Verdict on old courthouse: ‘Make it an arts centre’

The possibility is being considered of turning Thomastown’s old courthouse into a centre for the arts.

The possibility is being considered of turning Thomastown’s old courthouse into a centre for the arts.

The idea was discussed at a meeting of Kilkenny County Council’s Thomastown electoral area and even received a “favourable” response from Justice Minister Alan Shatter, according to Cllr Michael O’Brien (Lab).

The proposal is for the building to be purchased by the council and then leased to the not-for-profit group Thomastown Community Arts Centre.

A similar measure was taken 30 years ago when the council purchased what is now the Grennan Mill Craft School and leased it to the Vocational Education Committee (VEC) for 20 years, Cllr O’Brien pointed out.

Plans for an arts centre for the town were discussed several years ago but never came to fruition, and now the re-formed group has taken up the cause. As just one indication of the popularity of the idea, group member Janet Beck pointed out that the committee started in May with five people and through word of mouth alone has now grown to around 40 members.

“There is a big appetite in the community for this centre,” she told the meeting, noting that the hope is to serve the town and county, and to attract national and international artists too. As a boost for tourism, it could also link with the county’s food, craft and heritage trails.

The aim is to have a centre to cater for all age groups, practitioners of all disciplines and opportunities for anyone who wants to get involved in the arts.

Proposals include an educational facility where master classes could be held, a performance and rehearsal space, studio space, meeting place/ cafe, a space to show films or hold lectures, an exhibition space and an information centre. Cllr Sean Treacy (FF) suggested that it could also incorporate a museum for the town.

It was also noted at the meeting that the cost would be lower if the project were done sooner rather than later, because the courthouse building is likely to deteriorate further year on year if it isn’t occupied.

Cllr O’Brien pointed out that Deputy Ann Phelan (Lab) had raised the matter in a Dáil question and had received a “very favourable response that the Department (of Justice) would be willing to assess the feasibility for future use of the building.”

The Thomastown Community Arts Centre group also received a written response from the Court Service that it would be “happy to discuss the possibilities” of turning the courthouse into such a centre.

“We would have always envisaged that use of the courthouse would be for the benefit of the community,” said County Council director of services Philip O’Neill, adding that the idea of using the building as a space to upgrade the local library had also been mooted.

“It is a shame to see that building the way it is now,” Cllr O’Brien said.