James Maher and Grainne Harte Maher outside the new Caterpillars Childcare in Killeen with members of the Parish Pastoral Council (from left) Róisín Kennedy, Laurence Purcell, Mairead Gleeson, Rory Kennedy (Vice Chairman), Pat Kennedy (Chairman), Winnie McGrath, Mary Brosnan and Josephine Bourke. Photo: B Delaney

Rural community rejoices as new life begins for old school

There's a newfound sense of happiness in the close-knit community of Killeen, Templederry, with the reopening of the local school as a childminding centre.

The closure of Killenaive National School in 2017 was a major blow to the rural area. Despite undergoing extensive redevelopment works - including the addition of a unit for children with autism - just a few years earlier, the school was closed due to dwindling pupil numbers. Some feared the premises would remain vacant, never to be used again.

Thankfully, however, a new use has been found for the old school with the opening this month of another branch of Caterpillars Childcare. A high-standard service catering for infants to children up to the age of 12, Caterpillars can accommodate as many as 60 children at Killeen's former school.

Welcoming this good news story for the local parish, Pastoral Council Chairman Pat Kennedy said a number of parties expressed interest in renting the old school premises.

The Parish Pastoral Council decided to work with Caterpillars’ husband and wife team of Grainne Harte Maher (Newport) and James Maher (Borrisokane) on refurbishing the building for future use.

“It was very important for the area to have the building open again because when the school closed, Killeen lost a bit of identity,” Mr Kennedy said.

“When you lose a school, it shatters an area.

“There was huge disappointment when it closed. We never saw it coming, really. But it's about the future now, and people are delighted to see the building in use again, and Grainne and James have been welcomed.”

Mr Kennedy was himself a pupil at Killenaive NS shortly after the school was built in 1962. He recalled there being around 60 pupils enrolled at the time.

Unfortunately, that number had dropped to 16 in the 2016/’17 school term, with the prospect of just 10 for the next term. This was despite the considerable redevelopment of the school - much of which was funded by the local community - between 2008 and 2012.

A Mass was held at the end of the ‘16/‘17 term to commemorate the long and proud history of education in Killeen. Members of the local community were invited to view a display of school photos and the register from an older Killeen school, dating all the way back to 1899.

With the disappointment of the school closure fresh in everyone's mind, Mr Kennedy said there is now a sense of excitement in the local community about the reopening of the premises as a childcare centre.

“There's a great buzz about it. People are asking ‘when is the school reopening?’! They can't wait to see this building in use again.”

Works to the old school building included plumbing, wiring and carpentry, as well as door and window improvements. The building had to be brought up a standard that meets the relevant inspection criteria, though Mr Kennedy said not a huge amount of work was required. He commended Mr and Mrs Maher on the project and wished them well for the future.

“It's good to see it back in use again and we're very fortunate to have someone with the work ethic, determination and ambition of Gráinne and her team. This is a good enterprise and we wish them well with it.”

Mr Kennedy also praised the work of the members of the parish committee, pointing out that the Covid-19 climate presented challenges for all involved in the project. He said Caterpillars would be of particular benefit to young families living in the area, and also to people living further afield.

He pointed out that Nenagh is only around eight miles away, while Killeen is four miles from the M7.

Mr Kennedy hoped the availability of choice would encourage people with young families to move into the rural area, as well as providing more options to existing families.

“There are other childcare facilities in the parish as well, and there is room for everyone,” he said.

Grainne Harte Maher of Caterpillars thanked all the members of the Parish Pastoral Council for their assistance and said she is looking forward to running a vibrant centre for children at Killeen's old school for many years to come.

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