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Iconic Cork brass band forced to do Culture Night on the street
"The Buttera" have been waiting years to find a suitable replacement for their council-owned John Redmond St band room which is now derelict, while they squeeze into a tiny space nearby.
If you walk up towards Shandon for Culture Night this Friday, you might be delighted to find an outdoor live performance by one of Cork’s most enduring and iconic brass bands: Cork Butter Exchange Band, affectionately known as “the Buttera.”
But the band won’t be performing on the street in O’Connell Square because they want to: they’re doing it because they say their tiny band room on Dominick St is unfit to host visitors on Culture Night.
“For Culture Night we normally open the band room to the public to come in and view the band room and we have a little concert and it’s very enjoyable,” Buttera Secretary and Assistant Conductor Tricia Harrington told Tripe + Drisheen.
“But because of the small size and Covid we can’t actually hold it inside and we have to go out onto the street which has its own problems: we’ve asked the butter museum to plug in for power there.”
This is the latest development in a nearly 30-year saga for one of the country’s oldest brass bands.
Almost 30 years ago, the Buttera were told they had to leave their council-owned band room at 6a John Redmond St due to “health and safety concerns,” Tricia said. But ever since, their original band room has fallen further and further into disrepair.
“We were told it was a health and safety issue. There was a brace put across the front. I’d imagine that if you went into it now, there would be health and safety issues,” Tricia said. “If they would give us the opportunity through some kind of funding, we could do it up.”
“The premises is there and has been lying idle: all we need is a big open space to set up our instruments and stands.”
The history of the Buttera is formally recognised as having begun with the naming of the band in 1878, but dating back as far as 1841, there had always been brass bands in the locale, just under different names.
In 1995, the Buttera moved into small premises at Dominick St, having stored their equipment in the Firkin Crane for over a year following the loss of their original band room.
6a and 7 John Redmond have only been on the city council’s Derelict Sites Register since 2008, despite having been vacant since the Buttera were made to leave in the nineties.
“Crazy, ridiculous” situation
For the 15 regular band members, Tricia said, the situation was very frustrating, a “crazy, ridiculous” situation that has gone on for three decades. She said there has been little positive engagement from Cork City Council.
“It’s going nowhere, it’s just being shelved,” she said. “It’s not fair to the city or to us that city council are turning their back on us.”
The Dominick St premises are so cramped that there isn’t adequate space for the storage of equipment in the band room, requiring gear to be moved to an under-stairs cupboard.
But worse still, Tricia says, is the impact on the band’s ability to recruit new members to keep the historic band alive for future generations: throughout Covid, the small space made it impossible to maintain a distance.
“If we were able to have our classes up and running in the band room, we’d have up to 20 kids there, but we can’t do that,” she said. “We have an outreach programme with a school in Glanmire, and there are other schools that are keen to get involved with us, but we’d have to go to the schools.”
“We need our band room open to our student musicians to actually come and be tutored in the premises.”
Tricia herself played clarinet with the band since 1978. “I’ve given my life to the band,” she said. “We’ll keep it going, because the members are very strong and very dedicated. But we have to get some help. We’ve been asking and asking city council and it’s just, ‘ah yeah, whatever.’”
Council promises “engagement”
At this month’s council meeting, Cllr John Sheehan asked the chief executive what the plans were for finding suitable accommodation for the band’s needs.
“Arrangements will be made for an engagement with the Butter Exchange Band in relation to their accommodation needs,” came as a written response.
Another member of council staff told Tripe + Drisheen that the Shandon area was currently undergoing a “health check” by their Community, Culture & Placemaking division to assess the area’s needs in terms of community-based property.
Conservation architects have been commissioned by the council to appraise the buildings at John Redmond St, and funding sources are being investigated. There is no timeline in place for the restoration of the Buttera’s original premises.
In the meantime, as reported in Tripe + Drisheen last May, Cork City councillors voted to dispose of the Butter Exchange Building nearby for the nominal sum of €1 per year for 25 years to a company called Recreate Shandon CLG, founded in 2020 by Cork entrepreneur Seán O’Sullivan.
A planning application for permission to convert the building into a technology and innovation hub called Shandon Exchange was lodged with Cork City Council in April.