A truly historic day for Mayo music organisation
History has been written today as Music West, which incorporates Mayo Concert Orchestra, Mayo Youth Orchestra and Castlebar Concert Band, officially opened its new state-of-the-art HQ in Castlebar.
The ceremony was performed by founder members of the Mayo Academy of Performing Arts, who worked to provide the new facility at Breaffy Road Retail Park in Castlebar, in conjunction with Deputy Michael Ring, former minister at the Department of Rural and Community Development.
In his address, Deputy Ring said he will be challenging the Arts Council to provide greater funding for organisations like Music West.
He stated: "Up to 95% of the funding allocated by the Arts Council goes to the Dublin area. They don't know where rural Ireland is.
"What I am saying is that a much higher percentage of that money must starting coming to rural Ireland next year.
"I have a message for the Arts Council. I am placing them on notice now that I will be on their case in respect of this matter.
"Organisations like Music West are entitled to a portion of that money. They have put in place a facility that will last for generations."
Other speakers were Councillor Martin McLoughlin, cathaoirleach, Castlebar Municipal District, Councillor Neil Cruise, chairman of the Local Community Development Committee, Mayo County Council, Sabina Trench, South Mayo Development Company Limited, and Tom Kelly, chairman of Music West, with John Caulfield, secretary, Music West, filling the role of master of ceremonies.
The opening of the centre represents the fulfilment of many years of planning and effort by those determined to place the future of the three organisations on a firm footing.
The members have been indebted to St. Patrick's National School for providing rehearsal and storage space over many years and members always felt very welcome there.
The school was also the location of Music West's weekly tuition classes run by a team of accomplished tutors and these classes are now up and running at the new headquarters with places always open for new students, with a wide range of instruments available for hire.
A major step towards Music West establishing its own place was taken when a significant contribution from Castlebar Development Association helped secure the purchase of Unit 19 at Breaffy Road Retail Park, as did donations from Castlebar Lions Club and the Stephen Garvey Memorial Committee.
It lay vacant for a number of years until sufficient funding was acquired to renovate the building into a state-of-the-art centre suitable for the performing and learning of music.
This was achieved with the support of Leader funding approved by the South West Mayo Development Company, Newport, in conjunction with Mayo County Council, Tús and the Department of Rural and Community Development, during Deputy Ring's term as minister.
It was also accomplished with the assistance of a number of benefactors and supporters, including the Naughton Foundation, the Mayo Male Voice Choir, former Taoiseach Enda Kenny, former EU Commissioner Padraig Flynn, and elected members of Castlebar Municipal District and Mayo County Council.
Once the necessary finance was put in place, local building firm Michael Duane Limited was appointed main contractor to the project, which was completed with immense professionalism and care.
Along with a large rehearsal room with acoustic panelling, there are six rooms allocated for teaching as well as a kitchen, meeting room, storage room for instruments, toilets and a fine reception area.
There are also car-parking space for members as well as a drop-off/collection area for parents of students.
The centre has become an active hub of musical activity since Covid restrictions have been lifted with other groups, including Rolling Waves (Castlebar CCE), headed by John Kilkenny, and emerging local rock band Powder House, of which Castlebar Concert Band drummer Luke Dunne is a member, also using the facility.
As the centre has been granted music examination status, the annual exams of the Royal Irish Academy, as well as Comhaltas, are being held there for the first time in 2022.
Some key restructuring of Music West has also taken place in recent months with the Mayo Academy of Performing Arts and Music West merging and a range of new committees put in place to address new responsibilities and ensure the smooth running of operations going forward.
Needless to say, everybody associated with Music West is very proud.
As Music West approaches the proudest day in its history, it is fitting to recall those no longer with us who contributed so much to the organisation.
Michael Basquille, who died on January 16, 2016, was the inspiration behind the drive to provide a permanent home for the orchestras and band and he never lost faith in his dream.
He will be remembered in a special way by the naming of the rehearsal hall in his honour.
Music West has indeed come a long way from the days when marching band music first became a feature of life in Castlebar back in the last century.
Because Castlebar is a town with a military barracks, the influence of army bands inspired a love for the playing of instruments like trumpets, trombones and euphoniums over many decades.
The town hall has long been a mecca of musical activity and it led to many others developing a love of the piano, violin and clarinet, tutors always being available to point young students in the right direction.
The town's strong musical culture set the foundations for the formation over a century ago of Castlebar Town Band, later becoming the Castlebar Concert Band, while Mayo Concert Orchestra and the Mayo Youth Orchestra came on stream in more recent times.
From humble beginnings Music West has grown impressively and is now strongly positioned to expand further and reach out to the entire county in the years ahead.