Bell sounds the end of school’s prefab era

 Phoebe Buttimer, Jack le Blanc and Orla Finn share a joke with Education Minister Ruairi Quinn  at the opening of the school extension

Rarely can the old school bell have sounded so sweet.

Yesterday, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn rang in the official opening of an extension at a thriving West Cork primary school — 20 years after it first applied for funding to move out of prefabs.

Knockskeagh National School, some three miles outside Clonakilty, now has 109 pupils, but back in the mid-80s it had two dozen students and just one teacher. Parents locally decided to raise the money to cover the cost of a second teacher, Johnny Walsh, who yesterday, in his role of principal, helped to celebrate the opening of a new extension containing three new classrooms.

He told parents and past pupils packed into the school hall (paid for by the parents’ association through fundraising) that yesterday marked “a momentous day” in the history of Knockskeagh NS, which was established in 1937. He recalled how 20 years ago the school got its first prefab, required because of the growing number of pupils. Few could have foreseen it would take two decades before they could finally have all the children under the one roof, in an environment “impervious to the weather”.

Bell sounds the end of school’s prefab era

Junior infants Riona O’Toole and Serena White look on in their new surroundings

The €300,000 in funding was provided as part of the 2012 Prefab Replacement Scheme, while another €48,000 was also sanctioned for the provision of a lay-by and onsite parking at the school.

Construction took place from Jul 2012 to February of this year, melding old and new buildings and creating a symbol of the persistent efforts made by parents, teachers and board members, which also included the purchase of land adjacent to the school to facilitate the build.

Bell sounds the end of school’s prefab era

Members of the school choir listen attentively

Ethan O’Reilly from second class counted down the cutting of the red ribbon by Mr Quinn. Ethan is the grandson of the oldest serving member of the board of management, Dennis Keohane.

As the minister ceremonially rang the old school bell — still used every day — the oldest past pupil Michael O’Reilly was asked to stand up and he waved his arms along with the ringing. The minister, visibly taken aback by the sense of community and achievement, said he had been “easily persuaded” that a building was required at Knockskeagh.

Bell sounds the end of school’s prefab era

Senior infants Eva Coleman and Jane Twomey

“We have far too many prefabs still,” he said, referring to the lack of school building programmes during the Celtic Tiger years when “there seemed to be a building site at every crossroads”.

Now his ministerial colleague Jan O’Sullivan is planning to “pound into the ground buildings that will never be homes”, he said, the ghost estates put up while children toiled in prefabs.

It was “a lost opportunity”, he said, adding: “That is not going to happen again.”

In this part of the country at least, the prefab years are now fading into memory and the bell certainly sounds better in the acoustics lent by bricks and mortar.


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