County Longford schools anxious over loss of days during the cold snap

More than half of the county's second level institutions were closed on Monday as overnight temperatures of up to -14c left driving conditions exceptionally hazardous for parents and bus drivers.

More than half of the county's second level institutions were closed on Monday as overnight temperatures of up to -14c left driving conditions exceptionally hazardous for parents and bus drivers.

Both of Granard's secondary schools, Ardscoil Phadraig and Cnoc Mhuire were devoid of any activity on Monday morning as the big freeze returned with a vengeance over the course of the weekend.

Teachers agreed they were "very anxious" at the effect the prolonged cold snap was having on students who were likely to face state examinations in June.

"We had no buses at all that travelled this morning," said principal of Granard's Cnoc Mhuire, Moira Mahon on Monday. "To date it will be four days (of closure) though we haven't missed many.At this stage, we are very anxious about our Leaving Cert and Junior Cert students."

The school planned to open the school to exam students yesterday (Tuesday) and ahead of the Christmas break tomorrow (Thursday).

A spokesperson for the north Longford town's Ardscoil Phadraig said they were in a similar situation and were closed for business on Monday.

Another north Longford based school, Moyne CS was also shut following the weekend freeze. A spokeswoman said the decision to close the school was based upon "health and safety" concerns.

"The main road as it is is very dangerous," she said, revealing that a text service had also recently been set up to notify staff, parents and bus drivers about any further announcements.

At the other end of the county, Mercy Secondary School in Ballymahon was open but a representative refused to speculate about the remainder of the week, saying the situation was being reviewed on a "day by day" basis.

Attempts to secure a response from Lanesboro Community College and Ballymahon Vocational Education School were unsuccesful on Monday morning, fuelling doubts both schools may have also succumbed to the weather.

Of the few which did open, St Mel's and Scoil Mhuire in Longford town were operating as usual, staff members confirmed to the Leader on Monday.

Officials from the Department of Education said there was no official database to determine precisely how many schools had been affected, saying parents and teachers were more likely to have listed themselves as closed on the website.

However, a closer inspection of the site threw up little by way of insights in terms of how many primary schools across Longford were hit by the fallout.

As schoolchildren up and down the county embraced the opportunity of a pre-festive break from school, travel plans for hundreds of others looking to return to the region in time for Christmas took a hit as arctic temperatures led to lengthy delays at many of the country's airports.

And with forecasters predicting yet more bitter cold conditions until at least Christmas Eve, the prospect of any significant thaw taking place may not arrive until Christmas Day at the earliest.

Meanwhile the local authority continues to struggle to cope with shortfalls in salt supplies. Last week, Longford County Council said National Roads Authority executives, who manage the distribution of salt deliveries nationwide, had instructed staff to mix salt with existing grit resources as freezing conditions left the country's salt reserves at dangerously low levels.

Seven days on, the council conceded plans to treat roads have been "severely tested" by the salt-rationing directive handed down by the NRA, prompting last a decision made last Thursday to target ‘priority one' or major national routes with grtting salt. Other roads would continue to be treated on a "case by case" basis with grit or coarse sand in a bid to preserve supplies, it said in a statement on Monday.

Questions put to the NRA in response to concerns over a lack of salt supplies being meted out to counties such as Longford and why some counties were rumoured to have been given ‘priority' were not returned by the time of going to press on Tuesday.

Today (Wednesday) is expected to see average temperatures not reaching any higher than -2C with Thursday's averages not expected to get any higher than 0C. Friday and Saturday are likely to see a slight improvement with wind chill factors subsiding due to milder weather coming from the south ans east of the country. It is not known whether the slackening of winds will reach norterly parts of Longford by Christmas Day, with meteorologists refusing to rule out cold conditions persisting into St Stephens' Day.

Meanwhile, gardai in Longford have praised the vast majority of motorists for slowing down and taking added care as snowfall and sharp frosts combined to leave major routes dangerous and some secondary roads virtually impassable throughout the past week.

"Thankfully, we haven't had many accidents and the reason for that is people are being careful," said Superintendent Denis Shields as he urged road users to remain "consistently careful" over the next few days. "Having said that in a long spell of bad weather like this people can become complacent in thinking that certain roads may be less dangerous than they actually are."