Following my article last week on vocational education in Athy I was contacted by the parent of a young Athy student who recently finished his primary schooling in the town, but found himself unable to get a place in Árdscoil na Tríonóide. That school with the new Community College make up the town’s post primary educational facilities and Árdscoil na Tríonóide came into being on the amalgamation of Scoil Eoin, the former Christian Brothers school and Scoil Mhuire which was operated by the Sisters of Mercy.
I attended the local primary school and secondary school in Athy at a time when they were operating as part of the extensive network of Christian Brothers Schools in Ireland. In common with my classmates and many thousands who passed through the Christian Brothers School system I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my teachers who taught in the old schools in St. John’s Lane.
As someone living in Athy my parents in common with every other parents of school going children at that time assumed, and rightly so, that their children would be automatically accepted as pupils in the local secondary school. It is an expectation which I gather can no longer be made given a recent decision of the Board of Management of Árdscoil na Tríonóide which has resulted in secondary school places for some Athy youngsters being the subject of a lottery.
I find it quite extraordinary that youngsters graduating from the local primary schools cannot be guaranteed a place in the local secondary school. If not successful in gaining entry to Árdscoil na Tríonóide their options are Athy Community College or a secondary school outside the town.
It was on 8th August 1861 that the first Christian Brothers arrived in Athy in response to a request from the Archbishop of Dublin, Ballitore-born Paul Cullen to set up a school in the town. Brother Stanislaus O’Flanagan, Luke Hyland and lay brother Patrick Sheely arrived by train at the local railway station which had been opened just a few years previously. The local townspeople had prepared Greenhills House in St. John’s Lane, the former residence of Judge Hellen, as the Christian Brothers Monastery and had built a two room school house nearby.
Eleven days after the arrival of the Christian Brothers the school opened and 120 local boys presented themselves as pupils. Before long the numbers on the roll had increased so much that a third teacher was required. A former pupil of those early years was later to write:- ‘Our school was divided into two sections, one being known as the Greeks and the other as the Romans. The boys who raised the greatest number of merit marks were awarded the keeping of the school banner at the end of the week.’
Educating the young men of Athy was the mission undertaken by the Christian Brothers in 1861 and they applied themselves unselfishly to that task for almost 150 years. In a tribute I wrote for my former teacher Brother Brett in 1993 I said, ‘For over 160 years the order founded by Edmund Rice has provided the bedrock upon which the future of young Irishmen has been secured. Their work commenced in times of poverty and ultimately famine but throughout good times and bad the Christian Brothers gave of themselves and their resources to help Irishmen to achieve their full potential..... their work is not yet done but it is to other men and women unburdened by clerical vows that their responsibility must now pass.’ I am disappointed and saddened that local parents may now find themselves troubled by the failure of their children to gain a place in Árdscoil na Tríonóide, a school whose history is grounded on the pioneering work in Athy of the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy.
It is manifestly unfair. Why should young citizens of this town not have the right to enter on his or her secondary school education in a secondary school of their choice in their own town? A local school should give priority to young people from the town and parish of Athy and where there is difficulty in that regard due either to staff numbers or space restrictions, appropriate remedial action should be speedily taken to rectify the situation. If this problem is not tackled immediately it’s quite likely that education will become, like our Health Services, an embarrassing disservice.
Shortly before Christmas John Neavyn passed away in his 93rd year. John during his time in Athy was intrinsically linked with the Order of St. Dominic and his proud boast was that at 92 years of age he was the oldest mass server in Ireland. A charming and courteous gentleman John came to Athy in 1951 to work in the offices of Minch Nortons from where he retired as office manager long before that once great family firm became part of the Greencore Group. His involvement with the Dominican Friary went back many decades and included such diverse rolls as Mass server, choir master, as well as Church organist. The Dominican Pennybank which was set up in the late 1970s on the suggestion of Donal Murphy was in its early years organized by Donal, the late Ivan Bergin and John Neavyn and John’s involvement with the Bank continued over several decades. His Christian outlook found further expression in his membership of the local St. Vincent de Paul Society and he was President of the local Conference for many years. As well as being organist in the local Dominican Church he fulfilled the same role in Moone Parish Church where he accompanied that fine singer Tony Prendergast of Grangecon, a brother of the late Charlie Prendergast of Prussellstown who was himself a singer of renown.
He was predeceased by his wife Martha who died in 1982 and both are buried in St. Michael’s cemetery. Ar dhéis Dé go raibh a anam.
Do you remember McHugh’s Foundry in Janeville Lane at the back of Offaly Street? Now long gone, as are the men who worked there, I came across a photograph this week which will bring back memories for many of you. It shows Tom McHugh, Robbie Lynch and Tommy McHugh posing outside the foundry sometime in the 1950s.