The Minister for Rural and Community Development, Heather Humphreys, T.D., made a momentous visit to County Laois on Monday, 17th July, as part of the government’s ‘Our Rural Future’ roadshow, to commemorate the official opening of the much-anticipated Mountmellick Arts Centre. The Minister’s presence was met with warm welcomes from the TVRS supported Mountmellick Arts Centre Committee, led by its dedicated Chairperson, Mr. Ger Lynch.
The Minister was treated to a captivating video presentation by Ms Anne Marie Kirrane, A/Administrative Officer and MC for the Ministerial Visit. The Video showcased a myriad of projects from all across the county of Laois, that have flourished thanks to DRCD funding. Her enthusiasm for the Arts was further ignited when she received a gift of Mountmellick Yarnbombing from Committee Member, Ms. Martina Horan. After the presentation, the Committee proudly guided the Minister on an insightful tour of the newly opened Arts Centre. Mr John Mulholland, Chief Executive, Laois County Council, in welcoming the Minister said , “I are delighted to witness the official opening of the Mountmellick Arts Centre, a testament to the vision and hard work of the dedicated committee and the community it serves. This new cultural hub will undoubtedly become a source of inspiration and creativity for our residents, fostering artistic expression and enriching the lives of all who visit. Mountmellick can now proudly showcase its vibrant arts scene, and we look forward to witnessing the positive impact this centre will have on the community for generations to come”. The newly unveiled Community Arts Centre in Mountmellick stands as a testament to the indomitable spirit of the local community, thanks to the unwavering dedication of the local committee and volunteers. The Cathaoirleach of Laois County Council said “I extend my heartfelt tribute to this remarkable Committee who have made this project possible. Volunteers are the lifeblood of society, and their selfless efforts enrich the lives of countless individuals, making the world a better place. It is with great appreciation that we acknowledge their invaluable contributions to the development and success of the Community Arts Centre. We are immensely proud of this accomplishment and believe that the Mountmellick Community Arts Centre will become a beacon of creativity and inspiration for generations to come. This project exemplifies the profound impact that communities, local councils, and the government can make when working together for the betterment of our local areas. I want to extend my sincere thanks to everyone involved in making this dream a reality. Your tireless efforts have resulted in a remarkable achievement that will undoubtedly leave a lasting legacy in Mountmellick and beyond. Congratulations to all, and I wish the Community Arts Centre every success in its journey of fostering creativity, artistic expression, and community spirit.”
Mr Ger Lynch, Chairperson, Mountmellick Arts Centre Committee said “What you have seen, and will see here today is the culmination of a lot of work and effort, over a good number of years, by many people and organisations. The Town and Village renewal grant, allowed us to put the finishing touches to a restoration and enhancement project, which has taken over 30 years to complete. To fully understand this, we must follow the timeline of the building and list the contributions of the various organisations.
The Mounrtmelllick Parish bought this site in 1944 and commissioned the building of an 800 seater cinema on the site, which was officially opened by President Sean T O’Kelly in 1951. It was known as the CYMS, or Catholic Young Mens Society Cinema. It ran successfully from the date of its opening until, due to the introduction of television it was forced to close, with the last film showing in 1992. This building is owned by the Parish and if it had been in private ownership, it is highly probable that it would not be available for use by the community today.
I will list the organisations and their contribution to bringing this building from a potential derelict site to what we believe is one of the best entertainment venues in the Midlands.
- Mountmellick Parish. Having made a good deal of money during the hey day of the cinema, invested in a first class heating system, both upstairs and downstairs, in the early 90s, and it is still in use today. They also divided the balcony area from the main auditorium, creating a second small theatre and reducing the size of the main theatre. The intention of this was to create a small cinema in the balcony area. Unfortunately, due to the cost of sound screen and projection equipment, this project was not completed. In association with Mountmellick Drama Group they built, dressing rooms and a kitchen at the rear of the building
- Mountmellick Drama Group., who were producing their own plays in the venue since 1988, proposed the venue as a location to host the ‘RTE All Ireland Drama Festival’. They have been running a successful festival here for over 30 years. The group installed batteries of lights over the stage and fitted out a control room at the rear of the main auditorium. We are delighted with the fact that this venue has been chosen to host the final of the confined section of the national festival in April 2024. We take this opportunity to wish them well in the running of this event, and we are confident they will do a marvellous job based on their track record.
- Mountmellick Community Employment Scheme. The Mountmellick Community Employment Scheme formed their association with this theatre when in 1995, after getting permission from Father McNamara, they set up their office in the building. In the early years, they refurbished the toilets in the front of house, and since the Arts Centre committee was formed, have participated in every building and renovation project that has been carried out. Administration, cleaning and maintenance of the building is at present carried by workers on the Scheme.
