Priest says 23 of his former school students have died
a WEXFORD priest says 23 students from his time as principal at the CBS Primary School in the town have died since then, mostly through drugs or suicide.
'When I visit the cemetery, I see grave after grave of the children I knew when I was principal,' said Fr Michael O'Shea, who as a Christian brother was principal of the CBS primary between 1988 and 1999.
Fr O'Shea, commenting after a week in which a drugs overdose claimed another victim in the town, says he has the names of all 23 of the students stored in his iPhone,
'Every time I hear that one of them has died I write down the name and in many cases would do the funeral because their mothers would know I knew them when they were young and innocent.
'I would also do the anniversaries and visit the graves,' Fr O'Shea told this newspaper, after officiating at a recent funeral mass of another former pupil.
'I would have got to know the youngsters very well. I opted to do the supervision in the yard, in the morning, at 11 o'clock and lunchtime and so on, so naturally I got to know them all.
'Over the years 23 of them have died for a variety of reasons, suicide, drug addiction, and naturally one or two through natural causes or accidents, but mostly through suicide and drug addiction,' said Fr O'Shea.
He said that during his time at the primary school there were around 440 pupils, half who joined from 2nd class in John's Road and the other half from the Faythe who came into 4th class.
There was nothing remarkable or unsual about them.
'What I am terribly conscious of is that they were the sons of surgeons, the sons of accountants and the law and the sons of the unemployed.. I was very conscious that the school was utterly normal,' said Fr O'Shea.
Asked whether he believed there was any underlying cause for the high percentage of tragic deaths, he said there was too much pressure on youngsters to do well academically when they got into secondary schools.
And while this in itself was not to blame because there were a variety of societal issues which also played a part, there needed to be a cold, hard look at the educational system to determine how best to gear it towards the needs of young people.
'There is definitely a fault there. I love the Irish educational system, but it needs to be re-geared,' said Fr O'Shea, who is chaplain to the Gaelscoil and the girls in John's Road.
The educationalist said he believed that the majority of boys would be better suited channelled into vocational work, through apprenticeships that could be followed by life-long learning as adults.
'Wexford town secondary schools are utterly geared towards academic subjects although two thirds of boys are not naturally academic and would be better off learning a trade and having a man show them vocational skills.. there are quite a few boys who are there against their will, boys who rebel against the system and this could be where the start of many of the problems we have as a society begin.'
'What is Wexford doing? A bridge watch every night. Some of my past pupils threw themselves off the bridge, and the Marinewatch is marvellous, but the fact that they have to be there every night is a comment in itself about the state of things here,' he said.