A new chapter in the history of St Patrick’s Comprehensive unfolded with the opening of a €5.5 million extension incorporating the area’s first special needs unit and enhanced learning facilities for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects.
Outside the new extension were (l-r) Minister of State Pat Breen, Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton, Morgan Heaphy (Principal), Bishop Fintan Monahan and Deputy Joe Carey.
Guest of honour at the official opening ceremony in St Patrick’s Comprehensive, which was attended by teachers, pupils and visiting dignitaries, was Richard Bruton TD, the Minister for Education and Skills. Bishop Fintan Monahan, whose first public engagement was at the school, returned to give his blessing.
It was another memorable day for school principal Morgan Heaphy, who had overseen the delivery of a major extension to the school on time and within budget. To his credit, however, Mr Heaphy graciously turned the spotlight towards an elderly man sitting four rows back with his wife.
Paying tribute to St Patrick’s Comprehensive’s founding principal, Mr Heaphy recalled the arrival of Diarmaid Ó Donnabhain and his wife Renie from Cork in 1966 to lead Ireland’s first comprehensive school.
Diarmaid, he said, “has been here since and has been an inspiration to many people. He is a man I love meeting and I love listening to him.”
Despite being retired for many years, Diarmaid Ó Donnabhain retains a huge interest in St Patrick’s Comprehensive. Morgan said the extension had just been completed when he received a phone call. It was Diarmaid pretending to call about something else but bursting to ask, “would you mind if I call down to take a look around?“
Morgan was delighted to show his illustrious predecessor the new extension and equally delighted that Diarmaid attended the opening ceremony with his wife Renie and their good friends Clem and Eileen Garvey.
David Deighan, chairman of the board of management, thanked Minister Bruton for the very significant investment in the school and in the town of Shannon.
Mr Deighan reminded those present that St Patrick’s was Ireland’s first comprehensive school and has always been a leader and a pioneer in second level education.
Notably, he said, the school became part of a national experiment in regional economic development and under the leadership of Diarmaid Ó Donnabhain, the Comp became a centre for curriculum development and research in comprehensive education.
With the opening of the new extension, the school continues in that pioneering mode with a facility to accommodate an ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorders) teaching unit for second level pupils.
Noting that international studies have identified STEM subjects as critically important for young people and the economy, Mr Deighan said the new labs for science, technology and engineering will better equip the school to meet these needs in the future. He also welcomed the addition of a new art room and home economics class.
Mr Deighan concluded by offering his best wishes, “to all our friends and neighbours, our pupils, our staff, and many people who use the school to study, to play, to visit and enjoy events and happenings, many years of achievements and success.”
Minister Richard Bruton
In his address, Minister Richard Bruton reflected on the immense changes that have occurred since Diarmaid Ó Donnabhain arrived in 1966. At that time, only 20% of young people completed second level education and only one in twenty went on to third level.
Minister Bruton enthused, “It’s a change that Irish people and particularly the Irish education community and the people here can be really proud of. We now have the highest retention completing second level in Europe, bar one. Drop-out levels have fallen dramatically, particularly in disadvantaged areas.
“The numbers going to third level in Ireland are among the highest in Europe. The number of people studying science subjects are among the highest in Europe.”
Paying tribute to Mr Ó Donnabhain, Minister Bruton said that Diarmaid and those who succeeded him, “have put Ireland on a path of dramatic transformation.”
He recalled that in 1966 there were one million people at work In Ireland, today that figure is two million people. “A lot of them are here because we have been able to create fantastic entrepreneurs who create businesses. We’ve also attracted some of the best and the most ambitious companies in the world to come to Ireland because of the talent that we have here. I think that’s a fantastic achievement,” he said.
Recognising the dramatic changes occurring in the world of work and the concurrent pressures of society, Minister Bruton said, “today we are making provision for those young people. We are investing in really important STEM facilities but we’re also creating an environment where the well-being of students and teachers and of staff within the school community is really valued.”
He added, “We as a nation want to achieve great things. We want to lead in culture, we want to lead in science, we want to lead in enterprise and sport. We also want to make sure that we will make a difference in the lives of anyone who comes in the doors of the school and that is what is happening here.”
Some of the attendance at the official opening ceremony
Addressing himself to the first and second-year pupils in the audience, Minister Bruton reminded them that it is they, the students, who really make this school. He urged them to ensure that no-one is shunned or bullied or left on the outside and to look out for everyone.
“That,” he said, “is the sort of environment that we have to create in our education for the future and you as students who are privileged to be here, it is you who really create the community.”
The Minister thanked those within the school who are committed to building an environment which is tolerant, inclusive, respectful and resilient.
Minister Bruton concluded by offering his best wishes to everyone in the Comp. As an aside, he said he didn’t think he will return again as Minister but he has no doubt that David and Morgan are already looking towards their next challenges.
Not one to pass off an such a good opportunity, Morgan Heaphy replied to the Minister that St Patrick’s has been selected for a pilot project involving PE. “So we have identified a project, it’s a new gym! Thank you, Minister,” he concluded hopefully.