Celebrating 60 years of East Cork school

As an East Cork school celebrates its 60th anniversary, it is preparing to welcome girls for the first time. CHRIS DUNNE spoke to pupils and teachers past and present
Celebrating 60 years of East Cork school
Fr O’Brien, Carrigtwohill and Mary Fenton (daughter of Mr. Bowdren, Principal in 1957.

AFTER celebrating 60 years as a school, Scoil Mhuire Naofa in Carrigtwohill is about to enter a new era, as a co-educational facility, as it welcomes girls through its doors for the first time.

“This has always been an all-boys school and 60 is a nice round figure to end that on,” says principal, Anne-Marie Moylan.

“We celebrated 60 years at our current site, but also the end of that era and the beginning of co-educational era.

“It was wonderful to have a large representation of past pupils, mingling the old with the new.”

Past pupils, current pupils and parents, board of management and staff were among the attendees for a recent diamond anniversary celebration. The event was paved with literary gold.

“We invited everyone on a literary journey along a path paved with 459 colourful and imaginative pupils’ stories,” explains Anne-Marie.

The collection of stories were written by every child in Scoil Mhuire Naofa, from Junior Infants right up to 6th class, under a project called ‘We Are Writers’.

“It was truly a celebration of our joy of reading and writing and the creative process. They say ‘Is maith an scéalaí an aimsir’ which means that time is a good storyteller,” says Anne-Marie.

“Our book is a tribute to the 60th anniversary. It has been a lot of fun comparing education in our school 60 years ago with now!”

The students also held a variety of displays which included performances by the school choir and the school band and two plays. Special guest, author Michael Smith, signed copies of his book, Tom Crean — Ice Man: The Adventures Of An Irish Antarctic Hero, which is included on the school curriculum.

“We had past pupils who attended the school in the first 1956/57 academic year from the old roll book as part of the procession from the site of the old school to our current site,” says Anne-Marie, speaking about the 60th anniversary celebrations.

“Junior and Senior Infants added their hand-prints to an artwork made by previous students to signify the joining of the old and the new.”

There was an international as well as a local flavour involved in the celebrations.

“Junior and Senior Infants shouted out ‘Happy Birthday’ in 32 different languages to reflect the 32 different cultures in the school. It was a great effort to learn that off.”

John Harte, 91, from Carrigtwohill was part of the celebrations. He attended the old Boys School around the corner in 1931.

“I was delighted they thought of me,” says John. “I remember the procession from the school’s former site at the back of Cost Cutters in Carrigtwohill, to the new site in 1957.”

John enjoys merging the old with the new, remembering his own school days. His confirmation year stands out.

“Whenever the late Bishop James Roche came to the school, the hymn Ave Venum would be sung to him as a greeting,” he recalls.

“Examining the boys for Confirmation, he asked, ‘What is a deposit of faith? And what is the treasury of the Church? The answer being the merits of Christ and the saints from which all indulgences are derived.

“We all failed in these two questions as we had not been taught them!” says John.

“If you failed the exam you were told that you would have to go to Cobh in order to make your Confirmation, One boy, being told that was his fate, replied, ‘If I have to go over there, let him keep it!’ ”

Andrew Bowen, centre, with, from left, Ger Foley, his 2nd class teacher, Alice Barry, his senior infants teacher, Ann Walsh, his First Class teacher, and Noel Ryan, histhird class teacher. Andrew also worked with both Noel and Ger in the school before
Andrew Bowen, centre, with, from left, Ger Foley, his 2nd class teacher, Alice Barry, his senior infants teacher, Ann Walsh, his First Class teacher, and Noel Ryan, histhird class teacher. Andrew also worked with both Noel and Ger in the school before

The boys didn’t always pay the greatest attention in class.

“The teacher was explaining that St Patrick was brought to Ireland a slave by Niall of the Nine hostages,” says John.

“What did I say last? The teacher asked a boy. “Mary Reilly ate nine sausages,” replied the boy.”

John Healy, who is a member of the Board of Management, joined Scoil Mhuire Naofa in 1957 shortly after the school first opened.

“It was great to meet old friends at the celebrations,” says John.

Were his school days the best of his life?

