His Grace, Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly, brought the sun with him on his visit last Friday to the Official Opening of Loughmore NS ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) Unit, aptly named ‘Solas’. The opening was extremely well attended by Loughmore school, church and community members, as well as many parishioners, well wishers, local politicians Noel Coonan TD, Councillors Joe Bourke and John Hogan and special guests.
Friday’s Official Opening and Blessing Ceremony was the culmination of three years of assiduous work by the school staff, management and parents, in collaboration with Architect John Brennan and his team in ABN Midlands, builder Pat Kirwin and his company P&M All Trades Ltd, and many other sub-contractors and contributors.
The school band, under the direction of teacher Nina Scott, played the National Anthem and Principal Angela Dunne welcomed everybody to this special event and invited the Archbishop to bless the school’s new building. A beautiful Blessing Ceremony followed, after which NCSE (National Council for Special Education) SENO (Special Education Needs Organiser) Margaret Kennedy cut the red ribbon, thus officially opening this beautiful new facility. The Solas building consists of two state of the art ASD classrooms, two multi-sensory rooms, a new Principal’s office and a new Resource Teaching classroom.
This new ASD facility offers an inclusive and dynamic approach to education to the twelve fantastic pupils who are enrolled in these special classes, and the mainstream pupils also access these facilities on a regular basis . The wonderful staff of Loughmore NS work collaboratively, creatively and tirelessly to ensure that the holistic education of all of its pupils is the focus of their daily work. Their vision for an inclusive and progressive centre of education is shared and supported by a very hard working and dedicated Parent Association and a very forward thinking and diligent Board of Management. Solas has become an integral part of the fabric of Loughmore NS in a relatively short space of time and the benefits of this new facility for the entire student body was very evident at Friday’s ceremony. Margaret Kennedy thanked the school staff in her speech, for embracing this project with such gusto and sincerity and complimented the school community for the understanding, enthusiasm, faith and support they have displayed throughout this project. It was fitting for Margaret to cut the ribbon at this ceremony as she has played a hugely supportive role in this project from its inception to its conclusion and continues to offer ongoing support to the school in her capacity as SENO.
After this ceremony, the attendees moved inside for food and refreshments, catered for by Francis Murphy, Templemore. Principal Angela Dunne paid tribute to everyone who had contributed in any way to the establishment of Solas and there was indeed an extensive list of people to thank including – the SENO and NCSE, the Principals of Gaile NS and Dromakeenan NS – who had offered advice and guidance, the Department of Education personnel, the architect, builder, contractors, tradesmen, staff, parents, BOM, pupils, the North Tipperary Intervention Team, the SESS (Special Education Support Services), and the many other contributors to this project who assisted so generously and competently with their time, support and skills. The Lisheen Mines, Kati Kelly (wife of the late Irish Olympian John Kelly), the Parent Association, the Thurles Lions Club, Michael Ryan(Centenary Co-op Thurles), Conor Stakelum and Solas Teacher Niamh Gleeson, were also thanked for either donating generously to the school or for their fundraising efforts on the school’s behalf. Niamh Gleeson was also thanked for her enormous contribution to this project in assisting the BOM and Principal Angela Dunne in collaborating with the various excellent contractors involved throughout the project to ensure that these new facilities were designed and resourced to match the needs and aspirations of the school. Angela also paid tribute to the exceptional management and staff in Loughmore NS and thanked them for always going above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that the school is such a happy and caring centre of education.
Fr. Pádraig Corbett also acknowledged, thanked and complimented the architect and builder and all parties involved in this project in various capacities and acknowledged in particular his fellow Board Members who work so hard behind the scenes to manage the school and lead the school community in an efficient, transparent and collaborative manner. The decision to embrace this new direction and addition to Loughmore NS came in the midst of new DES policies and directives which delivered devastating cuts to small country schools, and Loughmore NS was unfortunately a casualty of these Departmental policies, losing a mainstream class teacher in 2012 for the want of two pupils. The school has a very healthy enrolment of 84 pupils at present and is appealing this decision with the DES on an ongoing basis. Testament to the stoicism, industry, flexibility and dedication of the staff in this current climate of increasing pressure on small schools, was paid by the School Manager.
Guest speaker Adam Harris’ speech was indeed the highlight of the afternoon. Adam is the founder of autism charity AsIAm, and was in recent months awarded the 2014 Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Elevator Award, for his great work in Autism Advocacy and in raising awareness and providing support for children, parents and schools regarding Autism. Adam was diagnosed at a young age with Aspergers Syndrome (high functioning Autism) and credits early educational intervention with enabling him and to reach his potential and to live a full life as an adult. Adam gave a brilliant workshop to Loughmore NS pupils earlier in the morning on what life in school can be like for pupils with Autism. His speech was equally as inspirational, as he is living proof that classes such as Solas can and do make a significant difference to the lives and achievements of the pupils it educates. Adam’s speech was received with rapturous applause and he made a lasting impression on his audience as an excellent role model and spokeperson. Fr. Corbett then made a presentation to Adam from Loughmore NS to the AsIAm Foundation.
Parent Association Secretary Louise Cormack spoke next and reiterated the continued commitment and support of the parent body in Loughmore NS to the great work going on in the school and wished the staff and pupils well. Solas teachers Niamh Gleeson and Brendan Maher cut a cake which was specially made for the occasion and all guests enjoyed a slice and a cup of tea.
To conclude the day’s events, the hall committee were thanked for their assistance with the catering equipment for this event and a presentation was made to a pillar of Loughmore’s community – Conor Stapleton, for all of his voluntary work on the school’s behalf. He was presented with a piece of Genesis sculpture in appreciation of all of his generosity and goodwill towards the school. He was instrumental in assisting the staff to organise the school furniture and equipment through the various upheavals that come with a building project of this scope and the staff and management of the school took this opportunity to acknowledge Conor’s great contribution and thank him for all his great work for our school.