A feasibility study must be carried out in order to determine what progress can be made with regard to the future use of the vacant Astor Cinema site in Scariff which is viewed as a potential key asset to the Shannon Greenway.
An online public meeting held on Saturday gauged the views of the local community in Scariff on how to bring the Astor back to life. It previously served as the home of the Clare Drama Festival and an art-house cinema while also hosting concerts from the East Clare Musical Society, court sittings, dancing and bingo with tennis competitions held out the back.
Oliver directed by Lourda McKeon was the first musical held at the Astor in 1984 while John B Keane’s Sive had its debut on the circuit in Scariff.
East Clare tourism promoter Eoin O’Hagan convened the meeting. From the off, he referenced the allocation of €2.5m under the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund which will see Portumna Courthouse converted into a remote working hub and arts centre to serve the town and wider region.
Widespread support is needed to develop the Astor, Eoin outlined. “It is privately owned, unless we get support of owner of cinema this is all a pipedream but it is good to dream. It deserves the support of the entire East Clare community. It is important that the building doesn’t disappear into the ground”. He added, “The Astra was the heart of Scariff, with the right meeting of minds and permission of owner it could be again”.
Secretary and treasurer of the Kilkishen Cultural Centre, Olivia King advised attendees on how the old protestant church in Kilkishen became a cultural centre which prior to restrictions held exercise classes, yoga, pilates, zumba, set dancing, music classes, meetings and training courses. She informed the meeting of the multiple fundraisers they carried out to raise the €150,000 they required to bring the church back to a suitable standard.
Flagmount based architect Alan Brennan noted that “quite interesting street frontage” accompanied the Astor which he described as “a beautiful” building. “It is nice to retain that vintage style of the fabric of the town. It obviously has a lot of potential”. He advised that “minimal intervention” needs to be the strategy followed in bringing it back to use.
Liam Dowling who ran the Midnight Court Film Society at the Astor from 1997 to 2011 believed there was an elegance still associated with the building. He recalled that the owner expressed an interest in expanding and acquired a property beside the cinema which Liam felt had potential as an office space. Issues with water running down the walls plus family and work commitments influenced the decision to end the film society.
Former principal of Scariff Community College, John S. Kelly detailed that for a six month period in 1964 “the actual cinema would have been used for classrooms, that was in the first secondary school known as St Caimins, it had been an initiative started by Sean O’Byrne, a merchant living across the road. Otherwise it was used for every concert we had in the school until we got our own hall”. Tennis fell behind the dominant hurling and second place rugby in terms of sport in Scariff, he said. Acoustics of the building were praised by Kelly as “extraordinarily good” and he recalled the “great local drama” produced on the stage by Maude Nash.
Redeveloping the Astor would lead to an increase in tourists to Scariff, Beth Storey a tourism student at LIT predicted. In advance of the Shannon Greenway’s construction, the infrastructure must be built, O’Hagan maintained, “for the foreseeable future the Greenway will end in Scariff, if I was walking 40km from Limerick to Scariff I wouldn’t be walking back”.
Scariff Foroige are on the look-out for a long-term venue as they current use the Teagasc building, Jordan Cassells commented. The absence of a community centre in Scariff is an issue, he said. “It will only get worse if nothing is done with it. The best way to conserve something is to use it”. Musician Eoin Leonard also put forward the case for a creative arts centre in Scariff that could host gigs and drama festivals.
A “tremendous attachment multi-generationally” exists for the Astor, Ruth O’Hagan outlined. This she believed was due to romance, fun and performances in the past. “My own parents’ budding romance began in that building. Memories from the Astor are heart-warming”.
Progress will not occur until a feasibility study is completed, the meeting was advised by multiple participants. “It would help to pull together a lot of the questions and potential answers. Feasibility study must happen if one is to progress the actual project, that is no easy task,” Kelly commented.