01 Jul 2022

WATCH: A big Portlaoise school farewell as Martleys Ukraine convoy departs

Nearly 2,000 Portlaoise students gave a huge send-off today to a local trucking business setting off for the Ukraine border today, packed with donations from the community.

Two weeks ago Laois haulier Mark Martley put out the call for Portlaoise creches, schools and businesses to give essential items to fill over 100 pallets in three trucks. 

He was overwhelmed with the response, speaking to the Leinster Express as the trucks prepared to set off from the campus of Scoil Chríost Rí and St Mary's CBS.

"It has been absolutely fabulous. We had planned to go on St Patrick's Day but donations were still coming in today. The response from the schools is just unbelievable, and all the creches. Maples Creche owned by my sister Monica filled one on their own," he said.

Mark will not now be driving himself, due to Covid staff shortages, but his sons Aaron and Cathal with Ian Martin have taken the trucks.

"A big thanks to Gary Deegan from Stradbally too who was driving the teleporter to load the trucks, and Louis Thompson who helped here all morning," Mark added. 

Scoil Bhride 6th class pupils Marcel Nowacki, Jacob Piotrowski and Nan Cash were there with teachers Monica Delaney and Mary Lewis to wave goodbye.

"The response in our school was fantastic, we were inundated with supplies. Mr Meade's 6th class spent two whole days with us packing and sorting and labelling in English and Polish. They feel such empathy. We have lots of children whose families are from Eastern Europe. They now how it feels to have to go to a strange place, but to leave everything behind must be so difficult," Monica said.

Among the Scoil Chríost Rí girls waving off the trucks were friends Samantha Baltrusaitya and Lola Marum.

"We know that if we were in this situation we would get a lot of help as well. My family came from Lithuania, it's quite close to Ukraine, it could come to our country too," said Samantha.

"It is kind of scary, you feel for the people, we are just trying to do anything possible to help," said Lola. 

Brian Thompson is Vice Principal at St Mary's CBS.

"We had a fantastic response. We had people in over the holidays collecting stuff. The Gardaí contacted us and we opened the school and gave supplies to Ukraine people arriving in Laois, like buggies.  The whole school community has helped, parents, past pupils, it's unreal, we are very proud of them.

"We have Ukrainian students, we are showing solidarity for them. It's very stressful for them, we are all very aware of that. It's just lovely to see the two schools and community pull together. We had vans pulling up here every day, you'd look out and see packs of nappies left, it's lovely," he said.

Helen O'Donnell is principal of Scoil Chríost Rí.

"It has been a wonderful celebration of all that is good in the young people and all the people in our school community and the parish of Portlaoise. The generosity, the kindness, the support for this humanitarian appeal has exceeded all expections.

"I congratulate everybody especially our Cáirde Nano group who spearheaded the campaign with Ms Byrne. I thank all the staff. It was a delight to work with Mark Martley and his team and we wish them a safe journey," Ms O'Donnell said.

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