'I know 22 of my former pupils are buried in one graveyard' - priest reveals devastation in one community
A priest who worked as a teacher in a primary school has spoken out about suicide in his community.
Speaking the day after the Month’s Mind of one of his old students who died from a drugs overdose, Father Michael O’Shea said he has lost 23 former pupils to drugs and suicide.
“22 of my past pupils are buried in the one graveyard,” he said on Today with Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1.
Fr O’Shea was principal of the CBS primary school in Wexford between 1988 and 1999.
He reflected on the first time he found out a former pupil had committed suicide, on the day of his sister’s holy communion.
“It so happened I had ten years completed as school principal and there are now career breaks and sabbaticals and I was told its time to take a year off, so I opted for a trip to Jerusalem. It was towards the end of the year when I heard one of my former pupils had died.
“I was shocked. I remember his big mop of blonde hair and how he was so full of life. It really set me back because I didn’t expect an extrovert to commit suicide. He was just 19,” he said.
Asked whether he believed there was any underlying cause for the high percentage of tragic deaths, he said he believed youngsters are under too much pressure and struggle to deal with it.
He said schools are too geared towards the academic, resulting in other pupils getting left behind and being unable to handle it.
“As part of my preparation for coming on this show I went down to the current school principal in the CBS primary school in Wexford. He has taught there all of his life and is a past pupil too.
“He looked at the list of names of students who have died and one of the things that struck him was the inability to cope with setbacks. He thought of his own father and mother who belong to a generation that were relatively poor, but were used to picking themselves up, dusting themselves off and carrying on.
“This generation struggles to cope with setbacks,” he said.
The CBS is no longer an all boys school and is currently mixed, which Fr O’Shea believes is a good thing when it comes to mental health and dealing with emotions.
“Recently girls have been introduced into the school which has helped soften the atmosphere. It’s nice to have that experience and I’m conscious of the ability of girls to share their emotions.
“I was used to all male staff and all male students and when the first women came into the Christian Brothers, they really taught us men how to manage the students in a motherly way,” he added.
Fr O’Shea said he believes Wexford is doing all it can to try and reduce the high suicide rate, but laments how this is a necessity in the first place.
“There is a bridge watch every night. Some of my past pupils threw themselves off the bridge, and the marine watch is marvellous, but the fact that they have to be there every night is a comment in itself about the state of things here.”
If you have been affected by any issues raised in this article, please contact The Samaritans free helpline on 116 123.