In a first floor office building in the centre of Castlebar, an Educate Together national school opened its doors to 12 pupils on Wednesday morning.
This was despite an appeal to An Bord Pleanála by an Independent Mayo county councillor who has described the patron as “elitist”.
Cllr Frank Durcan has lodged an appeal over the council's recent decision to grant permission to convert Marsh House, home to the town council until 2014, into a school. The school opened in the temporary premises pending the planning board's decision.
Educate Together chief executive Paul Rowe said he was "blown over with the kindness and support of local politicians, business people and sports organisations" in the town.
“The recent negative comments were unrepresentative of the people of Castlebar. This is the first new school in the town in 33 years and we would be confident that this school will develop quickly and possibly grow to two-stream within a decade,” Mr Rowe said.
Patricia Dey, whose son Lukas (4) started school, said: “It is a pity there is an objection to Marsh House. It is such a lovely building and has lots of space around it for playing. My husband is Brazilian and we want a broader cultural educational experience for Lukas.”
Algerian-born Gerry Khier, whose daughter Laila (4) started school, has lived in Mayo for 25 years. “I am sending Laila here for equality reasons. We are Muslims and my older boys go to a Catholic school and often feel left out at communions and other services,” he said.
Principal Sarah Calvey said the community had been supportive. “We have proven our resilience and no matter what hurdle is put in front of us, we will overcome it.”
She read a letter from Taoiseach Enda Kenny who described it as an “historic day” offering “greater parental choice”.