Twenty years since prefab row left West Limerick school facing expulsion

Gerard Fitzgibbon

Reporter:

Gerard Fitzgibbon

TWENTY years ago, a Newcastle West primary school had to wrestle with the prospect of being left out in the yard in a planning row over prefabricated classrooms.

TWENTY years ago, a Newcastle West primary school had to wrestle with the prospect of being left out in the yard in a planning row over prefabricated classrooms.

In early 1993 Gaelscoil O Doghair, a co-educational primary school with 125 pupils, was left in limbo after it was denied planning permission to keep three prefab classrooms which had been hastily erected outside the town’s community centre in the Demesne.

The row, which went all the way to An Bord Pleanala, forced then-principal Daithi O Murchu and his staff to face up to the possibility of trying to find somewhere else to teach as many as 70 of their young pupils.

Today, it is possible to reflect on the controversy with a safe glint as since 2006 Gaelscoil O Doghair has been housed in one of the most advanced, modern purpose-built school premises in the county on the Station Road in the town.

But Mr O Murchu told the Limerick Leader this week that in 1993, no one knew if the school would even survive.

“The rooms were falling apart, the rats were eating their way up through the floor. It was a very difficult struggle, but 1993 was a turning point.

“For years we’d be ready, if they were coming down to bulldoze those prefabs, we’d be there like suffragettes to stand in front of them. My belief was, you never say die, despite all adversity. We were this major headache.”

In the Limerick Leader edition of January 16, 1993 the school’s plight was highlighted in an article carrying the headline ‘pupils face classroom eviction over prefab move’.

The article stated that students “could find themselves literally out in the yard before the end of this school term”, unless An Bord Pleanala overturned a Limerick County Council decision to not allow the three prefabs to remain outside the community centre.

The prefabs were erected the summer beforehand in a bid to find space for 40 new pupils starting at the school, however they were erected without planning permission, and an application to retain them was turned down.

Mr O Murchu said then that if the council’s decision was upheld, “we will be out in the open air with children and teachers as there is nowhere else for us”.

The students were subsequently moved into space in the community centre, but the prefab row rumbled on for over a decade, until the school was finally approved for funding for a new building.

Mr O Murchu, who is now based in Dublin, said that he and everyone else who fought for the school for so long looks with “extreme pride” at where the school finds itself today. “It is testament to the people of Limerick’s ability to withstand every piece of opposition they find in front of them.”