It was a real who’s who of local Portlaoise life in Dunamase College this afternoon as politicians, education leaders and clergy attended the official opening of the town’s newest secondary school.
But the ones at the centre of it all were the students, the First Year class and as principal Aoife Elster said “it’s all about you”.
Dunamase College/Colaiste Dunmasc is a multi-denominational school that offers students the choice to be educated in Irish or English and is located in the old Tech Building on Railway Street in Portlaoise’s town centre.
Recalling a story from her own secondary school days in Dublin, when the school she went to didn’t get its own building until she was in third year. When it was officially opened and the president of the country at the time was on hand to do the duties, the students were put into side a room “out of the way where nobody saw us”.
“The reason you are in the middle of this room today is because it’s all about you.”
Paying reference to the fact that the building they are in is only a temporary one, she told the gathering that “you could walk into a better building, but you’re not walking into somewhere with less effort”.
She praised the parents of the students for making a decision to send their children to the new school and to the new teachers and staff members who have joined the school.
Ms Elster told the students to “love your learning and learn something new every day” and that they can do anything in life. “You can go to the moon,” she said. “You can be president.”
Joe Cunningham, CEO of the Laois-Offaly Education and Training Board (LOETB), said that it was their target that the school be “a landmark for education just as the Rock of Dunamase is seen as a landmark for the county”.
He said that staff recruitment was “most important” and was “fully confident in the staff of helping the students fulfil their potential in the best possible way”.
Paul Fields, who is Director of Schools at LOETB also spoke, telling stories of his trips to the classroom and asking the students to describe the atmosphere in the school in six words. Speaking in Irish and English, he said the most fitting one was “broga nua, eadai nua, cairde nua” – “new shoes, new clothes, new friends”.
Cathaoirleach of Laois County Council Padraig Fleming said the students were “honoured to be the first students” and it should be “a fantastic experience”.
He said it had been “a battle and a struggle” to get the school open but it was “well worth it”.
Caoimhin o hEaghra from an Foras Patrunachta also addressed the crowd, telling the students that their “place in school history is assured”.
Caroline Dwane-Stanley, a Portlaoise-based councillor and chairperson of the LOETB, spoke of the importance of the LOETB securing the patronage of the school.
She also said that it was “important to say that it is only a temporary building”. She said she has wrote to Minister for Education Richard Bruton and has asked him to consider the old convent building as its long-term home.
“This is a huge opportunity to have 1000 students in the town centre. It’s great to see that life that students in the town can bring back to the place.
“While’s it’s great that the other schools have new buildings, they are a loss to the town centre. I would hope we could secure the old convent site.”
Among the things mentioned was the long association with education that the current building has. “It was always the Tech when I was growing up,” added Cllr Dwane Stanley. “And then the Educate Together. They have now their own new buildings.”
Aoife Elster also told the crowd that 100 years ago the building was used by Conradh na Gaeilge to teach people Irish and she also mentioned Peggy Duffin, a Portlaoise woman who ran Naoinri – a playschool through Irish in the 1980s – first in the Prison Officers club near where Dunamase College now is and also in her home on the Timahoe Road. That was the forerunner to the Gaelscoil in Portlaoise which in turn has led to the demand for a secondary school with an all-Irish option.
Incidentally Peggy’s grand-son Tadhg Duffin is one of the current students and was one of the four very talented musicians to perform on stage.
Among those in attendance were TDs Brian Stanley, Sean Fleming and Carol Nolan, Councillors Padraig Fleming, Caroline Dwane-Stanley, Catherine Fitzgerald, Mary Sweeney, Jerry Lodge, John King, Paschal McEvoy and Aidan Mullins from Laois while Offaly councillor Eddie Fitzpatrick was also there as well as Molly Buckley and John Carroll from the Offaly side of LOETB.
Michael Parsons, the former head of the VEC and now chairperson of the National Heritage Council was in attendence too as was John Mulholland, CEO of Laois County County Council. Fr Paddy Byrne and Fr David Vard represented Portlaoise Parish while Paddy O’Hora from McCarthy-O’Hora architects and John Carroll and Colm Kelly from engineers Carroll-O’Keeffe were praised for their work.