Clare Champion, Friday, 5th
A few years ago, Miltown
Malbay's Vocational School was a disused and deserted building, the
main talking point being its twenty seven broken windows. But, as the
third millennium dawns, the old Tech is enjoying a new lease of life
as the Mid and West Clare Resource Centre.
The transformation from dereliction to thriving community facility is
the result of a unique partnership between the voluntary sector and
statutory agencies. In the early nineties, Councillor Christy Curtin,
then a vocational school teacher, and Ballyvaskin farmer, Michael McMahon,
were the main movers on the local front.
According to Christy, both men were convinced that the old school could
be remodelled to fulfil a new role in the life of the district. "I
felt I owed it to my community to make this a viable building again.
I'd been talking ad nauseam in Clare County Council on motions relating
to the centre but nothing was happening so, a few years ago, we took
matters into our own hands and decided to replace the talk with action."
In 1992, the two men joined forces with the county's adult education
organiser, Sean Conlan, and Jim Lyons, chief executive of Clare's Vocational
Education Committee, to produce a plan for the development of a resource
centre. A year later, they got the go-ahead for a social employment
scheme to allow for the refurbishment of the school buildings.
Christy Curtin explains, "We had no budget, all we had was our
commitment to the idea. And if I was asked in the morning who the real
heroes of this project were, I would have to say they were the men on
the social employment scheme who worked on restoring the buildings up
to 1997. When they went in there, the school was in very bad repair
but, today, there isn't a stone out of place".
The main block was originally built by Paddy Con McMahon from Ennis
and opened in 1939. Seventeen years later, Miltown Malbay Vocational
School launched the country's first farm building course while, in the
sixties, a woodwork room and metalwork room were constructed. By 1985,
however, falling numbers had sparked the termination of classes under
the umbrella of the VEC.
And were it not for the resource centre, the building might still be
standing idle. The social services' agency, Clarecare, was the first
organisation to set up base in the old school in 1992 to be followed
a year later by Clare VEC's Vocational Training Opportunities' Scheme.
Since 1996, that scheme has been replaced by the Youthreach programme.
In 1995, the Mid-Western Health Board opened a dental clinic at the
centre. It is an excellent service, according to Michael McMahon, covering
fourteen schools from the parish of Kilmihil to Cree, to Rineen. He
explains, "It serves a broad catchment area in West Clare and drives
home the message that the resource centre has a regional dimension as
well as a local purpose."
Clare County Council's modern multi-purpose community library functions
in much the same way, catering for readers throughout North-West Clare.
It too was launched five years ago and today has over a thousand members.
The library has a capacity of twelve thousand books and there's a completely
new children's section of over four thousand books for every reading
The library also houses Clare County Library's traditional music collection
on tape and CD, an initiative pioneered some years ago by another Miltown
Malbay Councillor, Michael Hillery.
Then, there's the child health department, the welfare office run by
the Department of Community, Family and Social Affairs, a playschool
group and a mother and toddler group. Art classes are also staged at
the centre, both for children and adults.
Four years ago, the go-ahead for the centre's inclusion in the Village
Renewal Scheme enabled the founders to plan an amenity and leisure park
at the old school and, today, the restoration of the gardens and the
rebuilding of the boundary wall with Rockmount stone is almost complete.
Christy Curtin, for one, sees that element of the project as recognition
for the heritage that goes with the school and for the rural science
teachers who took classes there over the years.
The resource centre is a significant legacy to future generations, say
its founders and it just shows what can be done with a good idea and
a share of enthusiasm and commitment. It is planned to formally transfer
it back to the Vocational Education Committee in 2002 and a partnership
board is now in place prior to the handover. It includes representatives
of the local community, Clare County Council, the regional health authority,
FÁS, the Department of Community, Family and Social Affairs and Clarecare.
In the meantime, Christy Curtin and Michael McMahon are anxious that
the complex be put to a much use as possible for the benefit of the
"The building is now fully refurbished and restored and we would
like to see a full utilisation of all the available space by all the
agencies concerned. In particular, we'd like to see an expansion of
the health service element into areas like orthodontics, chiropody and
physiotherapy. And it would be great if the dental clinic likewise expanded
into the treatment of adult patients".
But that is not the end of their vision,for the men also envisage the
centre as a meeting place for the elderly, as an adult education centre
and, perhaps, as the venue for a study programme geared towards younger