Almost 170 junior infants walked through the doors of the brand new Holy Family Junior School for the first time this morning.
There were plenty of smiles and laughter as the young pupils, kitted out in their new uniforms, began their journey in “a campus of educational excellence”.
The Holy Family Senior School is built on the same campus as the Junior School and many students started their first year there today too.
The new schools are the result of an amalgamation of Sacred Heart School, Scoil Mhuire and St. Paul's.
Speaking to the Leinster Express, Parish Priest Msgr John Byrne said that it is a huge achievement that there are no children in prefabs in parish schools in Portlaoise.
“I am very glad that after a long number of years there will be no child in a prefab in the parish schools in this town, that is a huge achievement, some of those prefabs were over 40 years old.
“I would like to point out Scoil Bhride in Knockmay, which is a 32 classroom facility and it is a fantastic facility as well,” he said.
Fr Paddy Byrne said the inclusivity of the Catholic schools is very positive.
“I think John is probably much to humble and modest to say that in terms of himself it was his vision, his commitment as parish priest, he purchased the property, he led from the front the whole task of educating children and waiting long long years, the government prioritised Educate Together and other schools to be built, I think one thing that is very positive this morning is it that it eradicates the codology of secular media that says Catholic schools are exclusive clubs.
“We have children that are Syrian Muslims, lots of Catholics, Christians from all creeds, cultures and faiths and that is the strength of a Catholic school it is inclusivity, its sense of equality.
“One thought as well is that any of these children starting here today for the first time could be a future Taoiseach in this country so it is really a very proud day here in Portlaoise,” he said.
Antoinette McGowan brought her son Cian (pictured below) to school for the first time this morning. Cian’s big brother Eoin started fifth class in the brand new Senior School next door.
“The new schools are gorgeous, he is the last of three children so it is a bit emotional, it will be fine once he gets a bit older it will be just dropping off and a collection point but at the moment I will be coming into the classroom to collect him but it will be fine,” said Antoinette.
Kate McNulty Nolan was happy heading off to class this morning as her mother Angi McNulty and her grandfather Malachy McNulty (pictured above) were there to see her off.
“It is great, from a grandfather's perspective he is after putting eight through school. This is his first time in the Holy Family school,” said Angi.
Malachy McNulty joked that it was his first day in school.
“It is a milestone, it is great to have the school, there was a little bit of madness this morning but it is always the same on the first day of school. She is absolutely looking forward to it and she is also looking forward to the Electric Picnic this weekend too.
“She has a brother in the Senior School, Liam, he started sixth class this year and she has a couple of cousins in the school too which is fantastic. I have been inside we got an amazing tour it is fantastic it is wonderful for the town and the landscape is amazing. Congratulations to the parish priests, they have just put huge effort in, it is amazing it is great to see an amalgamation of all the schools it is about time now, there will be a little few teething things over the next couple of weeks but it will all work out,” Angi added.
Jackie Carroll is the Senior Project Architect for the Holy Family Schools, from McCarthy O’Hara Architects in Portlaoise.
“It is great, it is particularly great because we are a local architect practice, we are from Portlaoise so to be able to work on a local school campus which is one of the bigger school campuses in the country is fantastic and it is really nice to be able to see all the kids after working on it for so long.
“It is great, it is one of the most satisfying jobs to work on a school because it is nice to create nice places for kids to have nice memories and that is what it is really about.
“It is about colour and vibrancy, you want kids to enjoy going to school.
“This site was actually quite a difficult site, it was sloped and so we kind of said well let’s us that to our advantage so we created all of these terraced areas that the school just doesn’t stop inside the building it extends out so we are giving the school opportunities with extended classrooms and little performance areas between the two schools.
“It is a blank canvas for the teachers to take ownership and to create memories,” Jackie said.