“It’s the first plaque in any wall I’ve unveiled,” announced the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan TD when he opened Stradbally Library and Arthouse last Friday, May 3.
It was also the Kerryman’s first official trip to Laois as Minister, though he happily recalled previous visits to Dunne’s pub in the town, where he played the drums on occasion.
The Minister praised Laois people for saving historic buildings.
“Since independence, we didn’t show enough respect for architecture, maybe it reminded us of colonial power. We destroyed a lot, but in Laois you preserved it. This building will play an important service, it is integrated, rather than demolished,” he said.
The restored Stradbally courthouse was packed with dignitaries, artists and locals, happy to herald the new beginning for this Georgian building, now a library with 8,000 new books and a light-filled arts complex with studios and accommodation. For Laois County Council Cathaoirleach and Stradbally man Cllr James Deegan, it was a proud day that he shared with his colleagues and family.
“At long last the great day dawns. This is in the pipeline for a number of years, it was well worth waiting for,” he said, adding that it was another string to the bow of a town that boasts the Steam Rally, the Electric Picnic and a tradition of stone masonry.
The director of The National College of Art and Design, Declan McGonagle, spoke of the importance of giving public access to the building and its facilities.
“It’s important for public funding to produce public value. It’s the economy that’s broken, not the culture,” he said.
As part of their aim to become truly national, the college have initiated an Arthouse award, with residency for the winner, who will create artworks with the help of local volunteers.
“I congratulate Laois County Council for the development of this project, and look forward to other discussions,” he said.
The chairman of the Arts Council and Portlaoise native, Pat Moylan spoke warmly of the new building.
“This is a working, breathing space for artists, and a response to the lack of spaces in Laois and the midlands. It was brave of the council to take on the conversion coming into recession.
“It’s a small investment by the taxpayer, but it will make jobs,” she vowed, adding that as a Laois woman, she was especially proud. “I’m glad the Minister is here today so I can show off,” she laughed.
Laois County Manager Peter Carey was delighted to add the Arthouse to the growing list of new libraries and arts services in the county.
“Projects like this drive on the country, and bring it back to where it should be,” he said,
Mr Carey thanked everyone involved, including Minister Deenihan, Pat Moylan, County Librarian Gerry Maher, the Library Council, NCAD, the Crafts Council, council and library staff and elected councillors.