The future of the iconic Briery Gap theatre in the heart of Macroom – which was damaged by fire in 2016 – is still uncertain due to a funding shortfall, writes Aisling Meath
LOCAL community groups, businesses, politicians, library staff, drama groups, schools and all who visited Macroom to enjoy theatre, the library or cinema are unanimous in their lamentation of the cultural and economic void the closure of the Briery Gap has left in their town.
The building was seriously damaged by fire in 2016, and new building regulations, which had not previously applied to the old building, have resulted in the bill for renovation and repairs escalating from €2.5m to €4m.
A dedicated committee consisting of Noel O’Driscoll, chairperson; Pat O’Connell secretary; Don Buckley, Elizabeth Barry, Martin Coughlan, John Vaughn and Paul Collins, along with the manager of the Briery Gap, Ann Dunne, has been putting its best foot forward to ensure that ‘the show’ goes on, but it has been a strain without a proper venue.
Actor Patrick Bergin, star of countless films including ‘Sleeping with the Enemy’ was scheduled to perform there before the fire and he said ‘I was looking forward to appearing and working at the Briery Gap, but it unfortunately took fire before I got the chance. Every community needs an artistic centre and outlet and Macroom is clearly full of talented people who deserve one.
‘My father used to say there are three things a person needs, a roof over their heads, food on the table, and a flower in a vase. The flower in the vase represents a spiritual and artistic life – up Macroom!’ he said.
‘The Riverside Park and Castle Hotels have been very accommodating to us and we would like to thank them very much for their support. Without them there would have been no shows at all, but with the best will in the world, halls are not the same as purpose-built theatres.’ said Ann Dunne, manager of the Briery Gap who is also a music teacher and writes and co-ordinates the Christmas pantomimes.
‘The acoustics were great and the seating was very comfortable, it’s a terrible loss to the town – there used to be a great old buzz around the place,’ she said.
‘To me theatre should be performed in a theatre, you’ve got the right lighting and seating. It was a great opportunity for local children learning drama to experience performing in a proper theatre,’ said Pat Melia drama teacher and founder of local drama group The Sullane Players.
‘Using the hotel venues was supposed to be just a stop-gap situation and not having the theatre is having a terrible effect on local businesses,’ said Pat O’Connell, secretary of the Briery Gap committee.
‘The Castle hotel worked in conjunction with the Briery Gap and there is no doubt that we have lost out since its closure,’ said hotel owner Don Buckley.
‘We used to provide packages such as supper and theatre, and overnight stays with shows included and it brought visitors to the town.’
The Macroom branch of the County Library was also forced to relocate from its former home and commenting on the situation Cork County Council said:
‘While the library staff and management were deeply upset by the fire and the damage caused to the library/ theatre the immediate concern was the provision of a service for the people of Macroom and surrounds. The library has temporarily relocated to Railway View and the best service possible is being provided by our staff there.
However – we greatly miss our lovely Briery Gap building and facilities which we had there for our customers. We look forward to being able to provide a full and unrestricted service when we return to Briery Gap.’
Local Fianna Fáil TD Aindreas Moynihan also said ‘The closure of The Briery Gap has been a huge loss to this town and the wider region. While it has been possible to provide some services at temporary locations, the prominent town centre is very significant. It was a hub for the arts. It brought people to Macroom for different performances. There was a spin-off in local shops, restaurants and pubs and it was also a chance to show a vibrant town centre.
‘I understand there is a funding shortfall of €1.5m. This is a sizeable sum of money, and only the government has the capacity to deliver such a large amount of resources.
‘I’ve highlighted the matter with the arts minister and An Taoiseach, who has spoken positively about funding. 6% of the overall funding was promised by the government two years ago. Those with influence should put it to good use,’ Mr Moynihan said.
Local FG representative and Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine Michael Creed said: ‘The destruction of the Briery Gap theatre was a great tragedy for Macroom and the wider area. It is important to acknowledge the significant efforts made to continue much of the events held at venues elsewhere, as well as the relocation of the library.
‘There is no doubt however that the re-establishment of the Briery Gap is a priority. To this end I’m pleased to have worked with government to provide €250,000 towards reconstruction. I continue to work with my colleague the Minister for Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan, in conjunction with Cork County Council to seek a solution to the funding shortfall that still exists.’ he said.
Meanwhile the cultural and business community of Macroom are ‘waiting in the wings’ to see how it will all play out.