By Helen Riddell
A NEW autism classroom, the only one of its kind on the Beara peninsula, has been officially opened at Scoil An Croí Ró Naofa in Castletownbere, by the new county mayor Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy, on his first engagement on the peninsula as mayor.
Cllr Murphy is himself a native of Beara, though he is now resident near Bantry.
School principal Ann McNally outlined how the dedicated classroom, which is used by eight pupils, is named the Cuan, the Irish word for harbour.
‘By definition a harbour is a place of safety and somewhere to take shelter in times of storm, the same meaning can apply to day-to-day life.
‘While most children can cope with the rough and tumble of the normal school day, it isn’t the case for all children, in particular a child with autism or with high sensory needs,’ she explained.
‘Although the children attend mainstream classes as much as possible, we have created the Cuan for them, as somewhere which offers them a calm, safe environment they can go to, to take some time out.’
A new sensory garden has also been installed at the school, which is a space for all pupils to avail of, and the children have a big part in maintaining the garden, says Ms McNally.
‘As well as being a sensory garden, we also have vegetable and flower beds, so it is a working garden for the whole school to enjoy.’
She thanked Beara residents who contributed to the garden, particularly Eoin Harrington who donated two large quartz boulders to form the water feature and Sykoni Celestine for creating a mosaic feature.
Also attending the launch were Mary McMahon special education needs officer for the Beara area and Fr Noel Spring, parish priest in Castletownbere, who blessed the new room and garden.
Finbarr MacCarthy of the board of management and Breda Sheehan representing the Parents’ Association were also in attendance.
Ms McNally thanked all those who attended the opening, and said how delighted the school was to welcome the new mayor.
‘It was an absolute privilege for us to have our new mayor visit us as his first engagement on the Beara peninsula. In his capacity as councillor, Patrick Gerard has been very supportive of the school over the years.’
She also gave special mention to Mary McMahon for her invaluable support in setting up the school’s sensory room, and to all the parents and the Parents’ Association, for their support.
‘Three years ago the parents organised a fashion show here in Castletownbere, which was attended by former Miss World Rosanna Davison, and raised a staggering €8,000 which enabled us to create the sensory garden,’ she said.
The launch finished with a rendition of Maidin I mBéarra by the 5th class pupils, accompanied by Eva O’Donovan on tin whistle.
The pupils are looking forward to making full use of their new room and garden at the start of the new school year in September.