By Carol Byrne
THE former Protestant church in Kilkishen hosted its last wedding more than half a century ago but now, under the ownership of the Kilkishen Cultural Centre Committee, it is likely the venue will host weddings once more.
The church building, whose only occupants over the past 50 years have been a family of lesser horseshoe bats, has undergone a facelift and is due to open to the public this week.
Now known as the Kilkishen Cultural Centre, the venue has been transformed from a derelict building and will be re-invigorated under plans to make it a busy community hub. The centre is to be made available for community, educational and drama groups and for concerts. Further to this, plans are underway to obtain a licence to hold civil marriages there.
Committee chairman Mike Hogan says he is looking forward to holding a viewing day for the community, to finally get a glimpse of the great work that has been carried out there over the past number of months.
“We’re not far from finishing it now and we’ll probably be working on it until the last day but we are almost there. We had to do a lot of work. All of the slates had to be taken out and it had to be totally re-insulated and the roof has been raised six to eight inches to preserve the rafters inside. All of the rafters and the beams are in perfect condition and you can see everything, which was the whole point of raising it from the outside. We haven’t been able to let people in because of the work going on and we know people are anxious to know what is going on and what it looks like inside,” he said.
To accommodate this, the group will hold a viewing day on Sunday, May 11 from 4pm, where locals will be invited to pop in for a cup of tea and to enjoy a music session, while they take in the newly refurbished building.
“It won’t be an official opening and it will be a while before we will have an official opening but it will be open for use and we’re going to have a number of concerts there now,” Mr Hogan explained.
The former church now boasts facilities such as a training room and a kitchenette, new windows have been installed throughout and underfloor heating has also been put in. There is new timber flooring on the mezzanine floor where the training room is located. In addition, there is a store room and two toilets, one of which is wheelchair accessible.
The interest in the centre has been such that it is translating to website hits, according Mr Hogan, who said they are getting 5,000 hits a month.
“That is extremely good and we didn’t think we would get anything like that. We are going to put it out to use now. We are holding some concerts and then we are also looking at advertising it for civil marriages. The last church ceremony there was in 1964 but we are not aware of when the last baptism or marriage were held there but, certainly, it would be more than 50 years ago. You have to get a licence from the HSE to hold civil marriages but we are working on that,” he said.
He added on the back of this new centre, he envisages that it will lead to the formation of a number of community groups and will help revive some that have gone by the wayside, as there will now be a new facility for such activities.
“There has been a lot of talk of an active retirement group starting up and we’ve been talking to the VEC and CLDC about helping us and running courses. The VEC are going to help us by supplying a tutor to run what they call taster courses over the summer. They are two or three-hour courses and, depending on what people like, they can start booking full courses from September onwards. We’ll organise it and they will supply the tutor. I think there will be more groups setting up as a result of the centre. We’ll be running music classes from September, as our development organisation has been running music classes for the last couple of years, so there’ll be music and I’ll assume that we will end up with children’s classes for dancing and things like that,” he said.
He added it will be a great venue for concerts and performances also.
“It would be fantastic for music recitals and drama and all of that. The altar area is quite small, it is the full width of the building and only about ten foot wide and that would be where they would take place. The building itself isn’t that big and the maximum we could fit in there would be maybe 80 people. We are putting in modern seating that is removable because we want to be able to change it around, so it would be like a hall, so we can change it to suit whatever we will be running there,” he said.
Although little of the original features of the church remained when the cultural centre committee took over the building, every effort has been made to keep some of them.
“We have retained the former altar. It is in natural cut stone and the only other thing we have retained is very old coloured tiles. We took them up, preserved them and put them down in the lobby, so that is something from the original building but everything else in the building is new. There wasn’t a thing left originally, even the bell itself was gone. The bell tower has been donated to the bats and they have the only access to the tower. The lesser horseshoe bat, one of the rarest bats in Ireland, has set up in the crypt, which is underneath the altar, which is accessed at the back of the church. We have a steel structure over that so they can fly in and out,” he said.
Mr Hogan added that the building will play host to the Sixmilebridge Folk Club, who will stage a concert there on May 16, while a choir from Limerick is anxious to try it out the week after.
“It’s a beautiful building and the lighting is something else, particularly at night. Anybody that will want to use it, it will be there for use and we will be hiring it out. We have a choir booked who want to try it out. I think the acoustics will be brilliant. If we get enquiries from the community, we will open it anytime and that’s why we designed the heating system in order to cater for long hours of use. I think there will be huge demand for it,” he concluded.