Roscrea past pupils rally around ailing alma mater

Cistercian College Roscrea. Credit: Flickr. Photo by PiusOP

The announcement that Cistercian College Roscrea would be shutting it’s doors in the near future came as a shock to even those closely linked with the school. The news was delivered in a cold, unfeeling way, in the form of an email sent to all parents of current students informing them that all 1st, 3rd and Transition Year students would have to find new schools from next year. The school would remain open for current  2nd and 5th years if the demand was there. Economic reasons were cited. 112 years of proud tradition, of memories, of unbreakable bonds. The institution which represented all these things was seemingly gone, just like that.

Roscrea rugby team huddle before a match. Credit: Save CCR Facebook page

What the people making this decision didn’t count on was the backlash this would elicit from the past pupils of the College. Within a day a “Save CCR” Facebook page had been established, garnering thousands of likes and rallying past pupils to save their beloved school.

Save CCR Facebook profile picture

Speaking to former Roscrea pupils, it is clear that this was akin to a death in the family. Denis O’Dwyer is from the class of 2011 and was part of a Roscrea rugby team which made the Leinster Senior Cup Final that same year. “My initial reaction was absolute shock. I had thought that when we won the cup in 2015 that it would steadfast Roscrea into the future but unfortunately that was not the case. I had met a past teacher back before Christmas and he told me that they were under severe pressure but to be honest I didn’t believe him. He had been known for rambling and over exaggerating. How wrong was I.” Calum Quinn from the class of 2014 had a differing view of events. “I wasn’t particularly surprised to be honest. The recession chopped numbers to 160 [from 300] or so within 3 years. But I was angry with the way it was announced. There was no fight or plea for assistance from the monastery to help keep the school open. Past men from CCR have went on to become national leaders in business management. There is no lack of experience and funding so it beggars belief why there was no rally for support ages ago.”

The reason the school has been struggling is clear. The last 10 years have seen a 45% decrease in enrolment in the college. The school has gone from 300 student ten years ago to 167 today, while only 9 boys enrolled for First year in 2017/2018. The college, in it’s current incarnation, is not economically viable. But many feel this is not sufficient reason to close, and that a phoenix could rise from the ashes of this mess.

A meme posted by the Save CCR Facebook page

A meeting organised by the Save CCR campaign took place in the County Arms Hotel in Birr on February 22nd. Over 400 people attended, more than twice the current student population of the school. This just drives home that this issue has touched an awful lot of people in ways that the management did not anticipate. A CCR Action Group was established, funds were pledged and any final decision of the schools fate was postponed from the 26th of February to the 17th of March to allow the Action Group more time to get themselves organised. A first small victory in a war they hope to win. All of this achieved in less than a week.

Philip O’Dwyer, Class of 2012, attended the meeting in Birr. “There was a real feeling of hope and belief in the room. It was made clear from the outset that it was to be a proactive meeting and that there was to be no complaining and giving out about mistakes from the past. But rather to create something new that could be financially sustainable and viable prospect for the future”.

Roscrea players celebrate winning the school’s first Leinster Schools Senior Cup in 2015. Credit: The Irish Times

It is clear that Roscrea and it’s devoted past pupils are not going down without a fight. What also become abundantly clear when speaking to them is that they are all singing off the same hymn sheet. The shock has been replaced with a steely determination and an optimism which is not blind in it’s direction, but which has a focus. “It’s just about adapting to the change and increasing our awareness through effective marketing campaigns. With that said, we do need a guarantee from past pupils that they will stay active and motivated. But I have no doubt with something as emotive as this, they will do nothing else but make sure!” stated Denis, while Calum Quinn was in agreement. “They need to be more interactive with social media. With pledges of funds from past pupils and parents I can see the necessary improvements being completed within 9 months and continuing as numbers rise. The door should also be opened for 5 day boarders, day boarders and half day boarders. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a large increase in numbers from towns like Portlaoise, Birr, Roscrea, Nenagh and Portarlington [due to these proposed changes], all of which are less than 30 minutes from the school. It’s as clear as day what changes need to be made, it’s just a shame it has come to this for change to actually come about.”

I’ll leave the last words of defiance to Denis O’Dwyer; “Mark my words, Cistercian College Roscrea is not closing.”

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