Friday 17 January 2020

Lesson in survival... historic college facing closure turns tables after student numbers soar by a third

Class act: Pupils at the recovering Cistercian College in Roscrea. Photo: Don Moloney
Class act: Pupils at the recovering Cistercian College in Roscrea. Photo: Don Moloney
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

It has been a remarkable turnaround. Less than three years after Cistercian College, Roscrea (CCR), announced its impending closure because of declining rolls, pupil numbers are up by a third.

In February 2017 there was gloomy resignation among the Cistercian monks at Mount St Joseph Abbey, on the Offaly-Tipperary border, that their only option was to shut in 2018, after 113 years of teaching.

They had seen enrolments drop 45pc to 167 over the previous decade.

But now the community is working toward the school's 120th anniversary in 2025, when it hopes to celebrate the successful realisation of an ambitious development plan to support excellence in education and facilities as well transforming itself and the associated abbey and farm into a green campus with its own solar farm.

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From the dark days of 167 enrolments in early 2017, with only nine first years signed up for the start of the academic year in the following September, there has been a solid recovery to 220 pupils.

"There is a little bit of wind at our back," said the school's head of admissions, Séamus Hennessy.

He said the college was hoping for a further "significant growth" in the coming year.

It has come thanks to a big push from a revitalised parents' association, which pulled out all the stops when closure was threatened, and some big gun alumni, including former Tánaiste Dick Spring and former foreign affairs minister David Andrews. Former 'Irish Times' editor Conor Brady chairs the college's past pupils' union.

Mr Hennessy said the support of big name past pupils with experience at the highest levels of business and public life was invaluable.

"They turn up at events, but also in terms of offering advice and helping to steer the place - along with the new finance committee and the parents' association," he said.

From its traditional role as a seven-day boarding school for boys, the new beginning for CCR involved broadening its appeal for a new generation and opening up to five-day and day boarders. According to Mr Hennessy, over 20pc of pupils are now day boarders, on the premises from 8.15am to 8pm and adding sports and study to the normal school day. Alongside its strong sporting reputation, the school is equally proud of its strength in music, and Mr Hennessy said the "boys consider music is as hip as sport".

He added that, while the college always attracted pupils from all four provinces, it is seeing a particular growth in interest from families in Dublin "because they know we can meet their sporting needs but also support their academic and study needs".

CCR also has a small, but growing, percentage of international students from countries including, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Mexico and China.

While growing admissions help to bolster finances for the day-to-day running of the college, alumni are digging deep to support a major fund-raising campaign to underpin the 2025 development project.

Irish Independent

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