the re-development of what was once part of Athy’s Quaker Meeting House.  However it was not to be as the Council, unexpectedly and to the immense disappointment of those involved, decided to proceed with a Youth Cafe Project which had surfaced months after the Community Arts Project had been first mooted. 

The promoters of the Community Arts Centre Project re-directed their attention to a private developer who expressed an interest in providing an arts space as part of a larger commercial/housing development for Athy.  Several months passed in negotiating with the developer and overseeing plans for the Centre which it was hoped would form a central part of the development.

It was at this stage that a discussion many years previously between Trevor Shaw and one of the promoters of the Arts Centre Project was renewed.  These renewed discussions centred around the possibility of the Town Council acquiring the Methodist Church for use as a Community Arts Centre.  Many inconclusive meetings were held over a period of almost two years and it was the dogged persistence of the original promoters of the Arts Centre Project which kept the idea alive.  After a considerable length of time all of the parties involved in the negotiations, the Town Council, the Methodist Community and the Arts Centre promoters were able to agree terms for the use of the Methodist Church as a Community Arts Centre by and for the people of Athy.

The celebration of the first year’s operation of the Arts Centre gave the Centre’s organisers an opportunity to acknowledge the cultural iconic status of one of Athy’s greatest sons.  Brian Hughes is a brilliant Irish traditional musician and the Arts Centre was honoured to host the launch of his latest CD, ‘The Clear Air’ on the same evening as the Arts Centre’s first year celebration.

The Athy Arts Centre provides an important element of the town’s cultural infrastructure, complementing the Heritage Centre, the Library, the Film Club and the numerous clubs and associations, all of whom provide cultural outlets for the people of Athy.  Cultural icons such as Brian Hughes, Jack L and John MacKenna are important to building an awareness of the importance of arts in our lives.  Likewise the Arts Centre is playing a pivotal role in promoting the arts in Athy.

Last week Margaret Brady died after a short illness.  Margaret was married to Kevin and I recall with pleasure the many times I met her.  She was usually in the company of her good friend Mary Kelly and Margaret always greeted me with a smile, a quip and a laugh.  She was a very cheerful person whom it was always a delight to meet.  My sympathy goes to her husband Kevin, her son and daughter.

As I write this news of the death of Garret FitzGerald is announced on the radio.  He lectured me in U.C.D. in the early 1960s when I was a night student studying for a B. Comm.  His quick fire delivery was not conducive to proper note taking, but nevertheless his lectures always proved interesting, if not always properly understood.  Some years later, when he was Minister for Foreign Affairs, Garret FitzGerald made me very proud to be Irish when he met the British Foreign Minister in Dublin.  I can’t remember the exact circumstances but recall I was in the Ormond Hotel Dublin that evening when the meeting of the two men prompted me to reflect that for the first time we the Irish were being treated as equals by those who were once our overlords.  The sense of pride in my Irishness was never in doubt but that night I knew that it was justified and that Ireland was being accorded the respect and dignity to which it was entitled as an independent country.  Garret FitzGerald will always be remembered by me for that night and for his involvement in the process which put us on the path to a peaceful resolution of the still unresolved issue of Northern Ireland.

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