SOPRANO Mary Hegarty is looking forward to taking a trip down memory lane when she takes to the stage of the Cork Opera House in May 2018 to perform at a concert, Come Celebrate.
The event will mark the 75th anniversary of Our Lady of Lourdes national school in Ballinlough, and Mary, a past pupil of the school, will be joined on stage by soprano, Cara O’Sullivan, whose daughter was a pupil there.
Also featuring at the concert will be the Knockrea Singers, established by former teacher, Kathleen Lynch, while the school choir will play a big role in the celebration.
The concert was recently launched at the school by Lyric FM’s Evelyn Grant. Mary, striking some high notes along with Cara, said that she was “one of the lucky ones to have had Miss Lynch as our teacher from babies right up to sixth class”.
Miss Lynch nurtured her talent as a singer. Her father used to come into the school to play the piano for pupils and Mary’s twin sister, Helen, is also a talented singer and past pupil.
“There’s a gang of us getting together for this gala next May,” says Mary. “We’ll be remembering Miss Lynch who left such a legacy.”
The artistic teacher’s mural depicting happy children at play is still on the walls of one of the classrooms.
“The other thing she did which not many people know was to start us learning French in fourth class. She did it totally off her own bat. She was before her time. I’m fairly good at French. Opera singers need all the languages so I’m grateful to her for that,” Mary added.
Also at the launch were three generations of two Cork families who attended the school. Tom Coughlan, who lives close to the school, is a retired electrician. He is married to Mary and has four daughters, all of whom attended the school.
Asked to relate a stand-out memory, Tom says: “There was a girl called Valerie from Victoria Avenue who used to annoy the hell out of me. I took her beret one day and threw it in the nettles outside. I was banished to the yard for the rest of the day. All I could see was Valerie’s face looking out the window with her tongue stuck out!”
Tom’s daughter, Sarah Coughlan, is a primary school teacher at Scoil Na Criose Naofa in Mahon.
“I always wanted to do teaching and was inspired by my teachers at Our Lady of Lourdes school. I remember when my teacher in junior infants got married, we did a guard of honour for her wedding, which would be unusual nowadays.”
The teacher is Mrs Lucey who is now the principal of the school.
Sarah’s five-year-old daughter, Grace Coughlan-O’Sullivan, is in senior infants at the school.
“She bounces into the house every day after school,” says mum.
Sarah says the standard of education at the school is very high, “particularly for Irish. I think it got me through the Leaving Cert.”
Dolores Barry, who lives in Douglas, has nothing but “fond memories of the school”.
She said: “The best teacher I ever had was Mrs Dullea. It’s a lovely school and that’s the reason I sent my daughter, Kate, to it. I’m from a family of seven children, five girls and two boys. We all went to Our Lady of Lourdes. That was in the days when boys attended until first class.”
Dolores’s daughter, Kate Kelly, will always remember Mrs Twomey.
“She was a fantastic teacher,” says Kate. After attending Christ King secondary school, Kate went on to study office administration at the Cork College of Commerce and now works in a solicitor’s office. Her five year old daughter, Mia Kelly, is attending Our Lady of Lourdes school now too.
“I help Mia with her homework. The way of teaching has changed 100% since my time. Now, it’s easier to grasp when you’re helping children,” she said.
The launch of the upcoming anniversary concert was attended by some former pupils who were at the school when it first opened in 1943. Kathrine O’Byrne, who lives in Waterfall, recalls the perilous route to school. “I lived in Rockboro Avenue and would walk up Bernadette Way. There was a bloody big dog at the top of Bernadette Way that we had to pass. We used to go to Dryden Terrace to avoid the dog.”
But, other than that, Kathrine, a former primary school teacher, has great memories of the school.
Fr John Manley, a chaplain at Marymount, also has “beautiful” memories of the school.
“I was one of the first pupils here in 1943. I was good at singing but shy. I wasn’t really a good scholar.”
He smiles when he recalls running down Wallace’s Avenue opposite the school and hiding behind a telegraph pole. A teacher caught him and brought him back to school.
Before joining the Cappuchins at the age of 21, Fr John worked as a fitter and a turner. Now, looking back, he thinks children from his time were very different to today’s youngsters.
“Children now are more joyful and more confident. We were much more reserved.”
Accountant, Michael Walsh, says: “I was literally the first one in the door at this school. I grew up across the road in Knockrea Gardens. I have lovely feelings of togetherness from those days. It was a very happy place.”
The principal of Our Lady Of Lourdes, Mrs Mary Lucey, sums it up when she describes the school as being like “a country school in the city”.
“With 250 pupils, it’s not too big and not too small. There’s great camaraderie here. We all know the girls and their parents,” the principal said.
Mary has been working at the school for 37 years. She has been the principal for seven of those.
“Once I qualified, I joined this school. My parents are still living in the parish of Ballinlough. I went to Eglantine school as I lived in Ardfallen which is close to it,” she explained.
It was the first primary school in Ireland to introduce uniforms, says Mary. It was initially a navy pinafore and white shirt. A lot of schools copied the uniform so Our Lady of Lourdes NS switched to its distinctive wine-coloured uniform.
Ever since Miss Lynch taught at the school, singing has been important.
“All along the way, there have been teachers who kept that tradition alive. We’re still big into performance,” Ms Lucey said.
Asked what has changed since her early days as a teacher, she says: “The big thing that has gone is the blackboard. Now, it’s all interactive whiteboards.
“Technology is great but there can be problems and maintaining it all costs money.”
Children today are also more confident when starting school.
“That’s because they’ve had the experience of play school before coming to school. They’re well settled when they come here but they also need a lot of nurturing and caring. We like to think we provide that here.”
The school employs 12 teachers including learning support and resource teachers. While rote learning at schools got the thumbs down a good many years ago, Mary welcomes the return of learning the tables.
“I think children need the tables even though they use calculators.”
Joan Moloney, a past pupil of the school, has been teaching there since 1997. Her daughter, Naomi Whelan, attended the school.
“These days, the curriculum is much broader. In my day, the ‘three ‘R’s’ were essential; reading, writing and arithmetic. While we’ve always been a very academic school, we have a huge tradition of music as well as Irish. Not to mention continuity from generations of families attending the school.”
Come Celebrate is at the Cork Opera House on May 10 2018. Early bird tickets are available at Cork Opera House for €25 each until December 24. Box office: 021 4270022.