School day memories came flooding back when I heard of the celebration for Florrie Pender's 100th birthday on the 26th of August. I was away from Athy that day in a city whose previous name was a further reminder of classroom days in Athy's Christian Brothers School. Constantinople formerly Byzantium and now Istanbul was one of those almost magical names which learned at school brought up images of the mysterious East and glorious days of the Ottoman Empire.
But it was the mention of Florrie’s centenary which brought my memories back even beyond my first awareness of Eastern Empires. For Florrie was employed in the local Convent of Mercy and involved in the cleaning of St. Joseph's boys school on the Monasterevin Road during what I believe was my last of three years in the Sisters of Mercy boys junior school. She replaced the well loved Mrs Lucy Alcock from Dooley's Terrace whom all the school boys regarded as a surrogate mother in a day time world populated by adults who dressed in a rather severe and challenging fashion.
The Sisters of Mercy were our teachers in St. Joseph's school and their religious habits must at first sight have seemed extraordinary to young boys who up to then lived in the cosseted world of family and home. Mrs. Alcock and later Florrie Pender were reminders of the mothers we had left at home and the occasions our paths crossed reinforced the bonds of affection which would forever remain with us.
Florrie’s father Denis worked for many years with the Sisters of Mercy. Living in nearby Mount Hawkins he was a general factotum for the local convent and more importantly also drove the Convent's horse carriage. Florrie initially worked occasionally in the Convent and replaced Lucy Alcock when the latter retired in the second half of the 1940's.
Florrie married William Pender and in so doing changed her name as she laughingly once described to me by cutting the “gast” out. After more than seventy years of lifes service to the Sisters of Mercy and St. Joseph's Boys School and later Scoil Mhicil Naofa, Florrie eventually retired. However even in retirement she was still a regular visitor to the Scoil Mhicil Naofa staff room up to recent years.
St. Joseph's school is now long gone, demolished at the same time as the old St. Michael's Parish Church to make way for the present church. The young local boys who in former times were destined to spend three years of junior school in St. Joseph's instead found themselves part of the larger Scoil Mhicil Naofa. The youngsters were always referred to by Florrie as “my boys”. The girls who made up the majority of Scoil Mhicil Naofa's school population were never seemingly accorded the same “gra” by Florrie. Indeed plans announced for the transformation of all primary schools in Athy to co-educational establishments did not gain approval from the good lady who had herself attended classes as a young girl in Athy's Convent school when the 1916 rebellion broke out in Dublin.
The gathering in Our Lady's ward of St. Vincent's Hospital on the 26th of August to celebrate Florrie’s centenary brought together a representative group of teachers from Scoil Mhicil Naofa and members of Florrie's family. Fr. Philip Dennehy celebrated mass which was attended by Florrie's son Tom, his family and Florrie’s grandchildren and great grandchildren. It was a wonderfully happy occasion organised by Eithne Julian of the nursing staff of St. Vincent's Hospital.
The photograph showing Florrie Pender standing outside her house in Convent View was taken by me ten years ago on the day Florrie celebrated her 90th birthday. Many happy returns to Athy's latest centenarian.