By Paddy Mulchrone
THE last school in Ireland has closed its doors for the last time.
Lissagriffin National School, near Goleen, is Ireland’s most south westerly school.
Its spectacular location overlooking Barleycove beach has meant it has a special place in the hearts and minds of those who were educated and worked there over its 60 -year history.
The closure has also heralded fresh calls for the building to be retained as a valuable community asset.
Falling roll numbers left just two pupils at the landmark institution this year, and when 12-year-old Suki Kelly graduated in the summer to head to Schull Community College, that left 10-year-old Damian Williams as the last man standing.
Now he must move to Goleen National School and headmaster Richard Lannin is retiring.
Damien’s Dad David, from Crookhaven, said that in a poignant farewell presentation to his only two pupils and their families, Mr Lannin spoke of the school’s historic contribution to the community over its 60-year-history.
‘He started out saying it’s the end of term, but also the end of the school. Then he added that he always said that the school was nothing without the children. And that the comment had certainly come back to bite him. That was quite moving,’ said David.
Damien’s father also said that it was sad to see the school close. ‘Damian was extremely fortunate to have spent his formative years there under great tutelage and care. The school’s ethos of perfectly marrying classroom education and the opportunity for the children to enjoy the idyllic environment of their school grounds has had a lasting influence on his development,’ said David.
‘Though the loss of the school is sad, it can remain a place of education, overlooking special areas of conservation like the estuary and Barleycove,’ he suggested.
Its floor plan and grounds make it perfect for a role in environmental and outdoor education, David added.
David believes that children from disadvantaged urban-based backgrounds could immerse themselves in the physical environment, to learn and play in it.
‘So although the doors have closed on the school and its first intended purpose, the real sadness would come from the diocese realising its real estate value and not the invaluable opportunity for Lissagriffin in continuing to playa vital role in education, personal development and the health of the community on the Mizen peninsula for many more years to come.’
Suki Kelly’s dad Owen, from Dunmanus Bay, is proud to have seen all four of his children schooled at Lissagriffin, but his pride is also tinged with sadness and frustration at the loss of a prized community asset.
‘I am pleased my kids were raised on grass, with mud on their knees. They were raised in open space under blue skies with the smell of the ocean and the sound of waves,’ he said, adding: ‘They explored knowledge like rock pools along the shore line, excited and thrilled by what they might find. Education is not just words from books, but where those words come alive in the imagination of individuals touched and inspired by the new fresh world around them. Needing room to grow, they grew tall and strong.’
All four of his children were schooled at Lissagriffin. ‘Their names are proudly etched in desk wood like a badge of office and my youngest is the last in the school to graduate, a feeling of loyalty filling her with pride. The others have all gone on to to do well at the ‘big’ school in Schull. They are well-grounded, well learnt, well played. Their teacher Richard guided them, inspired them and taught them well.’
But, he says, he is still in mourning. ‘Denial, anger, blame, bargaining, depression and acceptance all in equal measure. But it’s the anger I am most unsettled by. How could this happen? How could a community let this go? No fight, no raging against the dying of the light?’
The future of the school building – an outstanding candidate for a hostel, outward bound or satellite community centre, or even commercial development – remains undecided.
The Rev Dr Tom Deenihan is secretary of the diocese of Cork and Ross. He said it was his understanding the school will revert to the parish once unused grants are repaid. ‘No decisions have yet been made in this regard,’ he said.
School board chairman Jim O’Meara told The Southern Star last week he didn’t know what the future held for the school: ‘I have no idea in the world. I don’t know what function it might serve.’