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Revamp Booked for Kilkee Library

Clare Champion, 21st April 2006

The Sweeney Memorial Library, Kilkee, is about to be renovated and restored to the grandeur synonymous with the building 50 years ago. Tony Mulvey looks back over 50 years of the Kilkee library

One of Kilkee's best known landmarks, the Sweeney Memorial Library, which has been providing a service for locals, visitors to the resort and the West Clare peninsula for over 50 years, is to receive a major upgrade to restore it to its former greatness.

Confirmation has been given that the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests for Ireland have agreed to make almost €500,000 available for the renovation and upgrading of the library. A letter setting out the terms was received by the County Librarian as a result of an initiative taken by the Librarian some time ago.

Clare County Library has been administering the Kilkee facility as a normal public library branch since the High Court Agreement was signed in 1985.

This availability of funds will allow the building to be brought back to its full potential as it was over 50 years ago. When first built, the Sweeney Memorial Library was “state-of-the-art” and the envy of many towns in Ireland. It continues to be a great resource for west Clare and although it lost many of its customers in the early 80’s, particularly after the new library opened in Kilrush in 1981, it has been transformed in recent years and plays a major role in the cultural life of summer visitors.

At that time, usage of the Sweeney Memorial Library was very low with just 100 members and a very small issue of books. In 2005, the library had 1,072 members, issued 20,000 books and booked 6,000 hours of Internet sessions.

The first County Council Library opened in Kilkee in 1945 in O’Connell Street and from 1951, when the Sweeney Memorial Library opened, there were two libraries operating in Kilkee. The Kilkee Public Library branch was closed on December 31st, 1962. In August 1986, Mary T. Hynes, long associated with the Sweeney Memorial, retired and a new era began. The work done by Mary T. and the wonderful collections she put together have been greatly appreciated by many and she left a wonderful legacy to present day customers.

Although the local committee appointed by the The Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests for Ireland had not been active for quite some time, with the exception of J.D. Collins, Chairman, they nevertheless had to sign themselves out of existence in order to progress the High Court agreement in 1985. Members of that committee included J.D. Collins; John S. Hederman, N.T., Kilkee; Bernadette Lyons, Kilkee; Patrick Barry, N.T.; and Michael F. Nolan, Kilkee. Members appointed under Clause 7 of the High Court scheme included Michael Kelly, Kilkee Town Commissioners; Sean Hegarty, Kilworth, County Cork, Muintir na Tire; Anne Smyth, Feakle, Macra na Feirme and Noeline Gallery, Mullagh, I.C.A. Ex-officio members were Canon Henry Kenny, P.P., Kilkee, and the Very Rev. M.J. Talbot, Rector.

The new investment in the Sweeney Memorial Library was welcomed by the Mayor of Clare and local public representative, Patrick Keane. He said that the library was in need of a face-lift and the investment was timely. He said that the library was also used in the past to stage plays, concerts and meetings but they were now being accommodated in the local community centre. As well as for book lending and reading, the library continued to be used for cultural events during the summer months. He also praised the County Librarian, Mr. Crowley, for the part he played in acquiring the investment for the library. Mr. Crowley praised the vision and generosity of the Commissioners. He said that these senior legal people worked quielty in a voluntary capacity and rarely got recognition for the work they had done.

Emigrated to US
Michael Sheedy, who was born in Kilkee in 1833, emigrated to Norwalk, Conn., U.S.A. and died there in 1901. He married an Irish girl Johanna Hanlon who was born in 1826 and died in 1909. They had a family, their eldest daughter Mary, who was born in 1856 in Norwalk, married Dr. Senan Sweeney in 1882, they had one only in family, a son William Joseph Sweeney.

This boy’s parents died in his youth and he was reared and educated by his Sheedy Uncle who had two sons, Bryan and Edmund. Edmund was a popular Christian name for boys in Kilkee at that period, possibly from the emigrant ship “The Edmund” which foundered in Kilkee Bay in November 1850 as she was sailing from Limerick to the U.S.A. with a few hundred West Clare emigrants on board. About 100 of them were drowned.

