In the late 1990s, a team of dedicated local volunteers recognised the unique potential of the disused exhausted slate quarry for transformation as a unique outdoor performance space. The quarry in the townsland of Ballykeffe, had been for many, at best- a base for occasional rock climbers using its steep cliff walls, and at worst its base, a dump for crushed cars. Over the course of two decades the volunteers from the Kilmanagh, Ballycallan and Killaloe Enterprise Group Clg. (KBK), have created Ballykeeffe Amphitheatre, a social enterprise, as an all-seater 850 outdoor venue for music and performance- as well as retaining its former use as an outdoor climbing centre.
From its opening and first music concerts in 2000, the KBK Group has hosted hundreds of events. KBK has steadily developed both the venue- and its programme of events to where today the group host an average of 12 large concerts over the spring and summer of each year, in a venue that is designed and engineered to cater for the needs of international standard acts. The development has included sound and lighting systems, seating, artist shelter, ‘front of house’ and refreshment areas.
Presentation of the project
Ballykeeffe Amphitheatre is situated 13 kilometres southwest of Kilkenny City, Ireland outside the village of Kilmanagh. KBK: the promoter group, was established by local young people in 1986, to promote community development- and support enterprise and employment. The area is very rural in character, with few businesses outside farming to benefit or contribute to the opportunities the beautiful pastoral scenary presents. Ballykeeffe Hill is a nature reserve and was already a focal point for walking on its trails- as well as was the exhausted quarry at its base, an informal rock climbing location.
In the early 2000s the KBK group identified the Ballykeeffe as a potential social enterprise opportunity. With analysis & development measure support from LEADER the group had a development plan designed. The venue now offers the local community a source of pride, local businesses- an opportunity to avail of visitor footfall and spending- and the wider county a cultural resource of a unique design and of a national standard for outdoor events.
Ballykeeffe Amphithetre has a become a exceptional success. Most of the events are music concerts, and KBK are careful to balance each year’s ’Programme of Events’ to different musical tastes. This has ensured that it has not been seen as either a niche nor an elitist venue. Many of the concert events are sold each year to capacity. The venue has established a reputation for excellence with artists and performers. It has established iteslf and the locality as a cultural hub.
Crucially, as an established and successful local enterprise it KBK supports other local community projects, and is central to the community live of the area.
Over the course of 23 years the Kilkenny Local Action Group continued to support development of both the venue’s infrastructure and of the capacity of the KBK to plan and operate the venue through a succession of LEADER projects. KLP’s latest grant aid support was to complete the seating installation at the amphitheatre. The climbing sport continues at the venue on an informal basis, as does the recreational walikg and appreciation of nature in the adjacent reserve.
The project is an excellent example of a model for other communities on how flexible-lateral thinking and planning can transform a “problem site” into a strategic advantage for the community. It is a classic Smart Village project. KLP has made the promotion of the Smart Village concept a key element of its Local Development Strategy. In addition, KLP places the role of culture as a very important element in a community’s sense of esteem and of place. Ballykeeffe Amphitheatre provides the communities of Kilmangah, Ballycallan and Killaoe- and their wide rural hinterland with a performance space, and a source of pride.
The self-identified ‘parish area’ of Kilmangah, Ballycallan and Killaoe is very rural and the settlements are small and scattered. Farming and small allied enterprises are its main economic driver. The location site of Ballykeeffe Amphitheatre is approximately central central to the settlements/ areas and provides a socially unifying project. By its nature it allows an outlet to other cultural activities- other than a traditional thriving sport environment to all of its residents, while opening the area up to cultural experience of a national and international type.
The site has been developed sensitively- with the climbing opportunities of the quarry cliff face and the walking and biodiversity appreciation prospects of Ballykeeffe Wood Nature Reserve, which forms the literal backdrop to the Amphitheatre has been included in the overall community promotion of the place. This has led to an increased (but environmentally sustainable) use of both ancillary resources.
Culture is an area that needs more prioritization in rural development policy, planning and practice. This project could readily be transferred to another LAG area- and not just one that has an identical siter issue: the key example is that of lateral thinking and best use of resources.
Video of Ballykeeffe Amphitheatre
Video of KLP LEADER- Smart Village Training Day (outdoor and socially distanced during Covid 19 restrictions)
Photo of Ballykeeffee Amphitheatre activity :