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June 2020
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2002-11-13 Home of Westlife lacks a venue to hold them

For a small island of less than four million inhabitants, Ireland boasts an immeasurable wealth of musical talent who continue to make an indelible mark on the world of music.


For over a century Irish singers such as John McCormack, Margaret Burke-Sheridan, James Johnston and Anne Murray, to name but a few, have starred in opera houses and concert halls worldwide. In the realm of pop and rock, names like U2, the Cranberries, the Corrs, the Chieftains, Westlife and Enya are only the tip of the iceberg.

Is there another country with such a high percentage of music-makers per head of population?

And yet, unlike almost every other country I have visited, we dont have the venues to support this talent.

It is possibly unfair to compare Ireland with Germany in this regard, especially as Germany has always famously had a tradition of opera and musical performances, but I will anyway!

Every city and small town in Germany has an opera house and several other performance venues besides. In Hamburg alone, there is a full-time opera company at the Opera House, and a complex of concert halls.

There are more than sixty full-time opera companies.

Ireland has no full-time opera company. Our capital city has no opera house, the Gaiety and Olympia being only really suited to theatre and panto.

A small opera house in Wexford sells out every year during the renowned Wexford Festival. There is also a quaint opera house in Waterford being renovated over the last few years.

Cork Opera House is an impressive venue, though despite the name, it was not really built with live unamplified music in mind.

There are also nice concert halls in Dublin and Limerick, but apart from this, touring companies are resorting to perform in smallish theatres designed solely for stage-plays and with very dry acoustics, or in hotel function rooms, or Sports halls with bathroom acoustics! Churches and Cathedrals are also used but the acoustics in these venues vary dramatically.

When a touring company comes to Sligo they have the choice of the Hawks Well, the Factory, the Aula Maxima, the Father Flanagan Hall, St. Annes Church, or either of the two Cathedrals.

This sounds like a huge choice of venues, but many bands/performers would avoid Sligo due to the lack of a suitable venue.

The Hawks Well is a gem of a theatre, but that is really what it is, a theatre. Acoustically, for me, St. Annes wins, with St. Johns Cathedral a close second. But could Shane McGowan perform here? I think not.

The home of Westlife has nowhere suitable for them to play, unless open-air.

Some time back Killian Kiernan put forward a proposal for a flagship project for Sligo - a first-rate concert and conference venue with seating capacity for 4,500 (subdivided for smaller events), and a hotel.

The Gleneagles in Killarney is such a venue and has proved to be extremely successful, though as with most venues, the backstage area needs better planning.

The N4 is now one of the countrys best roads, Sligo has an airport, and the train service can only improve!

Despite difficulties and delays, this project will continue to be fought for and ought to have the full support of the people of Sligo.

In Belfast there is a venue to suit every style of music  The Opera House, The Waterfront, The Odyssey, The Ulster Hall, and others. Derry has St. Columbs theatre, and the stunning new Millenium Forum.

In England there are four or five full-time opera companies, and most towns and cities boast at least two purpose-built venues  Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff  the list is endless.

Is it because our musical heritage in Ireland is founded largely on traditional music, or is there not as good a tradition of concert-going here?

There often seems to be an apathy towards attending performances.

Do we have the numbers to fill the venues? I think the fact that Billy Connolly can sell out a week at the Point Depot proves that point. Sad, that such a nation of performers have few places to air their talents.