Excerpt from the Connemara News July 1992
Schools History- Secondary Schools
In this article, we go back in time to the early days of the secondary school.
In the 1930’s, Clifden was without any form of secondary education. The majority of boys and girls completed their formal education the day they did the Primary Certificate, under the watchful eyes of Rev. Br. Angelo, O.S.F., and Sr M. de Sales. For some years, the Sisters of Mercy had been contemplating a secondary school for the girls. Such a venture was not as simple as it appeared. The Sisters of the thirties were living in an era of traditionalism that did not encourage the attendance of nuns at University or their seeking any distinction in the academic world. U.C.D., U.C.G., Maynooth, Sion Hill and Dundalk were yet unheard of in Convent circles, so Superiors sent the sisters to qualify as primary teachers in Carysfort Training College or as nurses in the Mercy Hospital, Cork. As a result, there were few sisters qualified to teach in secondary schools.
However, the sisters were well aware of the fact that from their Profession Day, their vocation was to educate. There was no more conscious of that commitment that the late Sr M. de Sales. Realising that the children of Clifden were educationally deprived, she firmly resolved to seek permission from the Dept. of Education to open what was then known as a Secondary Top for girls. A Secondary Top meant a room or rooms, attached to the national school and subject to the National School Branch of Education, and having on its curriculum all subjects required to pass the Intermediate and Leaving Certificates. Permission was finally granted and I assure you it was an oasis in the desert to the parents and girls in Clifden in 1940. (It was not until the end of the decade that the Boys Secondary School was opened by the Franciscan Brothers, where the Clifden Pottery now operates.)
The first years of the Secondary Top were difficult years, but true to their traditions, the Sisters worked very hard under desperate conditions. They were fortunate in having on their staff a very dedicated secular teacher, Miss Abina Hickey, B.A., H.Dip., from Bandon, who was a fluent French speaker. All subjects on the curriculum were taught though the medium of Irish. It would be difficult for a modern post-primary teacher, in this age of specialisation, to realise that the teachers in that school taught every subject to every class. Sr M. Perpetuo who was then not much older that some of her pupils, taught every subject from First year to Inter class and “still we gazed and still the wonder grew, that one small head could carry all she knew”.
The first Intermediate examination was held in 1943. The result was a 100% success. The first Leaving Certificate was in 1945. Only three pupils sat for the examination that year: May Gorham, Mannin; May O’Toole, Market Street and Mary Madden, Ballinaboy. All obtained from five to six Honours. This was but the beginning of the thirty years of brilliant results from the Convent Secondary School. The names of other girls of the 1940’s are Teresa, Frances and Gertie McGrath, Mary Lysaght, Maureen Casey, Phil and Patsy Stankard, Mary McCarthy, Buddy Kelly, Maureen O’Toole, Mary Cloonan, Cissy Coyne, Eileen Malone, Mary Polly, Joy Foyle, Margaret Casey, May Hynes, Eileen Coyne, Breege O’Neill, Agnes Gorham, Breege Gibbons, Rita Burke, Teresa Coyne, May and Nora Fitzpatrick, Joan King, Nan Manning, Barbara McCarthy, Gertie King, Úna Walsh. These are but a few.
The teachers were Srs M. Perpetuo, Philomena, Consilio, Miss A. Hickey, Miss A. Ryan.
The Secondary Top ceased to exist in 1959. That year it became a recognised Secondary School under the guidance or Sr M. Immaculate as its first Principal. Our generations had passed on, but as we return home, year after year, we hear of the great achievements in the educational field of Sr M. Immaculate’s pupils. Every August has brought lists of Honours at Leaving Certificate, University Scholarships, calls to Teacher Training College, etc. “Ard Moladh” goes to Sister and her staff for keeping up the good work begun by the Sisters in 1940.
This school gave us a wonderful practical education: perhaps we got the type of liberal education that was so often lauded by the late Cardinal Newman.