“They were special,” says John. “I started school with two of my brothers, Denis and Ollie. We realised as we got older how important our national school education was to us.

“Our teacher, Mr. Seymour, in particular, instilled in us a love of the Irish language and the GAA. When he retired, our class held a special night for him. Billy Kidney, our spokesman, thanked Peader for our very broad education. He also said; ‘Peader, you didn’t make scientists out of any of us, but then I have to admit you didn’t have great material to begin with!”

John, whose grandchild is starting school at Scoil Mhuire Naofa in September, recalls being envious of one fellow pupil.

“There were 14 pupils in our class and my abiding memory of that time was of Willie Jagoe. Willie had a free class from 12 to 12.30 daily,” says John. “And Willie was allowed to leave the school at five to three.

“This was during religious training and prayers. Willie was a Protestant, and we all wanted to be Protestants to avail of the free time!”

John says Scoil Mhuire Naofa has grown in size and reputation over the years.

“Ms Moylan’s fresh thinking and new ideas have brought the school bang up to the 21st century”.

It doesn’t seem like centuries ago that class teacher Andrew Bowen was a pupil at Scoil Mhuire Naofa himself.

“The school plays a huge part of my personal family history,” says Andrew, whose wife, Katie, is also a teacher at Scoil Mhuire.

“My father, Ollie Bowen, is a past pupil,” adds Andrew. “He was delighted when the school moved to its new location. His short commute became even shorter.

“The friendships formed during his early school days stayed with him all his life, from young boys heading off to school, right through to their gatherings at the ‘Cross’ in the Main Street where they put the world to rights.”

Andrew remembers when he followed in his father’s footsteps as a pupil at the school

“I remember my grandfather waving us off to school as we passed his house,” he says. “He made faces at us and sent us off smiling. Jane Flannery, my Junior Infant teacher, welcomed us into a large, spirited class. She always made learning fun.

“Ger Foley, my second class teacher, had a wonderful sense of humour and we would march out of the school singing, The Gypsy Rover. Noel Ryan taught me in third class and he gave me my love of history and geography with his passionate, interesting lessons.”

Andrew achieved a great accomplishment during his national school days.

“I played Jack in Jack And The Beanstalk,” he recalls. “I remember fondly the rehearsals of the school night’s first production.

“The one constant in schoolboy times at Scoil Mhuire Naofa, was our neighbour and school lollipop lady, Martha Crowley. She always gave a warm greeting in the morning and we’d a great relationship with her, even though I didn’t need her road-crossing services.

“Our paths crossed again when this time I was back as Mr Bowen, classroom teacher.”

Andrew was reminded further about his by- gone school days.

“It was very strange being interviewed by Dan Leo, my old school principal,” he says.

“I wondered would he be able to recognise me as a fellow professional and not the schoolboy he remembered.

“Thanks to Dan. I am currently in my 8th year teaching at Scoil Mhuire Naofa. I am proud to be the first past pupil employed at the school.”

The family history continues.

“In 2016, my family added a new chapter to our story as my nephew started in Junior Infants,” says Andrew.

“My dad would have loved to see both his son and his grandson attending the school in the village he loved so much. “

Does Fionn enjoy school like his grandad and uncle did?

My nephew loves his new class and his new teacher,” says Andrew. “He bubbles with excitement as he regales stories from his day.”

Andrew enjoys his working days too.

“It is nice to meet the schoolboys that I played with in the yard many years ago, now coming back into the yard as parents, collecting their children from me.”

New parents with be collecting their daughters from Scoil Mhuire Naofa in September for the first time

“We’ll be welcoming 19 girls in September,” says Anne-Marie. “We are all looking forward to that.”

Wilson, who is in 6th class, is moving on then. He put his feelings into words.

Scoil Mhuire Naofa is my new school.

I came here last year and boy, it was cool!

I did very nice things in 5th class that year.

I am so glad I came here.

Soccer Leagues were the best of all.

We mightn’t have won but we had a ball!

I’m in 6th class now in my final year.

Secondary School is now what I fear.

The teachers are nice without a doubt.

They’re always there to help you out!

My memories of coming here were truly the best of all,

But also I loved the first day of school when I was small.

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