Gardaí believe a fire which substantially damaged a primary school in north Cork may have been started deliberately.

Alternative accommodation will have to be found for the pupils of St Mary's Primary School for girls in Mallow as six rooms were destroyed, including three classrooms.

The alarm was raised shortly before 1am this morning.

Investigating gardaí believe that rubbish close to a doorway may have been set on fire, and that the fire spread igniting a gas main.

The fire spread to the roof before it was brought under control at around 2.30am.

Five units of fire fighters from Mallow, Charleville, Kanturk and Cork city fought the blaze.

A local clergyman said that parishioners will be told of arrangements for the 180 pupils at services today.

Monsignor Dennis O'Callaghan of Mallow said he hopes the children will be accommodated at other schools in the area, but that it will take several days to make arrangements.

The school's board of management was at the scene until 2am planning how to provide alternative arrangements following the fire.

The part of the school damaged in the fire was built in 1910 and was historically significant.

The area surrounding the school was evacuated when the fire was noticed, including the convent in which 20 sisters live. The convent was not damaged by the fire.