Minister Martin Cullen, flanked by Bishop of Waterford and Lismore William Lee , cuts the tape at the official opening of the new extension at Ballyduff National School.

Minister Martin Cullen, flanked by Bishop of Waterford and Lismore William Lee , cuts the tape at the official opening of the new extension at Ballyduff National School.

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Martin Cullen cut a relaxed figure as he cut the tape on Friday morning last at the official opening of Ballyduff National School’s new extension.

In a packed hall, the school’s most striking new addition, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism briefly reflected on a turbulent economic week before saluting the strength of the local community’s spirit.

“I’m also delighted to be here today because it’s nice to be associated with some good news after the week I’ve had,” he said, prompting hearty laughter to resound around the hall.

“I’m particularly pleased to be in my own county, to be here in Ballyduff because it is a celebration of incredible history as we’ve seen.”

Minister Cullen was referring to the history of education in Ballyduff which formed the centrepiece of the opening – an excellently assembled slideshow which was narrated by Sixth Class pupils.

Combining stills and film footage, the presentation offered a pictorial tour stretching back to the hedge schools of the 1830s, which pre-dated the first school building in Ballyduff, built for a princely 13 pounds and 16 shillings.

Incidentally, the planks for the first school were supplied by the priest, one of a host of intriguing facts revealed by the students during a fascinating presentation.

Said Minister Cullen: “I didn’t realise that this school was one of the first national schools ever in Ireland, so the history that’s encapsulated in this school is actually a history of national schools in Ireland.

“It’s an important and rich history that we’ve seen here this morning; 1835 is a long time ago and to see how it has maintained itself over those long decades, years and centuries was most interesting.

“So I think we should also salute the past teachers, pupils and parents, and all associated with the school through boards of management, from that time to today because their vision and their endeavour have brought about the fruits of what we celebrate here today.”

Performing the blessing, Bishop of Waterford William Lee singled out the pupils “who will use [this building] to wonderful effect in the years to come”.

Bishop Lee prayed for the school, a place he said had “been set apart for the pursuit of learning, that it may always be a home of growth, of truth and of welcome”.

He added: “Bless all who work here, give them encouragement and strength as they follow their vocation. Give to the pupils and the teachers help and wisdom and the grace to love each other and one another.”

An extremely proud Parish Priest Father Michael O’Byrne addressed the gathering, reflecting on a 10-year-effort which had culminated in the provision of this new facility.

“I salute our wonderful staff who have worked here down through the years and done such a great, great job,” he said. “I couldn’t exaggerate for a moment the great job that our great staff continues to do.”

Fr O’Byrne paid particular praise to two former Ballyduff NS principals Randall McCarthy and Pamela Murphy, who set the initial ball rolling at the beginning of the project which culminated in last Friday’s event.

He also saluted current incumbent Fionnuala Power, “a person who never lost patience with the Department, never shirked any kind of ongoing work, never lost courage, never lost faith. A person who single-handedly nearly, has steered us to this day.”

During her comments, Ms Power thanked the vast array of people who had made this day possible, also referring to her predecessors, thanking them for their foresight.

“I would also like to thank the Parents Council who worked so hard during the course of this project,” she said. “And we’ve been very fortunate that we have had such a supportive community through the years of planning which has led to our opening here today.”

The school was awash with pupil-created art last Friday following a well-received exhibition which was held there on Thursday evening.

The corridor leading to the school hall was decorated in colourful displays, with the most striking piece of all the work of Cork-born artist Eileen Singleton.

Her ceramic artwork, a white and blue hewn depiction of local plant life was selected after successful emerging from the applicants who made their respective pitches via the Department of the Environment’s ‘Per Cent for Art’ scheme.

Added Ms Power: “I would also like to thank [teacher] Lorna Ryan who co-ordinated this project and was responsible for assembling the children’s’ work which can be seen in the corridor today.”

Also present at last Friday’s opening was Father Ned Hassett, the Reverend George Cliffe, Senator Paudie Coffey, School Inspector Sean Kirby and members of Waterford County Council.

On a day deservedly full of thank yous, Minister Cullen also spoke of the efforts of a great political colleague and friend whom he said had “badgered” him about the need to improve Ballyduff NS.

“I know he’d have been a very proud man today and I’ve no doubt that he’s looking down on us all, but this was a day which the late Pat Leahy had long dreamt of. For his pride in this school and in this community was huge.”

On a day full of applause, when the great Tom Cheasty was also wonderfully honoured during the pupils’ slideshow, every hand clapped that little harder when the much-missed County Councillor was spoken of.

For this was a day when the past was lovingly recalled and the future was spoken of in excited terms on a special day in Ballyduff.