Old school given a new lease of life

FOR 60 years before it was shut last September, the Abbeyfeale Vocational School quietly helped to sculpt and mould young minds across West Limerick and North Kerry.

FOR 60 years before it was shut last September, the Abbeyfeale Vocational School quietly helped to sculpt and mould young minds across West Limerick and North Kerry.

While its pupils and teachers have since been merged with the multi-million euro new Colaiste Ide agus Iosef, the vocational school’s old building at Mountmahon has been given a new guise as the Abbeyfeale community education centre.

Breda Deedigan, manager of the newly-opened centre, said that she hopes the old building will receive a new lease of life though adult education courses, community events and much more.

“We’ve had so many community groups and sports clubs working with us here. What I certainly see as a vision of our future is as a community centre, where the community come to us and tell us what they’d like to see. I want people to feel comfortable to come in here and say, ‘if we get the numbers for it, can we do this?’. People have been incredibly receptive so far. I’ve spoken to a lot of ex-pupils of the school here who’ve come back and said how many memories they have.”

The Abbeyfeale Vocational School opened its doors in September 1951 after it was built for £20,000. Over the next 60 years it became the alma mater of generations of locals, and was celebrated with a commemorative magazine last year ahead of its official closing last September.

Despite the opening of Colaiste Ide agus Iosef and few hundred metres away on Convent Street, the County Limerick VEC were keen to see the vocational school building preserved as a resource for local learning, and set about plans to develop adult education courses there.

The new community education centre is now open and providing FETAC-graded courses in a range of fields, including business studies, computer classes, horticulture and woodwork.

Ms Deedigan, who spent 30 years working at the St Enda’s sports complex in Limerick City before being appointed centre manager in Abbeyfeale, said that the popularity of other classes such as yoga, occupational first aid and cooking on a budget show that there is hunger for a wider resource centre in the town.

“We’re hoping to offer a mix of day and evening courses. The VEC have been very good in helping us develop it.

Of course, one of the main priorities is to provide people with the skills to get employment. But it’s not just an education centre.”

Ms Deedigan paid special tribute to Sean Burke, head of the County VEC and Eimear Brophy, adult education officer, for their efforts in bringing the community education centre to life.

For information on courses, you can either visit the centre itself or call 068 31198.