president Michael D Higgins rounded off his Laois visit last Wednesday, June 13 with a visit to the recently refurbished Arthouse in Stradbally and Library, which is located in the former courthouse.
The President was welcomed by Arts Officer, Muireann Ní Chonaill and Laois Civil Defence, and was treated to a parade on the green with traditional tunes by Ratheniska CCE Marching Band.
After signing the visitors book he met Arthouse Administrator Cara Byrne and resident artists Gemma Guihan, Coilín Rushe, Lorraine Walsh and Karen Hendy, stopping to chat with Tom Cosby.
In the music rehearsal space, the President met members of Laois Songwriters Collective, and Rosa Flannery of Music Generation Laois, who nurture new music talent.
He chatted to exhibiting artist George Burland, and his elderly parents George Snr and Rosaleen.
Then it was out to the garden, where Laois Youth Theatre put on a short performance and President Higgins then unveiled a carved limestone seat created by McKeon Stone to commemorate his visit.
In the library, County Manager Peter Carey thanked the President for acknowledging the council’s work in the arts.
“We were the lead authority for the three facilities you visited today, and we are one of the few to have a dedicated school of music. This facility is the result of collaberation between the Crafts Council, Arts Council, NCAD and ourselves. In these times of limited resources, that’s what it’s all about,” he said, thanking his staff and elected members, and wishing the President success in his term of office.
President Higgins said it was a very great pleasure always for him to be in a library.
“Renovating an old building is often more expensive than building a new one, but this heritage is wonderful, this is a valuable resource to those in the arts. Times of high unemployment are times of more expenditure in public spaces, creating capacity for people to reinvent themselves and regain dignity,” he said.
He praised the Electric Picnic festival, where he read his poetry last year.
“It is one of those wonderful festivals, where old and aging hippies and young discontents all meet together,” he said, ending by listing Laois’ famous sons including Kevin O’Higgins and Cecil Day Lewis.
“You have made a very significant contribution and have a great legacy to build on. You will reap such a rich harvest for your interest in arts and culture,” he said.
Chairman of Laois County Council, John Bonham then presented President Higgins with a painting of a gateway in Glenbarrow by Mountmellick artist Gemma Guihan.
Port Youth Theatre had the final moment, when young Harry Watson gave the President a handmade book containing their versions of his poem ‘Toes’, and Luke Melvin presented him with his portrait in pencil, before the president was ushered through the crowds back to his car.