When Kinsale Community School closed its doors on Thursday, March 12, Cork footballer Tom Clancy did not expect to find himself back in his engineering classroom as early as the first week of April.
The school, it probably should be noted, has not defied Government orders in removing the lock on the front door. Its teaching staff, as with every other secondary school across the country, continue to deliver classes online from home.
What has returned activity to the halls of Kinsale Community School (KCS) is the enterprise of two students, Oisin Coyle and Shane Collins, who contacted their principal about the possibility of using 3D printers to make protective face shields for the medics battling Covid-19.
Since production began early last week, the assembly line at KCS has churned out approximately 1,000 face shields for frontline health workers in Cork, Kerry, and further afield.
Demand continues to rise, and so the addition yesterday of 11 new 3D printers - transported down from Dublin by local Garda James O’Donovan - will prove a great help in meeting the orders flowing in.
The much-needed protective equipment they are providing is free of charge. And it’s quite a lengthy list as to the hospitals and healthcare facilities who are benefiting from the initiative being shown at the Kinsale school. Boxes packed full of face shields have been dispatched to the ICU department at CUH, to Mercy Hospital, University Hospital Kerry, Bandon Community Hospital, the Brothers of Charity, and countless other hospitals, care centres, nursing homes, GP practices, and pharmacies.
Cork full-back Clancy teaches engineering at the school. The laser machine in his classroom has enabled the school to significantly increase the volume of face shields they are manufacturing.
“At the beginning, we had around five 3D printers in use, but a 3D printer is quite a slow machine and so we were only able to make six or seven headpieces every two hours. The headpiece, which slides onto your head, rather than the shield at the front, is the more difficult part to make,” Clancy explains.
“On Monday just gone, one of the students came across an approved design online that the laser machine could make. I set it in such a way that the laser machine is cutting eight at a time. We have a second machine in the school, so, between them, they are turning out around 64 an hour.
“It is not uncommon to find a laser machine in a secondary school, but it wouldn't be standard either. We are very lucky to have two of them. There is a third one in the old engineering room, that’s being used as well, but it is a lot slower.
“Oisin and Shane, who would be very good with the 3D printers, figured out a way to leave them running when we leave the school in the evening. They work away overnight and so when we come in the next morning, there is another batch done and ready to go.”
The perspex used for the headpieces is being sourced from Miko Metals, with Michael O’Driscoll of Bandon Co-op this week sponsoring €1,000 worth of plastic. The shield that comes down over the face, meanwhile, is laminated acetate.
The West Cork community, said Clancy, has been incredibly generous in keeping their stocks topped up. Indeed, as we speak on the phone, the Cork footballer is on his way to Clonakilty-based accountant Seamus O’Brien to collect donated material.
Inside the school, too, it’s been a real team effort.
“Oisin, Shane, and another student, Dylan Collins, have been brilliant. Oisin and I are working on the lasers. Then along with principal Fergal McCarthy, teachers Maria Brosnan, Jamie Torpey, Aaron Bowen, and Adrian O'Connor are spread out all over the school doing the laminating. Any one who is in the school at the moment is only happy to help. The Gardaí in Kinsale have been of great assistance, as well. They deliver the face shields to their intended locations.
“What's going on at the moment, sure, we have never seen anything like this before. You can see in different countries how bad the situation can go.
“I put up a picture on Facebook of what we're making, and a girl I know, who has a sister working on the frontline in an English Hospital, contacted me. She said they could really do with them out there. I got a few to her and she is posting them across to her sister in England,” said Clancy, who started the county's opening three games in this year’s Division 3 campaign.
As to when the Cork footballers might step back inside the whitewash is anyone’s guess.
“I’m doing a bit of training on my own, keeping fit. What more can you do. It is very hard to know what is going to happen the next couple of weeks.”
For the time being, there’s enough on his plate to keep him occupied.
On Monday, there were around 2,000 orders. So long as people keep ordering the face shields, we’ll keep making them. This isn't for profit, we are not charging.
"We have enough perspex to last us the next week. After that, it depends on demand. If the demand keeps at the level it is now, we will need more material again next week.”