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A New Lease of Life

Clare People, Tuesday, 25th April 2006

More than 50 years after a Kilkee descendent first donated more than a quarter of a million pounds to build the Sweeney Memorial Library in Kilkee, the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests for Ireland have agreed to make almost half a million euro available for the renovation and upgrading of the library. A letter setting out the terms was received by the County Librarian, Noel Crowley, as a result of ongoing work carried out by him.

The County Librarian was full of praise for the vision and generosity of the Commissioners. "This injection 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", he said. "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."

In the 1980s, 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.

Clare County Library has been administering the Kilkee facility as a normal public library branch since a High Court Agreement was signed in 1985. But the west Clare library has a history challenged only in the pages of one of the novels it houses.

The first County Council Library opened in Kilkee in 1945 in O’Connell Street. Then in 1951 a second library was bequeath to the town by Dr. William Joseph Sweeney, the grandson of Michael Sheedy, who was born in Kilkee in 1833 and emigrated to Norwalk, Connecticut. He graduated as a medical Doctor in New Jersey but was also a Director of several companies and founder of the Union City Bank and Trust Bank. He married, but had no family.

In 1938, the Kilkee descendent made a will. He bequeathed sums to various people and charities. He left their home, its contents and the nett proceeds of his real estate to be sold, in trust for his 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”.

And the rest is history. His wife pre-deceased him, and his wife's relatives contested his will, but lost.

Under the Charities Act of 1812, the Library was administered under a High Court Scheme of 1961, the Trustees being the Commissioners of Charitable Bequests and Donations.

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 Mr. 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.; and the ex-officio members were Canon Henry Kenny, P.P., Kilkee, and the Very Rev. M.J. Talbot, Rector.

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