The doors of St. Eugene’s College, Rosslea will close for the final time tomorrow (Friday), marking the end of secondary school provision in the border village after almost five decades.

A “bittersweet occasion” was held in Rosslea on Saturday evening as the local community came together to say goodbye to the 49 year-old-school, which will amalgamate with St. Comhghall’s College in Lisnaskea in September, forming a new school called St. Kevin’s College.

READ: CCMS propose closure of St. Eugene's College

“It’s those who have been a part of St. Eugene’s who really understand and appreciate what it was and who feel the loss and hurt. It cuts you deep inside,” Acting Principal Malachy McConnell told The Impartial Reporter.

A History teacher in St. Eugene’s for the past 25 years, Mr. McConnell will continue teaching History in St. Kevin’s College from this September.
“The retired members of staff who built this school up are hurting and that is understandable,” he added. “Unfortunately, reality tells us that St. Eugene’s won’t be the last [school to close.]”

It is accepted that falling enrolment in local primary schools, the government’s Sustainable Schools policy and parents sending their children elsewhere for fear they would have to uproot them during their schooling were all factors that contributed to the current situation. Indeed, Fermanagh’s education landscape has changed drastically over the past decade, with closures and amalgamations becoming more common.

Former Education Minister John O’Dowd approved the Council for Catholic Maintained School’s development proposal to close St. Eugene’s and amalgamate with St. Comhghall’s in March 2016. Mr. O’Dowd said his decision was due to “the on-going sustainability issues being experienced by the schools” and said his decision “is in the best interests of all the pupils in the area.” 

“The decision was made last Easter and while it has been emotional at times, the fact that a decision had been made brought certainty to the whole process,” said Mr. McConnell who is looking forward to creating new connections in the St. Kevin’s community. 

READ: One more year for St. Eugene’s ‘to facilitate transfer’

St. Eugene’s opened in 1968 and has witnessed four Principals: Brendan Moriarty; Seamus Carolan, David Lambon and Martin Knox. There was a “huge community effort” in the early days to gather the resources needed to bring the school into being. It began teaching A Levels in 1995.

Impartial Reporter:

1997 school photo when there were over 300 pupils.

Former vice principal Seamus McPhillips joined St. Eugene’s as a science teacher in 1970 and described his 32-year career as “happy, contented and fulfilled.” Mr. McPhillips recalled: “There was a great spirit of friendship and co-operation between pupils and staff and a great comradeship and support among the teaching staff. There was a great buzz in the parish about St. Eugene’s being a great school.” 
He mentioned the deceased staff members including Ted O’Neill, John Mc Caughey, Teresa O’Hare and Pat King.
Mr. McPhillips concluded: “It is so sad to see it close after all the efforts to build up this college. Just think, in September there will be no footsteps on these corridors, no buses coming into the village, no sound of children playing at break time. But I have wonderful, happy memories of St. Eugene’s College.”
Former pupils, current and past teachers, caretakers, librarians, bus drivers, kitchen assistants, classroom assistants and parents attended a mass of thanksgiving in St. Tierney’s Church on Saturday evening, followed by a social gathering in St. Eugene’s College. 
Speaking at the mass – which was concelebrated by Monsignor Joseph McGuinness, Monsignor Vincent Connelly, Canon Brian McCluskey, Fr. Pat Connolly, Fr. Gary Donegan and parish priest Fr. John Chester – Monsignor McGuinness said: “This is a bittersweet occasion. 
“I worked for a number of years in St Michael’s College so I am aware of how a good school can inspire loyalty and devotion, both within and without … But in St Eugene’s we are not talking about a good school, we are talking about one of the best. And so, while the pride and the joy are all the greater, the sense of sadness at the end of an era is all the more acute.”