A Dutch-born artist who is based in Stradbally, Co. Laois, has been stirring up a debate on the closure of the sugar beet factories in this country.

Rennie Buenting has been based at the Arthouse, Stradbally, since 2020. She recently depicted the closure of the Carlow sugar beet factory in her installation at the ‘Earth Rising’ festival at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA).

Rennie is keen to promote Ireland as an ideal sugar beet-growing country.

“We are now importing sugar from other other European countries at great cost,” she said.

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

“It’s 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,” she explained.

Sugar beet factories

“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,” the artist continued.

“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.

“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.

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

Rennie said she could not understand why the factories had to close. For her research, she spoke with former sugar factory workers, designers and managers, some of whom have since died.

She also raised the issue of the closure of the sugar beet factories in the Visual Theatre, Carlow, recently, as a film about growing vegetables in a small community, was shown.

She showed newspaper reports from January 2005 to November 2005 about the closure of the sugar beet factories, with a banner stating ‘Ireland can grow its own sugar’.