The principal of a school for children with autism has thanked the public for donating €8,000 to replace toys and sensory equipment which were destroyed in an arson attack earlier this year.

Emir Duffy, the principal of Cara National School on the northside of Cork City, said they were devastated by the June arson attack. Two vandals torched a school yard storage shed which contained a toy kitchen, saucepans, diggers for use in sand, and balls used by children with autism and intellectual disabilities.

But yesterday, Ms Duffy said she was heartened by the generosity of members of the public. And she said she wanted people to see how their donations had been spent, and how they have benefitted the children: “We didn’t fundraise as such. The story obviously touched a nerve. It was literally just the response of the public. We really have been overwhelmed by the generosity of strangers. Most of the people who donated cash to the school had no direct connection to us and did not know our pupils or their families.

Two girls in a youth club just did a whip around and dropped down the money. We received a cheque for £200 from a Cork couple living in London who had seen it on the web.”

Bus Éireann staff in Cork also donated bags of old coins which equated to €831.

The school management discussed how they would spend the money and opted to buy additional large playground equipment for the children.

One of the pupils of Cara National School jumping for joy in the new playground.
One of the pupils of Cara National School jumping for joy in the new playground.

“We sought quotes for what we could get for the amount of donations and Browne Brothers Site Services in Carrigadrohid not only gave us a good quote for the four pieces we were considering, they took €1,400 off the price as a donation to the school, so we had enough to meet the price from the donations,” Ms Duffy said.

The equipment, which is less susceptible to vandalism, was installed in the playground in mid-September and the children have been delighted with it since. She said they now go in the yard and line up for turns on the two roundabouts, spinner and trundle wheel.

The new equipment is supporting their development of appropriate social skills in the playground by teaching them the valuable skills of waiting and turn-taking: “These are social skills that can be transferred to community playgrounds when out with their families so the benefits will be felt outside of the school.”

But she said another positive side effect has been the lack of additional vandalism to the school: “We had no incidents over the summer months as the Mayfield community and surrounding residents have frequently phoned gardaí to alert them to possible anti-social activity near to the school. They are eager to prevent a recurrence of the events in June and we are very grateful to them for their vigilance in this regard.”

The school opened just two years ago. It caters for 60 children aged from four to 12 with a dual diagnosis of intellectual disability and autism.

Last June’s arson attack was the second incidence of vandalism at the school, after windows were smashed earlier this year.


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