Today the 18th of November marks #LoveTheatreDay a day when cultural institutions come together to celebrate theatres all over the globe. We would like to mark the occasion by telling you the story of the Ashe Memorial Hall.

The Ashe Memorial Hall was built in the 1920s as the seat of local government, one of the first, and one of the very few, new public buildings erected in the country after the foundation of the state. The money to build it came from the British government, compensation for the destruction of the old County Hall by the Black and Tans during the War of Independence. But rather than rebuilding on the original site, the local authority chose to locate the new building in the demesne of the Denny estate, landlords of the town since the Elizabethan plantation of the 16th century. This was a deliberate statement in stone of the transfer of power to the new, independent, Ireland.

Initially referred to as the County Hall, it was proposed to name the building the O’Connell Hall in memory of Daniel O’Connell. This proposal was defeated, however, and it was instead named after Thomas Ashe because, as the Chairman of Kerry County Council remarked, it was men like Ashe who had made the Hall possible.

A theatre/dancehall/cinema was integral to the plans, and it was designed to occupy the central well of the building, with the offices around the perimeter. The hall was the first part of the building to open in May 1928. The official opening of the theatre was performed by the Dean, Monsignor O’Leary, who was in no doubt about the historic significance of the occasion:

“Today, the County Council was elected by the people and through them, the people are rulers of their own destinies”.

The hall was launched with an “Irish-Ireland Concert” a mixture of parlour songs, Irish ballads, Irish dancing, and a comedy routine. The evening finished with a performance by Gerald Crofts who was a poet and a singer, described in his prime as ‘a blue-eyed fair-haired Orpheus’. He had a fine tenor voice and was a favourite performer in patriotic concerts. His brother Joseph was a composer, pianist and arranger; he and Peadar Kearney both served in Dublin in Easter Week. His personal friends included Sean Mac Diarmada and Eamonn Ceannt among the executed leaders, and also Countess Markiewicz.

His performance that night included ‘Caoine Donncadha Bhain’, ‘Boolavogue’, ‘Thank You Ma’am Said Dan’ and other favourites. His finale was a rendition of Ashe’s poem ‘Let Me Carry Your Cross for Ireland Lord’, which he said he had heard first from Ashe himself while both were in Dartmoor Jail in 1916. The newspapers reported that “this declaration was greeted with tumultuous applause”.

With this rousing launch, the hall was well and truly on its way. Performances, films and dances continued for the next fifty years. In the 1980s the building underwent significant refurbishment and the hall was closed. Kerry County Museum now occupies the space in the central well of the building.

If you would like to share any memories, stories or photos of the Ashe Memorial Theater, please email

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