Spectacular reclaimed quarry amphitheatre is ready to rock

Headline acts Jack L, Hudson Taylor, Celine Byrne, and Paul Brady will showcase their talents this summer in a spectacular outdoor theatre where an exhausted limestone quarry was once used as a public dump.

Discovered by members of a mountaineering club, a more unlikely place for outdoor activities could hardly have been imagined.

Now, a premier cultural attraction in Co Kilkenny, the magnificent Ballykeeffe Amphitheatre had been abandoned by the local authority as a source for road metalling materials and later morphed into a dump for old cars, rotting furniture, and household waste, while becoming a winter storage point for beet supplies to a sugar factory.

Scaling the carboniferous limestone cliffs of the quarry required more than just square-jawed determination, however. It also demanded a sanguine insouciance, since it was first necessary to scramble over car carcasses, furniture, and decomposing beet to reach the climb area.

And in a county where the camán is king, the Tyndall mountaineering club pioneers initially ploughed a lone furrow but, over time, climbers from other parts of Ireland began coming to Ballykeeffe with locals such as Brian Dunne and Kevin Higgins happy to provide advice and encouragement.

With the venue now increasingly utilised, members of the surrounding community who had largely been uninvolved with Ballykeeffe realised its potential.

KBK Enterprise, a local development group for Kilmanagh, Ballycallan, and Killaloe decided to turn Ballykeeffe into an entertainment venue by taking advantage of the spectacular setting as had been done with the famous Minach Theatre in Cornwall.

In an unlikely reincarnation, the rubbish, furniture and cars were removed and the once decrepit quarry was transformed, mainly by volunteer effort, into a fully functioning outdoor auditorium.

Rebranded as Ballykeeffe Amphitheatre, it became a multi-functional resource offering walks in the attached nature reserve, while traditional and sports climbing continued to coexist beside a summer programme of theatrical presentations and concerts.

Prominent artists immediately praised the great acoustics and unique atmosphere and further advances, in 2011, saw a makeshift performance area replaced with an innovatively designed stage costing €100,000, the first of its kind in Ireland.

Matt O‘Sullivan, chairman of KBK Enterprise, was a driving force behind the venture and says he is proud a sophisticated operation continues to be delivered by volunteer effort.

“Nobody in the community gets paid a cent for providing top professional entertainment on almost every weekend throughout the summer,” said Mr O’Sullivan. “It is entirely done by local community effort.

“Initially, we found some acts were sceptical about playing Ballykeeffe but now there is no difficulty; those who have played here sell it for us with many acts wishing to return again and again.

“The summer at Ballykeeffe certainly creates a great buzz in the local community.”

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