The Sheedys were first cousins of the late Mrs. Falvey nee Sheedy. Her husband built the “Royal Marine Hotel” in Kilkee, both of them ran it very successfully for years, as did their son Dan Falvey. Another son, the late Tom Flavey was a Clare Co. Councillor (Farmer’s Party) for many years. He was a very colourful character. By co-incidence, his cousin’s library is now under the control of Clare County Council.

Ed and Bryan Sheedy mentioned above have visited Kilkee a few times within the past few years as did Doctor Sweeney’s financial Advisor. William J. Sweeney graduated as a medical Doctor and practised in Union City, N. Jersey. He was also a Director of several companies and founder of the Union City Bank and Trust Bank and was one of its Directors until his death on April 2nd, 1945. Doctor Sweeney was married, had no family and lived at Weehawken, N.J.. His wife pre-deceased him.

His will signed and sealed, was made on 24/2/1938. He bequeated sums of 10,000 dollars each to various people, to others 1,000 dollars each, to the Knights of Columbanus bonds of a Building Fund, to others shares of Stocks of the Hamilton Bank of Weehawken and the contents of his wine cellar.

For his wife their home, its contents for her life-time and the nett proceeds of his real estate to be sold, proceeds from which to be used to set up a Trust for this wife. If his wife pre-deceased him the corpus of said Trust Fund to be used to build, equip and maintain a Library in Kilkee, Co. Clare to be known as “The Sweeney Memorial Library”. The carrying out of such provisions shall be under the direction of Trustees.

His wife’s relatives contested his Will, but they lost the case and the Sweeney Memorial Library was built in Kilkee. Under the Charities Act of 1812, the Library was administered under a High Court Scheme of 1961, the Trustees being the Comms. of Charitable Bequests and Donations. All the property of the Library is vested in and held by said Commissioners. Moneys belonging to the Charity are invested under the law for the investment of Trust moneys. The Sweeney Memorial Library gets no public assistance. Due to inflation and rising expenses it was decided under the Public Libraries Act 1894 that the Library be amalgamated with and become part of Clare County Libraries. Under Dr. Sweeney’s will and his wish the Kilkee Library shall continue to be known as “The Sweeney Memorial Library”.

Kilkee Visit
According to a report in The Clare Champion in 1953, Victor Kilkenny, of Summit, New Jersey, and Mr. A.J. Martin, Manhassett, Long Island, the two American trustees of the Sweeney Memorial Library, arrived in Kilkee on Monday with their Attorney, Mr. Edward B. Hourigan, Closter, New Jersey. Mr. Kilkenny and Mr. Hourigan were accompanied by their wives, while Mr. Martin had with him his twenty-year-old daughter, Miss Marie F. Martin.

The trustees, after a visit to the Very Rev. M. Canon Grace, P.P., inspected the Library building and were met by Mr. Harry Culhane, Chief Librarian.

Prior to the arrival of the party, the Irish and American flags were blessed and hoisted over the library by the Very Rev. Canon Grace.

In an interview, the Trustees said that they were happy to be in Ireland, which they thought was one of the most beautiful spots in the world. The library building met with their full approval and was well operated by the Librarian, Mr. Culhane. They were amazed to learn that over 13,000 books were issued during the past twelve months and it was intended to increase the stock of books yearly as the income from the 200,000 dollars fund invested in American Government Bonds allowed.

Asked if it was the intention to hand over control of the building to the local Town Council now that the building was completed, Mr. Kilkenny said that the Trustees were appointed by the Courts of New Jersey to carry out the wishes of the late Dr. W.J. Sweeney and the Court would have to retain control over the fund and the building. The Trustees could only make recommendations to the Court, and if the people of Kilkee or the Town Council had any special problem to discuss they would be willing to hear it and make a report to the Courts. He further stated that even if the value of the dollar fell to four or five shillings, the yearly income from the fund invested in Government Bonds would maintain the building, as the fund, after meeting the cost of the building and a stock of books, was now more than $200,000.

