Keeping up with the times: Carnegie Library and Hall, Castleisland

Castleisland’s cherished Carnegie Library reopened its doors in September 2017 as a modern, revamped, co-working office space.1


Carnegie Library, Castleisland


The building had been idle since the courthouse closed its doors in 2011, exactly one hundred years since Mr William Hugh O’Connor had thanked Mr Andrew Carnegie for his generosity in handing over £1,500 for the construction of the library.2


William Hugh O’Connor, a Scartaglen man, had raised the subject of a Carnegie Library for Castleisland at a Rural District Council meeting in 1910.3


Mr O’Connor, a member of Tralee RDC, moved that the town be adopted under the Libraries (Ireland) Act and extolled on the convenient central situation of the town to the surrounding villages.  He pointed out that a tax already levied a few years earlier for the purpose of a library could pay for books and a librarian.  Castleisland, he said, had the highest valuation in the whole electoral divisions of the Tralee Union.


He proposed that application should be made to Mr Carnegie for the library grant and, in accordance with the conditions of the grant, advised that several people in Castleisland had already offered a free site.


His motion was greeted with ridicule, the scene in the council offices like that from a comedy:


Mr Counihan: If Castleisland is such a central place why was not the workhouse built out there

Mr C Mahony: Scartaglin should get the library

Mr Counihan: If the centre is not in Tralee I propose that it be out at Glanagalt

Mr M J O’Sullivan: You want to get a free grant from Mr Carnegie?

Mr Counihan: You have no chance of that.  You might as well try and move a planet

Mr W H O’Connor: You are acting a proper dog in the manger today

Mr Counihan: They have reading enough in Castleisland

Mr R O’Mahony: There is too much education altogether in Castleisland

Mr Counihan: They have too much learning in Castleisland4


Mr O’Connor, however, who had spent more than a decade working as a mining engineer for De Beers in South Africa, had the last laugh.  Less than one year later, in 1911, he publicly thanked Mr Carnegie for his generous support.5  He also confirmed that Mr M R Leeson-Marshall had given the site ‘between the two roads out of Castleisland’.6


Messrs C K Brosnan, W H O’Connor and Bryan O’Connor of Castleisland formed a committee and plans were made to get the construction underway.The architect was Rudolf Maximilian Butler and the tender of contractor James O’Connor in the sum of £1,451.4s.7d was accepted. 8  The contractor was shown over the site on 11 August 1913 and work began.


Two years later, the council sought a caretaker/librarian at a salary of £12 per annum and the following year, 1916, the building was furnished.9  Tenders were also later sought for the construction of a wall with iron railings around the library building, piers for double gate and wicket and hanging gates between same.10


Though not yet officially open as a library, the facility was soon utilised.  Among the first to make use of the hall was the Kingdom Players who were charged £1 per night to stage a production in February 1917.  It was let to the local Sinn Fein club and to musicians.  A concert held by The Kerry Diamonds, ‘pupils of the Misses O’Connell, Main Street’ was ‘a real treat to music lovers’.11


Library without books


By January 1920, the building was in use every night, ‘a mere casual observer could see how much it is appreciated’.  However, the library was still not stocked with books, only daily papers and magazines could be read.  It was remarked that the building was in danger of becoming ‘a Carnegie Monument’.12


However, the books duly arrived because the following year, on the night of Wednesday 15 June 1921, they were removed for safekeeping before the building was set on fire.


The following statement made by Captain Peter Browne, Scartaglin Company Irish Volunteers, Kerry No 2 Brigade, outlines the fate of the short-lived building:


In June information was received that plans were being made by the British authorities to take over Castleisland library for the military and auxiliaries.  The library at the Cordal end of the main street was a commanding position and, if occupied, it would considerably hamper Volunteer movements.  It was ordered to be burned by the brigade.13


Captain Browne described how the Battalion staff and column took up positions in Main Street and around the military barracks while everything of value was removed from the library, carted away to safety, and the building set on fire:


There were several cart loads of books, which were handed over to the Cumann na mBan for safe keeping.  The building was successfully destroyed, and as none of the British garrison appeared out, the Volunteers withdrew in the direction of Cordal.


A curfew was imposed the following week because ‘the people did not tell who burned the Carnegie Hall last week’.  Captain Peter Browne described the situation:


A patrol of military or Tans and sometimes a mixed patrol used to come out into the town of Castleisland to enforce the curfew.  The route of the patrol was generally up the main street to the library and down again to the barracks.  When they came out in the street they fired one shot to warn the people that it was curfew time and time to be indoors in compliance with martial law.14


Press notice in June 1921


In the period that followed the destruction of the building, Miss Cahill, the librarian, made books available by opening a short term library in her own premises at Castleview until the library was temporarily rehoused in ‘the club rooms’.15


In 1922, application was made to the Provisional Government for a loan to rebuild the library which had been ‘providing social life for the town’ and £2,300 was subsequently awarded.


It would not be until 1928, however, that work finally got underway on a building that would combine the district court:


At long last a start has been made with the reconstruction of the Castleisland Carnegie Library and in conjunction with it a new temple of justice for the very wide area of which Castleisland town is the centre.  Awards had been granted by the Shaw Commission for the destruction of the old Courthouse in Chapel Street and the fine library building at ‘the top of the town’.16


On 25 February 1930, an ‘opening dance’ was held at the Carnegie Hall and from this period on, the building provided both books and meeting venue.  Lectures were held there, such as one given by Rev Brother Philip of the De La Saile Order in 1930 in aid of the new Catholic church at Scartaglin.  Sean Oglaigh na hEireann met there and public and committee meetings of all kinds were carried on.17


The revamped building today


The hall provided space for whist drives, dances, competitions, cinema and amateur dramatics, like George Shiels’s Professor Tim, staged by National Bank staff.


