With just 35 pupils now attending St Pius X National School in Ballacolla, closure appears to be a possibility, with children having to move to nearby Clough or Abbeyleix, but it won’t be happening, says Principal Carmel Buggy.
“The Department of Education did a review, and Minister Ruairí Quinn said that under his watch, no small school will be closing. It would be a huge loss. There would be no real saving, it would be the same capitation, and children would have to be bussed,” explained Mrs Buggy, a Kilkenny woman who has been principal at the two classroom school for the past two years. She is assisted by deputy principal Frances Theloke also from the home of the cats, and learning support teacher Miriam Lanigan from Tipperary.
The tightly knit rural community are busy preparing for their first reunion on June 11, also marking the 50th birthday of the present school building. Past pupils of the Manor School which closed in 1946 are included in the celebrations, kicking off at 6pm with Mass celebrated by Bishop Freeman, where the school and parish choirs will perform together, under the guidance of Nicola Kavanagh. A tour of the school will follow, with photos and roll books dating back to the 19th century on display, then a buffet meal and music provided by Billy White in the Hawthorn.
Ccommemorative booklets are ordered and invitations are gone out, with hopes for up to 300 people to attend. The oldest surviving pupil, Sr Joseph Helen who is 103, won’t be coming but Monsignor Liam Bergin, the director of the Irish College in Rome, his brother Fr Karl Bergin, and Fr John Bowe, will all attend.
Though the quiet village retains its old fashioned charm, with little changes over the years, inside the school, all is modern and vibrant, with a family atmosphere and strong community involvement.
“We have a lot of activities like hurling, football, athletics, swimming, quizzes, heritage and art projects, Everything goes on here that goes on in a big school. The one advantage of being a small school is we are so much part of the local community, we are valued. Any event we have is supported, like the Christmas concert or sports evenings, all the locals come, even those that don’t have children in the school, and the parents council are great, you just have to say the word, and tea, cakes, everything is organised,” enthused Mrs Buggy.
Proceeds from the reunion will go towards purchasing interactive whiteboards for the school, which was extended and refurbished in the 1990s, with further insulation and new windows bringing it up to standard two years ago. They have just launched their website, and last week were delighted to hear they have achieved their first green flag, with a presentation by the Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan to take place on Friday, June 3.
Its a far cry from Ballacolla NS, which opened in 1879 in what is now St Patrick’s Hall, with 80 children in one divided room, heated by an open fire which also served to boil the kettle. Before that Lord Castletown opened the Manor School in 1864 children of every religion, where by all accounts they were educated in a happy, child friendly atmosphere.
The emphasis on valuing children is central to this day, and it will be a particularly nice moment at the reunion when 50 Chinese lanterns are released into the sky by pupils to mark their school’s birthday.
For more information call (057) 8734140 or Martin Meade, committee chairman at 086 8231147. www.ballacollans.ie