The outgoing Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh, was on hand to mark 40 years of St Brendan's Community School, Birr last week.
The event was a dual celebration comprising of the launch of a new publication 'The Streets of St Brendan's CS – 40 years of Magical Memories' and the opening of 'Keeping Ireland', an exhibition by Queens University, Belfast, in conjunction with John McLaughlin Architects.
The new publication contains photographs of school life from each decade across a range of different categories such as sport, the school show, graduations and much more and was warmly welcomed by those, who perused its pages on Friday last.
On a personal note, Mr Kennedy said: “Little did I think cycling down the avenue forty years ago as a first year, I would find myself here tonight. This is a great occasion for us all to record our experiences of times spent in St Brendan's Community School.”
Then, the teacher welcomed Bros Denis, who was school principal from 1980 to 1997, CEO of Laois/Offaly ETB, Joe Cunningham, Bishop Fintan Monahan, Tom Foley, former principal from 1997 to 2011, Denis Magner, Chair of the School's Board of Management, Olwyn Enright, a former pupil, Minister for Education, Joe McHugh TD, current school principal, Mrs Ming Loughnane, Prof Gary Boyd, Queens University, Dr Aoibhhin Ni Mheanain, Brother Raymond Leonard, Presentation Brothers, trustee of the school, and its three deputy principals, Paul Darcy, Fidelma Foy and John Kennedy.
Most Reverend, Bishop Monahan then imparted a blessing on the celebrations before Simon Feehan from third year, thrilled the audience with the classical tune, 'Coolun', accompanied by the school's music teacher, Enda O'Connor.
Mrs Ming Loughnane was then welcomed to the stage as both the current principal and also as one of the original staff, having served in the school since it opened in 1980. Mrs Loughnane was delighted to have such a crowd at the event and also thanked the Education Minister for joining them for their 40th celebration.
“ In celebrating both the spirit and the place, we are full of gratitude at what we have achieved. This occasion gives us an opportunity to review our commitment to the mission statement of St Brendan’s and to look forward with confidence and enthusiasm to the future of our school.”
With the event launching both a commemorative book and the opening of the exhibition, Mrs Loughnane complimented the editorial team, who “invested much time and effort” into the publication's creation. Congratulating them on their “excellent production”, the school principal also thanked the architects, who created the exhibition, displaying the uniqueness of the school building and the creativity genuineness of its designers, Peter and Mary Doyle. Mrs Loughnane also extended a huge thank you to the school's first principal, Bro Denis, who was appointed on December 17 1979 to amalgamate three schools under one rook in September 1980.
“Never the less, together with the staff of the three schools this mammoth task was achieved and this great start then created momentum that has been kept up to this day. There are many factors that came together to make St Brendan’s the school that it is today. It's important to acknowledge the contribution of the parishes of south Offaly and north Tipperary and the staff of their primary schools, whose work lays the foundations for St Brendan’s. Likewise, our partnership with the business community and our sponsors over the years has been invaluable. Not only for the donations for students bursaries and education resources but also for career advice and excellent work placements for our students year after year. Voluntary organisations whether sporting, charitable or social also do so much for the quality of life in our community and are very much part of the story of our school’s spirit. Also, thank you to the parents of the school, whose support has been invaluable.”
Mrs Loughnane went onto to thank the school's Parents Council, having mobilised time and time again to ensure the facilities and resources in St Brendan's are the “very best for our students”. “Ever since the amalgamated staff of Birr Vocational School, the Mercy Convent and the Presentation College rose to the challenge of a new school in 1980 and St Brendan’s has been blessed with exceptional teaching, administration and maintenance staff ever since. Thank you to all who have worked here and also those, who currently staff at our school. Your enthusiasm and commitment for the time, energy and care given to our students, for generosity of both your time and talents, extra curricular activities and the good example given to our students and to your contribution to the good of St Brendan’s, I thank you all. “
“I have the privilege of serving in St Brendan’s from the very beginning and I would like to pay tribute to Br Denis and Tom Foley. I want to thank them for their advice and support that continues to this day. They also have the vision to fundraise and provide us pitches, all weather, the oratory, St Mary’s, the sports hall, among some of the facilities. To the deputies, both past and present, thank you for your dedication and striving for improvement in every aspect of the service, provided her on a daily basis.”