Kilkee got the library when Dr. William J. Bank of New Jersey and who lived in 68 Clifton Terrace, Weehawken, U.S.A., died in 1945 and left over a $250,000 for the erection and maintenance of a library in the town, to be known as the Sweeney Memorial Library. An inventory filed in the Orphans’ Court of New Jersey at the time showed that Dr. Sweeney left a gross estate of $534,214, ($297,309 nett). The will was opposed by Mrs. Marie E. Sweeney, of Lakewood, Rhode Island, step-mother of Dr. Sweeney, and a big number of relatives, who claimed that the estate should go to the next-of-kin when the appointed trustee, the United States Trust Company of New York, failed to establish the library fund.

The case was tried in the Chancery Court of New Jersey and it was ruled that the testamentary trust providing for the library was a valid charitable trust and that the Court would appoint substitute trustees. Messrs Martin and McCluskey were appointed as trustees by the Court and Mr. Kilkenny was appointed to replace Mr. McCluskey, who died shortly after his visit to Kilkee some two years ago.

The Trustees, with the approval of the Court, have appointed a local Advisory Committee consisting of the Very Rev. M. Canon Grace P.P., Mr. H. Culhane, Chief Librarian, and the Chairman of the Kilkee Town Commissioners.

The Town Commissioners claim that the committee should be enlarged to give the Council greater representation and that it should have more powers, especially regarding the concert hall, which is part of the library building. It has already made representation to the Trustees in the matter.

Little is known of Dr. Sweeney in west Clare, where there is now no known relatives. His grandfather is thought to have been a British Coastguard stationed at Carrigaholt, while his father was Dr. Senan Sweeney, who emigrated to the U.S.A. at the age of sixteen years.

The library building, which includes a concert hall with an elaborate stage and modern lighting, is estimated to have cost £25,000.

Reading Facilities
In April 1962, the High Court approved of a scheme for the regulation, management and administration of the Sweeney Memorial Library, Kilkee, and its property. Under the scheme, all the property is vested in the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests for Ireland.

The library was approved to be used for the purpose of providing reading facilities for members of the public but the local Committee of Management shall, subject to any directions or regulations which may be made from time to time by the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests, have power to use the library premises or permit them to be used for lectures, concerts, musical recitals, discussions and similar functions of an educational or cultural nature.

The Committee was given power to acquire film projectors, films, slides, record players, gramophone records and similar equipment but so that such powers would not be used so as to interfere with the primary purpose of the Library - the provisions of reading facilities for the public.

The Committee of Management is to consist of eleven members - the Parish Priest and Rector of Kilkee or some other persons nominated by them; a member from each of the following bodies: the Clare County Committee of Muintir na Tire, the County Clare Committee of Macra na Feirme, the County Clare Committee of The Irish Countrywomen’s Association and the Kilkee Town Commissioners, and five members appointed by the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests. These five members nominated were Dr. P.J. O’Dea, Messrs John Collins, Patrick Prendergast, Michael Nolan and J. Flanagan (Clare County Librarian).

The Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests had provisionally decided that the inauguration of the Committee would take place on May 1. Each member of the Committee (other than the ex-offico members) would retire from office at the expiration of three years.

The appointment of a librarian and an assistant is solely a matter for the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests, but the Committee may make such purchases as books, other literature, furniture and other equipment and goods as may be required for the ordinary purposes of the library.

The Commissioners were to erect a plaque of suitable size, material and wording in or on the library premises to indicate that the library was provided by the bounty of Dr. William J. Sweeney of Weehawken, New Jersey, who died on April 22, 1945.

Provision was also made for altering the scheme at any time on application to the High Court.

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