Design competition to see Connolly’s take Leap into 21st century

A West Cork bar and music venue with three generations of family ownership along the Wild Atlantic Way has been selected as the focus for an international design competition, to reimagine it as a 21st century ‘Irish Cult Music Venue’.

Legendary Connolly’s of Leap has been picked as an international design challenge, with prizes totalling $6,000, and while it is being run by leading US-based architect competition organisers, Bee Breeders, the competition is open to all comers, not just architects.

Organisers Bee Breeders say that at the competition’s core is “acknowledging Ireland’s place in the music industry and promoting it to an international audience, while also exploring how an existing music venue can be transformed to become an iconic destination in its own right. It is hoped that the competition will provide a strong precedent for other rural venues, both in Ireland and abroad.”

Connolly’s is centered on a niche entertainment spot with 450 years building history, next to a waterfall and ravine in the coastal village of Leap. It got its name from ‘O’Donovan’s leap,’ an escape by an Irish chieftain from English troops. He leaped across a deep ravine at the bottom of the village on horseback, prompting the line “Beyond the Leap, Beyond the Law.” That legend hangs today in Connolly’s bar.

Music dates to the 1950s, when it was The Central Bar. In 1985, Paddy McNicholl and his wife Eileen purchased the venue from Eileen’s parents, renaming it Connolly’s of Leap in their honour. The venue was quickly noted as a place of warm hospitality, where music thrived. The bar closed after Paddy McNicholl’s death but was reopened two years ago by his son Sam, and Eileen, both who of whom were born in the premises.

Connolly’s promotes all types of music, from trad and folk to funk and the avant garde, they say.

Although the competition posits an international ‘ideas’ venue, with an Irish air, Sam McNicholl, owner of Connolly’s, intends to develop it at a future stage. “It’s been a dream of mine to renovate the family home and venue and I realise the huge potential of the building and the site. My mum grew up in the house, it’s been the same family for three generations, and now it’s time to take it into the 21st century, while still keeping to our core values.”

He said the inception of the competition came from a friend Andrew Kirwan, an architecture student from West Cork: “he’s been amazing getting all of this together and driving it forward. The Bee Breeder project just feels right – at the moment it’s just conceptual, but I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of experimental designs from this, and working with them to create some more magic for everyone to enjoy,” he said as the competition launches, with entries by April of 2018.

Now studying in Aberdeen, Kirwan said “having grown up with Sam and spent many a day running through the halls of Connolly’s, constantly surrounded by music, I’ve observed the strength a venue like Connolly’s has in bringing people and communities together. 

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