Another milestone in Wilsons' history took place on Friday 30th August 2013 when the Preston Extension was officially opened by the Minister for Education and Skills.
There are more photos in Our Photo Gallery 2013/14.
The celebrations started in the school Chapel with a celebration of evening prayer led by school Chaplain, Rev. Hazel Scully. The Chapel was full to capacity and the service was relayed to the Weafer Hall where another 300 pupils, staff and friends joined in.
Following this, everyone congregated in the Weafer Hall where Deputy Principal, Mrs. Rosemary Eager was MC for the afternoon. First to speak was the Warden, Adrian Oughton who welcomed everyone to another historic day in Wilson’s Hospital School continuing the work started over 250 years ago by Andrew Wilson. As is his tradition, the Headmaster quoted Patrick Kavanagh. This was the first of many references to poetry from the various speakers, all of whom referred to the work of Seamus Heaney, who died earlier in the day and whose work and life has been such an influence on education in Ireland.
The Bursar, Liam Coyle was next to speak. He pointed out that the snag list was only completed on the building two hours before the ceremony began! The new building is 1584m2 and effectively doubles the size of the existing Preston building. It is built to house 450 students and cost approx. €1.5 million euro. There are eight general classrooms, eight specialist classrooms and various ancillary rooms. This will release rooms in the Wilson’s buildings that were originally part of the boarding facilities. As the school has increased in size, these rooms have been transformed into temporary classrooms. The Bursar thanked the Department of Education and Skills for their support in the construction of the new building, especially the Minister, Ruairí Quinn and Mr. Martin Hanevy from the Department, both of whom were present.
The Preston Extension was designed by Coughlan Associates Architects and has several design features – the front elevation was reduced to blend in with both existing buildings and the surrounding landscape; it is extremely energy efficient with lots of natural light. He thanked Pat Coughlan and the whole architectural team.
There is a large general purpose meeting room called the Banagher Room. The funding of this came from monies after the sale of the Royal School, Banagher. The late Canon Arthur Crawford, who was a great friend of Wilson’s Hospital School, started the research into this funding.
The building was constructed by Michael Fagan Construction from Coole, Co. Westmeath. The Bursar thanked him for completing the project so successfully and to time. All of the sub-contractors involved in the project were also thanked.
The Bursar finished by thanking the planners from Westmeath Co. Council including the County Manager and the Heritage Officer. He thanked the Bank of Ireland, Mullingar and all the supporters and friends of the school including teaching and ancillary staff, parents and board members and the past and present pupils. With the opening of the new extension Wilson’s has renewed itself again.
Next to speak was Kenneth Davis, Chairman of the Board of Governors. He welcomed everyone to the historic event and said that Wilson’s has been evolving since it opened in 1761. With the addition of the new classrooms, Wilson’s will truely be a modern boarding school. He thanked the Minister for Education and Skills for his interest in the school. He also reminded everyone that there has been no change to the enrolment policy, school governance or ethos since Wilson’s joined the Free Tuition Scheme, despite what has been said elsewhere about that. He thanked the two Archbishops who were present and the other Trustees and Guardians for their long term support of the school. He especially thanked the Bursar, Liam Coyle for the enormous amount of work he put in to the project. He congratulated the Warden, saying that as he comes to the end of his time as Warden at Wilson’s Hospital School he has a school to be proud of. He reminded everyone of the school motto – Res Non Verba and said that a new chapter of history is about to be written as Wilson’s moves on into the new extension.
There was a change of pace next as everyone watched the short film produced about Wilson’s at the time of the 250th anniversary in 2011.
