Home News Community The Stradbally-based, Dutch-born, artist telling the story of the Irish Sugar Beet...

The Stradbally-based, Dutch-born, artist telling the story of the Irish Sugar Beet industry

Rennie Buenting Stradbally artist

A Dutch born artist who is currently based at the Arthouse, Stradbally, has depicted the closure of Carlow sugar beet factory in her installation at the ‘Earth Rising’ festival at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) which took place last week. 

Rennie Buenting has been based at the Arthouse, Stradbally, since 2020.

She is keen to promote Ireland as an ideal sugar beet growing country. “We are now importing sugar from other European countries at great cost,” she said.

Her installation features a large sculpture in half moon shape, with mixed up images of the Carlow Lime Kiln Tower.

“It is a metaphor for what happened to parts of our factories that were sent all over the world. The Lime Kiln Tower is the only surviving structure of our sugar industry,” Rennie contended.

“In my installation, a massive map of the world shows where the factory parts went, and it can be walked on.

“There is also a poster with a list of what Russia and Israel bought, a large funnel with sugar running out of it, and a wheelbarrow full of recently pulled sugar beet,” she said.

“While researching the demise of the sugar industry, I discovered the Carlow Lime Kiln Tower was about to be demolished, and I started a campaign to save it in 2017.

“It was put on the protected structure list until 2021, when I started another campaign to prevent demolition. It is now back on the protected structure list until 2028,” Rennie said.

“I thought the demolition plan was an awful shame, not only because it’s an interesting tower, the highest building in Carlow town, but also because research has shown it is most important for historic reasons to retain a building on its original site to treasure our heritage. 

“Some Carlow councillors were for keeping it, others wanted it gone. The Council gave the public a chance to have their say, and send in letters of approval or disapproval.

“I stood in Fairgreen Shopping Centre collecting signatures of the public for either retaining or demolishing it.

“The Council received over 200 letters, including 40 letters from children in the Educate Together School in Carlow, for retaining it, and about five to demolish. 

“There was a vote at the monthly Council meeting, and the majority voted to put it back on the protected structure list until 2021,” Rennie said.

“In 2021 there was a renewed request from the site owners to remove the Carlow Lime Kiln Tower off the protected structure list. 

“This time I started an online campaign that proved widely supportive of retaining the tower. Again there was a Council vote in the monthly meeting, and the majority of councillors voted for retaining the tower on the protected structure list until 2028.

“It is my intention to try and list the tower on the industrial heritage list, which will give it more credence as an important heritage structure,” Rennie said.

“I live quite close to the Carlow sugar factory site, and the farmers around me were growing sugar beet. I can see the tower from my house.

“I could not understand why the factories had to close, and there were several rumours going around. I did some research, and spoke to ex sugar factory workers, designers and managers, some of which have since passed away,” she said.

Rennie is enjoying her stint at the Arthouse in Stradbally. “It has been a wonderful way to get away from home and dedicate time to my art.

“I came to Ireland initially to work with horses after finishing teacher training college in Amsterdam.

“I worked for Kevin Prendergast on the Curragh and later for Mrs Van Anthony to help at her stud farm. Eventually I set up my own stud farm and bred thoroughbred racehorses, while teaching part-time,” Rennie said.

“After 2008, it became more difficult to keep this going, and I dedicated some time to my second interest: art and craft.

“I went to the Further Education Centre in Abbeyleix, and from there to the Limerick School of Art, and while there, I was invited to do a masters in printmaking in Glasgow. 

“I have always had an interest in all visual art media, and apart from printmaking, my work includes paintings, sculptures, film, sound pieces, ceramics, and anything that best fit the theme I’m working on.

“During lockdown in 2021, one of my paintings was chosen for a Bealtaine Art Project organised by the arts office for artists in the Arthouse, to be hung in hospitals in Laois, caring for older people,” Rennie said.

Meanwhile, she is doing more research into possible sugar production in Ireland.

“I spoke to Simon Cross of Cross Agri Engineering, who is a director of Beet Ireland.

“He told me that not only should we be producing our own sugar, but a sugar  factory could run on green energy, as the by-product of sugar production is butane gas,” she said.

“The development of a new sugar factory was halted in 2019, because the farmers, who were asked to invest, were afraid there would not be enough profit. Unfortunately the government, although supportive, did not offer financial support.”

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Caroline Allen is a freelance journalist based in Portlaoise. She has written for numerous local and national publications and lives outside Portlaoise with her husband Martin and sons Evan and Colin