There were scenes of great happiness in Ballyroan this afternoon as the new primary school in the village was officially opened.
Bishop Denis Nulty, local priest Fr Gerard Ahern and Minister Charlie Flanagan were all on hand for the official ceremony as was Deputy Brian Stanley, the newly-elected Cathaoirleach of Laois County Council Cllr Padraig Fleming and Cllrs Mary Sweeney, John Joe Fennelly, Catherine Fitzgerald and Willie Aird.
As well as a new building – which the students moved into last December – there has been the amalgamation of the boys and girls school in the village to become Scoil Eoin Pol Naofa II. Today was a case of double celebration – the official opening was also the day they got their school holidays. But it was a day with a difference. The presence of dignitaries, parents and an ice cream van in the school yard ensured it was a real day of celebration.
Indeed for Cllr Mary Sweeney it was a particularly proud day to be on hand for the opening of the new amalgamated school in her home village.
“Yes, I’m delighted,” she said enthusiastically in her speech. “Yes, we did it. This has been done by the community in Ballyroan and driven by the parents, the teachers and the Board of Management.
“There was a huge need for a new school. It was absolutely necessary. We have met seven different Minister for Education since 1997. It’s a proud and historic day for Ballyroan.”
Cllr Sweeney thanked the nearby residents in the Glenbrook estate for being “patient and tolerant” and also the staff in Charlie Flanagan’s office as “they were the people I hounded”. She also praised her colleagues in Laois County Council from the Portlaoise Electoral Area for their support and wished the children of the school “the very best wishes whatever way life may take you”.
Jack Murphy, a local man in his 80s who was groundsman in the girl’s school for many years, was on hand to cut the ribbon, along with the two youngest students in the school at the moment.
Niamh Kelly, principal of the school, thanked the parents, teachers and students for their support while Fr Gerard Ahern praised praised Ms Kelly for her “leadership and hard work”. “It wasn’t an easy task but your hard work has ensured this school has gotten off to a great start.”
Fr Ahern added that while the school is a Catholic school it is “open to all different faiths and those who have none”. “The door is open and it always will be open. That is the spirit of a Catholic school.”
Quoting from Pope John Paul 2’s visit to Ireland in 1979, he told the pupils that “you will decide what Ireland will be” and “tomorrow as technicians or teachers, nurses or secretaries, farmers or tradesmen, doctors or engineers, priests or religious, tomorrow you will have the power to make dreams come true. Tomorrow Ireland will depend on you”.
Bishop Denis Nulty told the crowd that there are 170 schools and over 37,000 pupils in the Kildare and Leighlin diocese and that the schools in Ballyroan “have a future as promising as the past is proud”.
He praised them for their coverage in amalgamating the schools. “Never be afraid of change – welcome it.”
Minister Charlie Flanagan praised Cllr Sweeney’s role in bringing the project to fruition.
“The evening we came into Government in 2011, Mary Sweeney was onto me straight away saying ‘I want a new school in Ballyroan’. Anyone who knows Mary Sweeney knows you don’t say No!”
Minister Flanagan went on to say that over €28m has been spent by his government on school projects in Laois. He added that he was really proud to see investments in rural schools as “they are the heartbeat of a community”.
Wishing the students all the best in the future he said, “Some will stay in Ballyroan, some will go further afield. But you will never forget your schooldays.”
Deputy Brian Stanley also spoke, and he credited the government with “stepping up to the plate” in delivering schools. He added that, “Ballyroan has expanded in a nice way. And right at the heart of that is the school. Primary education is the foundation for everything.”
More photos from the event to follow.