- Mountmellick Community Arts Centre Committee. The committee was formed in 2000, consisting of representation from the Parish, Credit Union and the community, with an ambition to turn a building that was going derelict into a first class entertainment venue. Shortly after its establishment, they secured a grant from the ‘Ireland Fund’, which was used to renovate and refurbish the toilets at the stage end of the building. With this grant, they also paid for the material used by the community employment scheme to reupholster all the seats in the main auditorium. They then secured a substantial grant from ‘Laois Partnership’, to replace the existing asbestos roof, which was cracked and leaking. This grant required 50% matching funding, in order to meet this, the late Kathleen Cousin approached Michael Feely, who was them Manager of the Credit Union, and after discussion Michael put a successful proposition to the board, that they would sponsor Mountmellick Arts Centre for 10,000 a year over 10 years. This allowed the committee to replace the roof and renovate the two rooms at the front of house, as well as giving us funds for the day to day running of the facility. The Credit Union continued to be our main sponsors, for which we are grateful. In 2013, we secured a grant form ‘Laois Partnership’ to refurbish the Balcony Theatre. This meant installing a lift to allow access to all. The community employment scheme was of great assistance to us In 2015 approx, with our own funds and a grant from Laois County Council, we refurbished the reception area and relocated the control room in the main auditorium. In 2018, we secured a ‘Town and Village Renewal Grant’, which allowed us to complete refurbishment of the building as you see it now. We set up a steering committee in order to look after the day to day running of this project. This steering group, consisted of the following members from the main committee. Father Micheal Murphy, Michael Gormley, Micheal Feely and Ger Lynch. Sharon Deering, supervisor of the CE scheme, attended all those meeting and gave us enormous assistance, for which we are grateful. Dom Reddin from Laois County Council was available at all times to the Committee and was helpful with his advice and experience. The Committee would like to remember the late Paddy Fitzpatrick, civil engineer, who attended the site regularly and signed off on the project without any charge.
- Tidy Towns. We are grateful to the Tidy Towns committee for maintaining the floral display at the front of the building and for the all access table and seating, which they placed in the Arts Centre square.
- Mens Shed. The Men’s Shed along with the CE scheme are located on the centre site and are a back up to us whenever needed.
- Balcony Cinema
In 2013, Michael Feely and Ger Lynch with permission from the Arts Centre Committee, set up the ‘Balcony Cinema’. This involved putting in a big screen, sound, projection and amplifying equipment as well as a protective curtain. They launched this in October 2013 and at present are screening a film every Wednesday night, at which the patrons receive a cuppa and refreshments. All for €5, which must be the best value anywhere.
- Seat Sponsorship Scheme
In 2019, Cathy Bishop proposed and executed a sponsorship plan that appealed to peoples nostalgic feelings about the cinema by allowing them to sponsor a seat for €50. This seating plan can be seen in the main entrance.
The Arts Centre, like a lot of entertainment venues is only coming out from under the shadow of Covid, and things are beginning to pick up again. The venue continues to host the weekly Bingo session, in aid of Parish funds, and is proving to be a major asset to community organisations within Mountmellick and further afield. Just to mention some of the organisations which have used the facilities in recent years
Music Generation Laois
Mountmellick and Portarlington Comhaltas
Mountmellick Community School, they have staged their last 2 musicals here.
Mountmellick National Schools
Ballyfin Annual Parish Show
Mountmellick Youth Develepoment Centre
Mountmellick Tidy Towns
Barnashrone, Derlamogue and the Rock Schools
Mountmellick Drama Group
Gormans School of dancing
Lousie Ahern and her dancing group
Grannie Buggies school of dancing
It has hosted many drama groups including the Clonaslee Players,
Open Door Theatre
Mountmellick Heritage Society
Mountmellick and Laois County Athletics
Laois Sports Partnership
Mountmellick Church Choir
Mountmellick Christmas Fair
Irish Photographic Federation
Porterhouse Players from Portarlington
B Sharp, Portarlington dance group
Portarlington School of Ballet
Laois Youth Dance Ensemble
Mountmellick and Laois Macra
Mountmellick Womens group
Sonas Creche Mountmellick
Speech and Drama Classes
Laois Community Games
Yarn Bombers Mountmellick also operated out of this building, until there need required a bigger premises.
Some of the acts that have played in the Arts Centre include,
Rake the Ashes
The late Brendan Boyer
Emer Dunne produced and performed inner show ‘Saluting the Brave’ which was in aid of the WW1 Research and Remembrance Committee, ‘
In terms of value for money, it would be hard to beat this project.
In conclusion I would like to thank the Minister and everyone for their attendance here today”.