The place to be in the 1950s


The building also housed the Boys’ Secondary School from 1937-1945 and again from 1948-1962.  In more recent times, it facilitated County Council Area Offices.


Next year marks the centenary of the death of Andrew Carnegie, yet he is hardly forgotten.  As the second incarnation of the Carnegie Library embraces the concept of hot-desking, co-workers can ponder on the varied and fascinating history of the building over their coffee, in the knowledge that they too are now part of its historical fabric.


Graphic designer Richard takes five minutes from the communal work space during the recent fine weather


1 ‘Tenants Wanted for Shared Office at Carnegie Facility’, Maine Valley Post, 14 June 2017.  The bright, modern facility provides office accommodation with cubicle, desk, chair and lockable unit; e-fibre; meeting room; access to admin service; air conditioning, heating lighting and landline and, importantly, separate canteen with free tea and coffee.  It offers a cost effective approach to independent working in modern society.  Co-workers can take advantage of the structure the work space provides, and benefit from the company that goes hand-in-hand with the environment. Email  Tel 087-3232493. 

2 The library relocated to a new premises in Station Road in 2008. The hall has continued in use particularly for sports such as badminton.

3 William Hugh O’Connor (1878-1949) of Coolnageragh, Scartaglen, who married Julia Blennerhassett in South Africa in 1905, later founded Rhyno Mills.  Biography and photograph of O’Connor can be read on the Rhyno Mills website  W H O’Connor died at his residence, Kingdom House, Castleisland, on 1 January 1949 and was buried in New Kilbanivane Cemetery.

4 Cork Examiner, 9 December 1910.

5 In 1912, Mr Carnegie instructed his cashier, Mr R A Franks, 576 Fifth Avenue, New York, to arrange payments on the library building as work progressed to the extent of £1,500.  More than two and a half thousand libraries were built over a period of about fifty years by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919).  His only daughter, Margaret Cameron Carnegie Miller died in 1990.

6 Kerryman, 16 September 1911.  Further reference to Markham Richard Leeson-Marshall in Killaha Ancestral Home of The O’Donoghue of the Glens: A Correspondence (2016).

7 It was directed that all correspondence relative to the proposed library be referred to the committee who had power to co-opt additional members and invite designs for the work (Kerry People, 7 October 1911).

8 The cost of the project was discussed during a meeting of Tralee Union in November 1912.  Mr Carnegie had guaranteed £1,500 but the projected costs had risen to £1,522 4s 7d, a sum which did not incidental expenses.   It was supposed that the excess costs would be met by the District Council, ‘I think the sum over £1,500 will be so small that it would not at all warrant rejection of the sum getting from Mr Carnegie’.  It seems to have been another four years before the costs were met: ‘After a great deal of discussion and controversy, the Tralee Rural Council contributed to the erection of a Carnegie Library in Castleisland and agreed to strike a rate over the whole Union for the purpose of its maintenance and equipment’ (Kerry News, 18 March 1918).

9 In 1919, P Buckley, Secretary of the Castleisland Library Committee, sought applications for Caretaker and Librarian at an increased salary of £26 per annum.  Candidates could be either men or women, not under 20 or over 45 years of age, and residents of Tralee Rural District only. 

10 Tenders sought in October 1920, also for repairs to chimney and roof.

11 Killarney Echo, 24 July 1920.

12 Kerryman, 24 January 1920.  The occasion of the lease of the hall to the Sinn Fein club in 1918 caused speculation on the whereabouts of the money for books.  See Kerryman, 13 July 1918.

13 Statement of Captain Peter Browne, Scartaglin Company Irish Volunteers, Kerry No 2 Brigade, Bureau of Military History, Document No WS 1,110.

14 Another statement in the archives of the Bureau of Military History describes the area in the period after the fire: ‘The night after returning to Co Kerry we were all at Will Patrick Fleming’s at Kilcummin and went from there to Castleisland where about thirty of us entered the town and took up posts around the Carnegie Hall, which the Free State forces held.  We were in position to attack when a big detachment of Free State troops arrived from Tralee and we had to withdraw’.  Statement of Daniel Mulvihill, Kerry No 2 Brigade, Brackhill, Castlemaine, Co Kerry, document no WS 938.

15  Recorded by Fr Kieran O'Shea in Castleisland Church and People.  Miss Cahill’s salary was discussed in 1926 when it was revealed it had been halved to reduce rates, effective from the year previous.  In June 1926, Miss Cahill hadn’t received ‘one penny of her reduced salary since last January’: ‘Miss Cahill is a resident of Castleisland and her people are there since the flood, but she was not appointed through the influence of her uncles, or her thirty-second cousins, but by competitive examination which shows that Miss Cahill is a talented young lady … Miss Cahill’s working hours are 10, 11 and 12 hours per day for the princely salary of 15s per week’ (Kerryman, 12 June 1926).

16 An account of the causes of the delay, including the legalities of the two properties, was published in the Kerryman, 12 May 1928.

17 In 1971, Finbar Nolan, ‘seventh son of a seventh son’ held clinic there.