Arson causes up to €20,000 damage at one-of-a-kind Cork playground

Offers of help and support have flooded in after arsonists destroyed a school’s one-of-a-kind playground, causing up to €20,000 worth of damage.

David Cashman, principal of Sundays Well Boys National School, Cork, looks at the remains of the treehouse burnt down by vandals. Pic: Dan Linehan

Gardaí have launched an investigation into the deliberate and targeted attack on the facility at Sundays Well Boys’ National School on the northside of Cork city. They are examining CCTV footage in a bid to trace up to three culprits, who gained access to the school grounds sometime between 2.30am and 3.30am last Sunday.

They torched a bespoke treehouse and a rope bridge. The fire caused extensive damage to a water-pump and to a range of plants in the surrounding sensory garden. The damage was not discovered until Monday morning, when the school reopened.

Principal David Cashman said the school’s staff, their 184 pupils, and their parents were devastated.

“But this was more than just a school facility. We viewed this very much as a community facility,” he said.

“We had great help from Blarney Street Community Association, who sent up teams of men to clear the site for us seven years ago. Our teachers used some of their Croke Park hours to clear the site and we had huge support from our parents.

Jamie Ahern, Stephen Lin, and Adam Duncan play in the tree house in 2015.

“The playground was used by our pupils, by the 180 or so pupils in the neighbouring girls’ school, and by those attending a nearby preschool.

“The wider community has been devastated by this incident, but we have been overwhelmed by offers of help and support. We are going to get this up and running again as soon as we can.”

The charred remains of the treehouse at Sundays Well Boys NS in Cork.

The playground and garden were developed in 2010 as part of a pioneering project led by a UCC PhD student, who involved the students in every aspect of the design. Mr Cashman said it was a “child-led” project and was the first of its kind playground in Ireland. Its focal point was a Silva Build treehouse, which was around and on top of a hollow 300-year-old tree stump, up through which the pupils could climb to a platform. They then used a slide and the rope bridge to access a lower tier of the sensory garden.

Mr Cashman said the children’s involvement in the design meant they viewed it as their garden and playground, and not a school playground. It was used regularly as an outdoor classroom and it attracted interest from schools all over Ireland who were anxious to replicate it.

Contractors will visit the school today to discuss plans to replace the equipment. A GoFundMe account has been set up. The GoFundMe campaign, Sundays Well BNS Sensory Garden, hopes to raise enough money to replace the equipment and boost security.

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