YEARS of campaigning, planning and hard work were richly rewarded on Wednesday when a long-awaited new national school in Ballyroan was officially opened at last.
There was an air of excitement and celebration as a huge crowd gathered for the opening of Scoil Eoin Phoil Naofa II, a bright two-storey building with eight classrooms, three resource rooms, a library, a well-designed staff room and a 200sq metre sports/assembly hall and playing pitch.
It was a wonderful day for the local community and everyone involved in securing a new school for the area, which has seen a large rise in population in recent years. But it was particularly special for 158 boys and girls and seven teachers at Ballyroan NS, who finally have the educational facilities they deserve. It was also a particularly proud day for Ballyroan NS principal Niamh Kelly, deputy principal Patricia Doyle and all school staff.
Ms Kelly spoke for everyone when she described the new school as a symbol of a bright new future for Ballyroan and a long-held dream was finally brought to reality.
After years of cramped and unsuitable facilities, boys from the old Scoil Faoláin Naofa NS and girls from Scoil Bhríde NS moved into the bright, airy new building last December and are now happily celebrating the end of the school year, following a memorable opening ceremony.
Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin Denis Nulty celebrated Mass for the whole school in the parish church before a large gathering of dignitaries, public representatives, staff, students and families returned to the school for an official opening and blessing.
The honour of cutting the ribbon went to a delighted Jack Murphy, former groundskeeper at the old boys’school, who was assisted by the school’s youngest pupils Niamh and Jaden.
Newly-elected Portlaoise municipal district cathaoirleach cllr Mary Sweeney was particularly delighted to hold the ribbon with other dignitaries at one of her first official engagements, as she had played a central role in the long-running campaign for a new school in Ballyroan. There were loud cheers following the ribbon-cutting ceremony as cllr Sweeney raised her arms and declared: “We did it!”
Fr Ger Aherne, PP, stressed that, while Ballyroan NS is a Catholic school, its doors are open to all faiths and none.
Other public representatives at the joyful event included justice and equality minister Charlie Flanagan, deputy Brian Stanley, newly-elected county council cathaoirleach Pádraig Fleming and fellow county councillors.
Minister Flanagan acknowledged the major role played by his Fine Gael colleage cllr Sweeney and other hard-working members of the campaign committee and he said he was very pleased that the project had finally come to fruition with a further €28.3m allocated to schools in Laois in recent years.
Sinn Féin deputy Brian Stanley conceded that the government had stepped up to the plate in providing funding for educational facilities in Laois, following years of ‘prefab villages.’
The formalities over, it was time to enjoy refreshments and musical performances in the state-of-the-art general purpose hall, while guests were treated to guided tours of the school by staff and students and an ice-cream van outside did a roaring trade under sun-filled skies.
Designed by Portlaoise-based architects McCarthy O’Hora, the 1,353sq metre purpose-built school is a joy for staff and students who have struggled for years with cramped, outdated facilities and rented prefabs. The hall and sports facilities are also a major improvement, as boys previously used the community hall and girls had to walk to the local GAA field in all sorts of weather.
Built in the grounds of the former girls’ school, there is plenty of room for expansion in the future at Scoil Eoin Phoil Naofa II as the population of Ballyroan continues to rise and young families move to the area.
The building is the first school in Ireland to be named after Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, when the long-running campaign for a new school was underway. Twelve years later, Ballyroan finally has the impressive school it deserves.