Thanks to Sr Bernadette and Miss Rose Carroll from Kiltimagh, Music had a special place on the curriculum. In the school we had an orchestra, a percussion band, a mouth organ band, a flagellate band, 3-part choirs and to add to this, we did a Operetta and Variety concert every year. It was the biggest annual event in the locality. Parents flocked to the Town Hall to see their darling daughters perform as cowboys, black and white minstrels, gypsies, French dancers etc. All the costumes for the various acts were made by the girls themselves under the careful supervision of Srs M. Jarlath and Margaret Mary. What nostalgic memories those concerts recall. The musical tuition did not fall on barren soil. One can meet so many past pupils promoting music. To mention by a few- S. M. Emmanuel (Maureen Casey) trained the Garda Recruits choir at the training Centre in Templemore. This choir sang at the church there and at each passing our parade they performed with the Garda Band. Mrs Tony Mannion, (Buddy Kelly) was an organist and choir trainer in one of the Dublin churches. Mrs Bertie King (Maureen O’Toole) shared her musical talents with her family. One can only compare the Kings with the Von Trappe family: Maureen played the piano, her husband Bertie, who appeared with Peggy Dell “Peg of my Heart” series on R.T.E., played double bass. Her daughter Mairead played the piano, cello, violin and guitar. Her son Niall played the piano and violin. Casting humility aside, I venture to add to that list, the Collooney School Band. The All Ireland Trophies obtained by them in the sixties, date their origin to the training they got in Clifden’s Secondary Top.
1976 saw the opening of the new co-educational Community School at Ardbear, where the nuns, brothers and lay teachers and the boys and girls of the area were all accommodated under one roof. This sadly marked the closure of our Alma Mater and in the words of Paddy Crosby, may “we the pupils of the past, wish every success and happiness to the pupils of the future”, and to the teachers we “Faoi chomairce De agus brat Mhuire to raibh bhur saothat ar son oglai Chonamara”.
Written by Sr Phyl Clancy, Mercy Convent, Ballymote, Co. Sligo.
Scoil Mhuire – Clifden – 1991 Opening
“It’s like a dream come true”, “history was made today”, “beautiful, beautiful”, “only the best is good enough for Clifden”, were some of the comments made on last Monday, December 9th 1991 when the pupils and their teachers changed into the new school. How did the new Scoil Mhuire come about? The merging of the Boys’ School with the Convent School was proposed in 1975 by the Board of Management. A letter from the Department of Education in 1977 read: “Having examined all aspects of the case, it would be in the best interests of all the pupils concerned if the schools amalgamated, thereby creating one central school which would cater for the needs of the children in the Clifden area.”
During the fourteen intervening years there were meetings, negotiations, deputations and fund raising efforts. Plans were received, examined and changed. But wisdom prevailed, and it was well worthwhile waiting for this beautiful, new, modern school. Scoil Mhuire has eight classrooms, an all-purpose room, a Principal’s room, a remedial room, a kitchenette and a special store room for musical instruments. The work was carried out expeditiously by contractors Jackie and Joe O’Dowd who paid every attention to detail. On December 9th, the first day in the new school, a Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated at noon by the Very Reverend Canon Heraty P.P., Reverend Previté and Father Hughie Loftus C.C. were also present. During the Mass, Canon Heraty blessed the school. Praying that all those entrusted with the education of youth may teach their pupils how to join the discoveries of human nature with the truth of the Gospel. Mr. Previté spoke of the special love of Jesus for the children. He praised the beautiful school choir for their singing and instrumental music. Gifts at the Offertory Procession were carried by the Management Board. They included a lighted candle, special clay for moulding, rosebuds, bread and wine, and a school register of pupils who had been enriched by their time spent at school over the last hundred years.
So here’s to the next hundred years of education in Clifden. We hope that they will be as rewarding as the last hundred. Here, in this new school, a new generation will prepare for life in a new world that few of us can imagine. We hope that they will bring with them an appreciation of the past, and a determination to exercise their initiative, creativity and imagination and use their talents to the full.
They are commencing with a new Principal, Sr Mary Concannon, a new Chairperson, the Very Reverend Canon Heraty P.P. and a new Board of Management.
We wish the staff, pupils, parents and management of the new Scoil Mhuire every success.
Go raibh bhur saothar faoi chomirce De agus faoi bhrat na Maighdine í gconai.