The Carnegie Arts Centre was established in 2008 and takes its name from the same philanthropist who funded New York’s Carnegie Hall.
Andrew Carnegie was the Scottish-American benefactor of libraries throughout Ireland. Between 1897 and 1913, Carnegie promised over £170,000 to pay for the building of some 80 libraries in Ireland, of which 62 survive to the present day, including Kenmare which had a Carnegie Hall attached.
The library and community hall were opened in 1916. Cumann Na mBan held first-aid sessions there, and the Irish language enthusiasts held classes on the premises. Concerts and dances were regular events. However, its purpose was short lived as the political events of the 1920s unfolded. It was taken over and occupied by the British Army for a period of seven months in 1921, and later was burned down during the Civil War in September 1922.
By the end of the Civil War, the building was a burnt-out shell. £3,000 was awarded for its refurbishment and it was reconstructed in 1924 under the direction of R. M. Butler. Some changes were made to the original, but the new building retained the two-storey part to the front and the single storey to the back. The latter section was extended to almost three times its original length and a stage was an addition in the new plan.
By 1926, the Carnegie had returned to its original purpose, supporting the cultural life of the area, hosting a variety of events from dances to card games, concerts, Saturday night ceilís for the youth, FCA training and so on. The reading library was confined to the upstairs section.
However, with the progress of time, the Carnegie began to fade as a social venue with the Silver Slipper Ballroom opening in the mid-1960s and, later, the Riversdale and Kenmare Bay Hotels being more attractive venues. The hall slowly deteriorated into a ghost venue and became defunct as a social outlet for the wider Kenmare area.
In the late nineties, seeing the need for a theatre and associated art facilities in the Kenmare area, a small group of local visionaries formed a committee with a view to supporting and promoting all aspects of Irish art, culture, and tradition with the aim to offer world class music, song, dance, art and drama on the site of the Carnegie Hall.
Today the Carnegie Arts Centre is a multi-purpose arts centre has a 140-seat theatre, a full-size cinema screen, a performance area and a gallery space for art exhibitions. Technical features include high-quality stage lighting and sound system fully equipped for concerts, lectures, drama, and exhibitions.
At the official launch of the centre in November 2008, Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue said, “Facilities like the Carnegie Arts Centre have an important role to play in enriching the quality of life for people in their own place.”