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young deaths

"Most were a result of drug abuse, or suicide" - principal on the deaths of 23 past pupils

The former principal called on a greater focus to help young people deal with challenges in life.

A priest who was principal of a primary school in Wexford for over 10 years, has spoken about his students who have died during his time as principal and what might have caused their deaths.

Father Michael O’Shea who was principal of CBS Primary School in Wexford from 1988 to 1999, has heard that 23 of his former pupils have died – mainly due to drug problems and suicide.

The former pupils were aged between 17 and 35 when they died, and the former principal believes that the way young people deal with problems and obstacles in their lives needs to be addressed.

On Today with Sean O’Rourke, the priest recounted the first time he had learned that one of his pupils had died. After 10 years as principal of the school, it was during a year’s break in Jerusalem and Israel that he heard.

When I heard his name, I was shocked, because when I arrived at the school in 1988, he was in sixth class and I remember him well – he had a blond mop of hair and was full of life, full of go, and he was the last person I’d ever imagine would [die by] suicide.

“So when I asked for the details, they said he was attending his sister’s First Holy Communion in church, and said to his mum ‘I’d like to go home’ just before the finish. And when the family went home, they were shocked when they found him.”

The priest said that this really set him back as he didn’t expect an extrovert to die in that way.

CBS Primary School CBS Primary School in Co Wexford, where Father Michael O'Shea was a principal for almost 20 years. Google Maps Google Maps

Father O’Shea said that this is not the only one of his past pupils who have died – currently there are 22 of his past-pupils in the one graveyard in Wexford – and said that the problem is constantly growing.

“Last night I had a month’s mind for one of my pupils. This list is one that continuously grows.”

Fr O’Shea met with the current principal of the school, who knew every single one of the 23 pupils who have died. He put the high number of deaths attributable to drugs or suicide to “the inability to cope with setbacks”.

When discussing the possibilities of what might be causing these deaths, Fr O’Shea said that unhappiness in school could be contributing to the deaths.

The top third of students are naturally academic. The middle third will have no problem coping, but the bottom third that often don’t even want to be there, and to a certain extent see school as a form of prison.

The deaths, according to Father O’Shea, are from the middle and lower end of the economic scale.

He also said that the introduction of women into both classrooms and staff boards have helped “soften” the atmosphere in CBS Primary School and that women have helped to teach men to open up about their feelings.

They really taught us men how to manage boys in a motherly way.

Suicide is the leading of death in men aged 15-34 years in Ireland, surpassing the number of deaths from road traffic accidents. Rates of youth suicides in Ireland are now the 4th highest in Europe.

If you need to talk, contact:

  • Samaritans 116 123 or email
  • National Suicide Helpline 1800 247 247 – (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement)
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email – (suicide, self-harm)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

Read: ‘It’s not working’: Sex worker challenges new laws in court

Read: Live streaming of child sexual abuse on the rise

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