Offaly's new arts centre in full voice on historic opening night, Offaly Live / Tullamore Tribune
ON what was hailed as an historic occasion for Tullamore and Co Offaly, the Esker Arts Centre proved it sounds as good as it looks with three choirs earning sustained applause on opening night.
Tullamore Lions Club hosted the centre's debut public show and a sell-out crowd packed the auditorium's tiered seating for performances from two local groups, the Academy Chamber Choir and the Tullamore Stage School Ladies Choir, with the Dublin Welsh Male Choir completing the bill.
The evening was a fundraiser for the centre and the coffers of Esker Arts were boosted further by an art auction which attracted lively bidding and pushed prices of some paintings into the thousands.
Local leading musician Ciaran Brady founded the Academy Choir in 2007 and has developed it into an award winning group which last night sang songs in Latin, Russian and English, showing their versatility with a dash of Gospel with "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel?"
They were followed by a new collective founded by another legend of the local choir scene, Regina McCarthy.
It was only last September when she established the women's only group and it quickly attracted numerous singers, so many indeed, that 80 joined on Friday night for a set ranging from the Mamas & Papas' California Dreamin' and the Beatles' Hey Jude to the swing number It Don't Mean a Thing.
Headliners the Dublin Welsh Male Voice Choir closed the show with a remarkable programme of 12 numbers which delved deeply into the singing heritage of Wales, explored the traditions of Ireland with Danny Boy, and tipped its hat to our capital with Molly Malone.
As Des Doyle, chair of the local group which spent more than a decade campaigning, planning and raising funds, told the audience before a song was sung, it is hoped the new facility will have many more nights like Friday.
He said Tullamore had always been a wonderful town with everything anyone would want across business, sport, medicine and leisure.
“But one thing was missing, it didn't have an arts centre. We discovered as a board that Tullamore was the only capital town in the whole of Ireland that didn't... so we set out to do something about that.”
They raised €185,000 from the local community, secured €2m in government funding with the help of Brian Cowen and former County Council manager Pat Gallagher, and finally got a centre open.
“It's taken a long time. We've had rollercoasters, a lot of criticism directed at us, but we eventually got here. And it's a great historic night.”
He revealed that another €500,000 was raised in the last few weeks from “organisations, companies and individuals who want to see an arts centre in Tullamore”.
In his foreword for the opening night programme, Esker Arts Centre chair Conor Brady outlined how the project had gone “through many iterations” with various proposals for its location, design, facilities and capacity.
“Esker is a state-of-the-art facility, designed, built and fitted out to the highest standards. It will hold its own with any cultural or arts centre in the country,” wrote Mr Brady.
Originally, a site at Kilbride Park on the bank of the canal had been selected for a custom-built arts centre but prohibitive costs resulted in a review of the plan and the County Council instead bought the former Kilroy's store on High Street.
Sean Walsh, who was previously director of an arts centre in Ballina, is artistic director of Esker Arts and he has laid out a programme of events until June covering visual arts, Tullamore Musical Society's production of Michael Collins: A Musical Drama, a film club which will screen Paul Mescal's Aftersun and many other exhibitions, concerts and workshops.
In his message for opening night, Mr Walsh said: “With music, theatre, film, literature and local arts, this opening season is just the tip of the iceberg. Esker Arts Centre will be a gathering place for everybody with an interest in the arts, whether as makes and collaborators or viewers and listeners, and will be a safe and inclusive space to enjoy the wonders of creativity (your own or somebody else's).”
Offaly County Council chief executive Anna Marie Delaney called on everyone to make good use of the centre: “Esker Arts provides a further opportunity for community participation and engagement in the arts in the county. It provides a facility to support artists across all artistic streams and it will contribute significantly to the local economy.”
An official opening of the centre is scheduled for June 6 next with President Michael D Higgins being lined up to attend.
Source: Published by Gearoid Keegan For Offaly Express / Tullamore Tribune, 15 Apr 2023 1:54 PM