“Nothing can ever take an education away from you, no depression, no recession, no bank.”
In late November Sheila Mullins attended an event, which showed the importance of local community involvement in our primary schools. The official opening of the new extension at Knockskeagh National School, performed by Minister Ruairi Quinn, was a testament to the 20-year struggle of the community, who never gave up on getting better facilities for their children.
On Thursday November 21, the Lyre Road, north of Clonakilty was down to a single lane as cars lined the verge for a mile before Knockskeagh School. The reason for so much activity in this rural area was the official opening a new extension at the school that has finally seen the children out of prefabs and into a beautiful new building where, as Principal John Walsh commented during his opening speech, “the children can reach their full potential in a safe, stimulating environment.”
The journey to get to this point in the school’s history began nearly 25 years ago when, cut back to just one teacher, the local community itself raised the money needed to pay for a second teacher. As attendance rose, the Department of Education took on more teachers but unfortunately there was no sign of funds to extend the building, so in 1993 the Board of Management purchased the first of the school’s prefabs. As the role list continued to grow, so did the school’s motley collection of prefabs. Cold and damp, they were completely unsuitable for young children, so the community, under the leadership of former Principal Mary O’Driscoll, began the long battle to build an extension.
The pupils put on a musical performance for the guests who attended the opening, which included many dignitaries, before Monsigner O’Driscoll and Reverend Owens performed a blessing. Next to the microphone was Principal Walsh who recounted the history behind this momentous day and thanked all who were involved. Mentioned for particular praise was the Board of Management, chaired by John Loughnane, Jim Daly TD, Michael McCarthy TD and Cllr Noel O’Donovan and of course Mary O’Driscoll, who worked tirelessly on the project from the day the adjoining land was first purchased until the day she retired in 2010.
It was in his praise for the parents that Principal Walsh demonstrated the total commitment to the project by the community. When the Department finally approved the extension in 2012, 20 years after the first application, the Parents Association sprung into action and has spent the past three years organising every type of event known to man to raise the shortfall in funds.
In his speech, Minister Quinn, echoed this praise for the community. He spoke about Ireland’s great belief in the primary school system; the system officially existed in Ireland 50 years before Britain but has a history stretching far beyond that, back to the Hedge Schools. Minister Quinn compared Ireland to other countries within the EU where parent’s voices are neither heard nor welcomed by schools and where community involvement did not feature. “Ireland’s school system can be likened to a Public/Private Partnership between the government and the community,” he said.
Minister Quinn also commented on the disgraceful situation where at the end of the building boom, 20 per cent of school children were still being educated in prefabs while ghost estates are now being levelled in Limerick, having never been occupied. He went on to promise that this government is committed to never seeing that situation happen again. “Nothing can ever take an education away from you,” he said, “no depression, no recession, no bank.”