Community rallies around Dundalk school in moment of need

School fire: Efforts of so many ensured classes returned within a matter of days

David Lynch


David Lynch


Community rallies around Dundalk school in moment of need

DkIT President Dr Michael Mulvey and acting principal of St Louis Michelle Dolan

After what can safely be described as one of the toughest weeks in the school’s history, Acting Principal of St Louis Secondary School, Michelle Dolan spoke in depth to the Democrat about the struggles of the past seven days, but also the wonderfully selfless efforts of so many to get classes back up and running so quickly.

However, as she first surveyed the fire damage early that fateful Saturday morning, Michelle was struck by two extremes.

“Ironically, we were treated to a beautiful sunrise and the scene at the front of the school was of a gorgeous summer’s morning, while the scene on the north-facing side of the school was of black smoke, darkness and mess,” she recalls.

“We arranged some hot drinks and biscuits for the fire-fighters and they sat up in the sunshine, glad to take a break and enjoy some sun on their faces - they were all amazing, up all night, fighting the fires.”

Once the fire was out, the next stage of the reaction began.

“Kevin Wynne (Chair of the Board of Management) arrived and he was a great support, we were grateful that the main school had not been too badly affected, but concerned too that a more modern block containing practical classroom had smoke damage and had broken panes.

“Later we realized that all utilities ran under the lost buildings to this area, so it lost gas, water and electricity supplies, which would mean it was not going to be available for lessons in the near future.

“We contacted our insurers and initially we were concerned they would not be visiting until Monday but a local - Rory McArdle - arrived and was able to set wheels in motion to have the damage assessed and to sanction initial emergency repairs.”

According to Michelle, the actions of the fire service had saved the school, but it was still tough for many staff to see the damage to the school that morning.

“The main school building had been saved by the quick action of Paul Kelly’s (chief firefighter on the scene) decision to concentrate on the school building, but it was a difficult scene to witness, especially when other members of staff arrived who had been attending the walk.

“Many of the staff were also past pupils and they were visibly upset by the destruction visited on their lovely old school, a place they really hold close to their hearts.”

After taking advice, and the offer of help from DkIT, Michelle and the school set about the Herculean task of moving a school to another location, so quickly.

“We found ourselves in DkIT on Tuesday with all of our 3rd and 6th year students in class by 9.10”, she recalls. “Second and 5th years joined us on Wednesday and all students were in class by Thursday morning!

“The classrooms are spread across the campus, so the teachers are making an amazing effort to run from group to group. SNAs and teachers who are free are supervising to ensure all students are supervised at all times - security and child protection were identified as key concerns when we completed a risk assessment at the first Monday meeting.

“The scene of over 500 girls converging on the DkIT restaurant at break-time was quite a sight and yet when they are in class you would not even know they are on campus.

“They are a credit to their families and they are so grateful to DkIT and Bus Eireann for facilitating their transfer so smoothly.”

According to Michelle, the school will be fully back in action by August.

“We will all be back in Castletown stronger and better in August now that we have faced adversity and rose to the challenge - ‘Ut Sint Unum’.”