Next to speak was the Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland, the Most Revd. Dr. Richard Clarke. He is also the Chairman of the Board of Trustees and Guardians at Wilson’s. He pointed out that that role was never a chore to him because Wilson’s has remained faithful to the trust of founder, Andrew Wilson. He quoted Albert Camus saying that everyone needs space to become what they are meant to be. The new extension would provide this physical space and be a broad place of learning. He said that Seamus Heaney’s poetry allowed for space behind the words and that Wilson’s Hospital School will give the space to pupils to become what they are meant to be. He praised the people in the volunteer sector, including people who sit on School Boards, pointing out how difficult it is now to fill the roles in the voluntary sector. He wished God’s blessing on Wilson’s Hospital School and gave thanks for the day and looked forward confidently to the future.
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland, the Most Revd. Dr. Michael Jackson thanked the pupils for their attention during all the speeches. He pointed out that things have moved on in Wilson’s since Andrew Wilson built the school in the eighteenth century. He said that both “Res” (actions or deeds) and “Verba” (words) have got Wilson’s to this point of much celebration. He wanted to celebrate with the pupils whose education would start with the move into the new build. He asked everyone to take a moment of silence to remember everything that had happened to get the school to that particular point. He ended with a prayer of dedication of the life and work of Wilson’s Hospital School.
To help the celebrations some pupils provided some entertainment. Firstly, a group of Choir members sang “Believe”. The first verse was sung by Amy and Jennifer. They were accompanied by music teacher and Choir Director Sandra Heslin on the keyboard, Tristan and Mark on guitars and Ahmed on the drums. Next up was a short drama with sixth year pupil Jennifer and first year pupil Evan. This drama was written and directed by teacher Freda Malone and gave a short history of the school from the view point of a mother and her son. Next to sing were Jessica and Heather. They sang unaccompanied. The final singer, Andrea, gave an excellent rendition of “You Raise Me Up”.
The Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn T.D. was the main guest speaker for the day. He congratulated the pupils for their excellent entertainment which raised the atmosphere of the day. He welcomed local politicians Deputies Bannon, Penrose and Troy to Wilson’s. He said that Wilson’s has undergone several journeys since it started in 1761. Two schools came together when Preston School (in Navan, Co. Meath) amalgamated with Wilson’s school in the 1960s. Recently, the fee paying Boarding section of the school and the educational section of the school in the Free Tuition Scheme have come together. He pointed out that this template is of interest to a number of schools especially within the Protestant School sector and he thanked Mr Martin Hanevy from the Department of Education for his work in this area. He said that the opening of the Preston Extension continues the Wilson’s educational journey.
The Minister pointed out that education in Ireland is a type of public-private partnership where the government provides the “public” part. They are delighted to fund the education parts. The “private” part organises the management of schools. The government really appreciates this “private” input from parents and volunteers. This is a partnership which works.
He reminded people that The Constitution recognises the family as the primary educator. He is pushing for a parents’ charter to strengthen the family’s role in education. He said that archaeology suggests that the first human settlement in Ireland was about 11,000 years ago and that modern humanity was only 14,000 years old. During all of that time learning was a discourse. Then in 1524 all that changed with Guttenberg’s printing press which meant that limitations to education were blown away. This transformed the way people learnt. Now, we can only speculate at the potential that modern technology brings to learning. The introduction of 100mb broadband has the potential to completely transform education in schools. This new technology will compliment the older learning methodologies.
He concluded by saying that he is proud to be associated with the Wilson’s Hospital School community. He felt that Andrew Wilson’s spirit was captured in Seamus Heaney’s words “Where hope and history rhyme”.
The formal speeches were concluded by the Warden who thanked the Minister. He also thanked Mrs. Eager for her work with the Book Lending Scheme. He thanked Joan Bruton, Chair of the Residential Board and Nigel Foley-Fisher Chair of the School Management Board and welcomed recently appointed Bishop Ferran Glenfield of Kilmore who has joined the school board.
The Minister for Education and Skills then formally opened the Preston Extension. All the visitors to the school were then free to look around the new building with Teachers and Prefects guiding the way. Refreshments were served in the Dining Room, provided by Mrs Mary Kenny and the catering team.
It was a very enjoyable day and the numbers present show the interest, support and commitment that so many people have for Wilson’s Hospital School..