Brother John Murphy, a native of Rineen, near Milltown, Co. Clare, entered the Christian Brothers, noviciate in Baldoyle, Co. Dublin at seventeen and a half years of age. He took his final vows in 1932 and it was another 28 years before he arrived at the Christian Brothers Monastery at St. John’s Lane, Athy. I had sat my Leaving Certificate examination in June of 1960 and even though I remained as a pupil of the Secondary School until January of the following year our paths did not cross until many years later.
As principal of the Primary School in Athy Brother Murphy oversaw a number of important developments, including the opening of a new school in Greenhills and the establishment of a parents Council. He was still principal of the Primary School when, in 1971, the prospect of a new Secondary School to replace the outdated school buildings used by the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy was first mooted. I was living in Monaghan town at that time but can still recall the heated debate faithfully reported in the local newspapers as the townspeople deliberated long and hard on the issue of a community school as against the continuation of the existing three schools, boys, girls and vocational. A community school for the area offered by the Department of Education was rejected out of hand and the opportunity for a major co-educational school was lost. I have often felt despite the enormous impact by the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy and their teachers that the intervening years have not quite matched the promise held out by a community school better funded than existing secondary schools.
Brother Murphy who retired as principal of the Primary School in 1974 was not directly involved in that secondary education issue and when he celebrated his golden jubilee as a Christian Brother on 23rd September, 1974 many fine and well deserved tributes were paid to him. Special ceremonies were held in the town to celebrate his jubilee and the occasion was marked by the visit of the provincial of the Irish Christian Brothers to Athy. Brother Murphy’s fondness for piped smoking was well known and an entry in the house annals of the Athy Christian Brother’s Monastery noted that “Brother Murphy's famous pipe was remembered by everyone”.
Brother Murphy has the unique distinction of having the longest service as a Christian Brother in the local monastery of Athy. When the monastery finally closed in 1994 he had spent 34 years in all in the town, longer than any other Christian Brother since Br. Stanislaus O’Flanagan. Br. Luke Holland and Br. John Sheehy first arrived in Athy in August 1861. Now that he is about to celebrate his 75th year as a member of the Christian Brothers all of those who remember with gratitude our early years in the boys school extend our good wishes to Br. Murphy. He is now living in St. Patrick’s, Baldoyle since 1994.
With him is Brother Joseph Quinn, a native of Tarmonbarry, Co. Roscommon, who entered the Christian Brothers over 65 years ago. Brother Quinn was the last superior of the Christian Brother Monastery in Athy and is remembered with particular fondness by those involved in promoting the game of basketball. It was Br. Quinn who brought American teams and overseas coaches to Athy, thereby helping to popularise the game which is still a major sport in the town.
I have written before and elsewhere of the importance of the Christian Brothers who brought education within the reach of everyone who wanted to better themselves. Both Br. Murphy and Br. Quinn were the last in a long line of Irish men who between 1861 and 1994 gave the youth of Athy an education which raised their horizons and broadened their expectations. Special congratulations then to Br. Murphy who on 23rd September celebrates 75 years in the Irish Christian Brothers and our good wishes to Br. Quinn who will no doubt celebrate the great day with his friend and companion of many years.
Writing earlier of the debate in the early 1970’s regarding the community school issue prompts me to make reference to what I understand is the possibility of the boys and girls local secondary schools amalgamating. I have favoured such a proposal for a long time. Accepting the benefits which must inevitably flow from the economies of scale which such an amalgamation must bring. I would even go further and suggest that the educationalists look at the possibility of bringing the third senior school in the town, St. Brigid’s into the scheme, thereby ensuring that a college campus can be developed in the area of the present Scoil Eoin with all the facilities such would require. We are all only too conscious that the Convent of Mercy will in time no longer be required as a home for the Sisters of Mercy. Surely the convent, together with the ancillary buildings and its extensive grounds could be incorporated with the existing Secondary School complex which they adjoin to provide facilities for all the second level requirements of Athy and district. This would allow the existing St. Brigid’s School to be relocated from its existing site where there is no room for expansion and where inadequate buildings are presently being used to hold classes.
The Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy have created over the last 150 years a tremendous educational legacy which we must build on if it is to adequately and properly meet the needs of future generations of young Athy people. I would hope that the myopic debate of 28 years ago concerning the community school for Athy will not be a foretaste of what lies ahead when we come to re-assess our future needs in terms of education.