Standoff between church and creche in Carlow leaves more than 30 families without childcare

Parents may have to give up their jobs due to lack of childcare services in area, says local mother

A standoff between a Co Carlow childcare provider and the local parish priest over use of the village hall has forced the closure of a preschool and the displacement of an after-school service.

Management at Kildavin Childcare, which employs four people and is based in east Carlow, say they are “at a loss” as to why they cannot carry out necessary remedial works to the parish-owned Spellman Hall that would allow the facility to reopen for parents this month.

The not-for-profit company has rented the hall for 15 years, providing preschool education for two- to six-year olds, and an after-school service to about 30 children. In January it agreed to a rent increase, from €3,000 to €5,200 a year.

Its landlord, Fr Patrick Hughes, has terminated its lease, however, leaving staff and parents “absolutely devastated”, says Kildavin Childcare manager Susan Murray.


What appears to have begun as a tense relationship between different personalities has escalated into a row involving a “lockout”, barristers, court hearings, distraught parents and potential job losses.

Repeated efforts by The Irish Times to contact Fr Hughes have not been responded to.

Ms Murray explains a fire-safety survey on the hall, conducted in April 2021 as part of a periodic re-registration with Tusla, found “various urgent remedial works” were needed, including rewiring.

“We offered to pay for the work but Fr Hughes insisted he was the landlord and he would have the work done,” says Ms Murray. Though assured it would be done by September 2021, she says, by May 2022 the critical electrical work was outstanding.

On May 5th, Tusla wrote to Kildavin Childcare advising it had not supplied “confirmation” that Spellman Hall was “compliant with State fire-safety requirements”. Registration for September would be “contingent on adherence to the terms of this notice”.

In June, Fr Hughes appointed an interim “hall committee” to liaise with Kildavin Childcare. Following a meeting on June 29th, Ms Murray emailed the committee on July 5th a list of issues to be addressed in the hall, including the rewiring.

On July 13th, the committee chairwoman replied, telling her that given the “enormity” of the remedial works required “we have decided . . . to take the hall out of use pending a full risk evaluation on behalf of the owner . . . the accommodation will no longer be available to you at the commencement of the new school term.

“We will discontinue accepting weekly payments for use of the facility for all weeks after June 24th, 2022.”

Ms Murray says she and her staff were subsequently locked out of the premises.

The matter ended up before Circuit Court Judge Mary Morrissey in Carlow, in July, as Kildavin Childcare sought access to the hall and the reinstatement of its lease. On July 29th, Judge Morrissey ordered the defendants, Fr Hughes and the Bishop Denis Nulty of Kildare and Leighlin to “restore” Kildavin Childcare’s “access to the premises”, and Kildavin Childcare to “undertake any outstanding works referred to in the fire-risk assessment”.

Having regained access to the hall, Ms Murray engaged an electrician who, she says, advised he could carry out urgent electrical works while they invited tenders for the rewiring. However, she says she was unable to secure permission to allow the electrician carry out those works last month.

The immediate impact has been the closure of the preschool as it could not be inspected by Tusla. Six children aged between two and four were due to start.

Among the 31 children from Kildavin National School who hoped to attend the after-school service are the sons of local woman Fiona Finn.

“We have used the after-school for over 12 years. The stress and anxiety this situation has caused is so unnecessary. Myself and my husband work full-time. Without the service now I am worried I will have to reduce my hours in work,” Ms Finn says.

On Sunday the after-school got news that it could reopen in a local sports hall but this is an temporary reprieve, says Ms Murray.

“It is wonderful news, but the fight to get back into our rightful home continues. We cannot believe it’s gone this far.”

Both Bishop Nulty and the Spellman Hall committee were contacted for comment but have not replied.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times