According to the principal, there had been many changes and challenges in Irish education and society in the past 40 years. “However, one aspect of life in St Brendan’s hasn’t changed. That is the quality of our students. St Brendan’s has always had students of the highest caliber. Over 5,000 past pupils form an unique diaspora around the globe, who participate in every profession and trade. As learners and as people, they have been and continued to be exceptional. They are a credit to both the their parents and their parishes. Their energy, goodness and kindness light up our school.”
Back to the mic, Mr Kennedy then explained the meaning of the school's crest, which celebrated the academic, the spiritual, the sporting and the cultural sides of life in St Brendan's community School before Kinnitty sister, Michelle and Miriam O'Neill, played 'When You are Sweet 16', evoking much emotion in the gathered crowd.
Later, Mr Kennedy invited former students, Ann Hogan and John Molloy to the stage where they wooed the crowd with their duet of Jodi Mitchell's classic 'Both Sides Now', again accompanied by past pupil Mr O'Connor.
Minister for Education, Joe McHugh, TD, whose wife Olwyn, is a past pupil of St Brendan's CS, was delighted to launch both the publication and the exhibition. “You have something really special in this school,” he enthused before publicly acknowledged the help he received from fellow Donegal man, Mr Michael McIntyre in “bringing him into a beautiful journey to learning Irish” when McHugh became Education Minister.
According to the Minister, the word “risk” comes to mind when you think of St Brendan's Community School. “Three different schools were being brought together.... That was a significant step, coming together. I think this legacy has stood to the school and its community in terms of inclusiveness, co-education and ensuring you have the heart of the school as part of your very important principles.”
“To the younger generation who are here today. You keep us on our toes, challenging us in a good way. Your voice is getting louder. You do keep us on our toes with regard to the issue of climate change. You also want to participate and I want to acknowledge the role of young people in terms of bringing that voice to the table. Even, the conversation this evening around sustainable buildings. We have to get into that space of trying to finding better ways of managing existing stock because we have 4,000 buildings around the country. We can’t start off on green field sites. So, I would like to acknowledge the school’s vision and your cooperation with the architects.” The Minister also thanked his school building team in Tullamore for their cooperation.
“I also want to thank you for the invite and to say to you as a school community, you are the driving force for change in this county. We are all evolving and diversifying, and in terms of special education we are moving in a fast way, for example. But, one of the great things about our schools is that you are embracing that full on and I want to acknowledge you that for that,” the Minister added.
McHugh then mentioned in particular another local lady, Margaret Hogan, who he said had a “word in his ear” when the conversation was being had about the place of history and its importance in the Junior Cert cycle. “I got into a bit of bother and went against the Department's advise on this. It was a difficult decision to make but when I knew with people like Margaret, who were on the other side of the fence, I was going in the right direction.”
Concluding, Minister McHugh acknowledged the “future is bright here and the outlook is good” at St Brendan's CS before launching both the publication and the exhibition. The occasion was also marked with a presentation of a piece of bog oak to the Minister by Mrs Loughnane before Deputy Principal, Fidelma Foy presented flowers to Olwyn while copies of the school's new publication were given to the remaining distinguished guests.
However, before the event came to a conclusion, a special and surprise presentation was made to Christy Sullivan (caretaker), Mrs Loughnane and Mrs Phyllis Hehir (ancillary staff), who have all worked in St Brendan's CS since it opened its doors forty years ago.
Wrapping this wonderful event up, another former pupil and talented musician, Edmund Enright or Mundy as many of us would know him as then took to the stage and shared some hilarious stories and a few tunes, much to the delight of the crowd.