Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Athy's Technical Schools

Those of us who remember the Catholic Young Men’s Society premises at the corner of Stanhope Street and Stanhope Place which was demolished in the early 1960s to make way for the building of St. Michael’s Church may not have been aware of its early history as the first technical school in Athy. The Technical Instruction Act of 1889 empowered local authorities to provide technical instruction which was to be financed by the imposition of a penny on the local authority rates. Athy Town Commissioners did not exercise its power under the Act. Athy Urban District Council which held its first meeting on 7th April 1900 later agreed to provide technical instruction facilities in the town. A Technical Instruction Committee was established by the Council members and the local Press reported on 8th March 1902 that the County Kildare Technical Instruction Committee meeting in Naas agreed that a building was to be rented in Athy for technical instruction at an annual rent of £25.00. The building referred to is believed to have been previously used by the Sisters of Mercy as a girl’s school. The first technical instruction classes provided in Athy were apparently drawing classes attended by 25 students in the afternoon and evening classes held in the Christian Brothers School which were attended by about 20 students. It would appear that the afternoon classes and the evening classes were held in different buildings. The Post office Guide for 1910 gave us the first confirmation that the Technical School’s address was Stanhope Place. The school secretary was named as Mr. Favelle. Early in 1917 Athy’s Technical School was recognised as a sub depot for the Irish Hospital Supplies Depot which had been established in December 1915 to provide medical appliances for military hospitals in France and England. Every evening students and local volunteers were encouraged to attend the Technical School to assist in making crutches, bed rests, leg rests, splints and other items needed by soldiers injured during the 1914/1918 war. Herbert Painting was in charge of Athy’s Technical School in those early years. He was officially noted as the Vice Principal, while the principalship of the entire county of Kildare was held by John Hassall who was based in Naas. Painting, who was a teacher of art in the local school, made the mould from which the Garda Siochana plaque which was placed over the entrance door of every Garda Barracks was cast by the local firm of Duthie Larges. The Garda Siochana crest was designed by John Francis Maxwell, an art teacher in the Blackrock and Dun Laoghaire Technical School and was worn as a cap badge for the first time by new Gardai at the funeral of Arthur Griffith on 12th August 1922. The Vocational Education Act 1930 which provided for education through the medium of subjects directly related to the workplace brought about the establishment of county vocational educational committees. The newly appointed Kildare V.E.C. initially continued to provide only evening classes in Athy. The opening of the V.E.C.’s school on the Carlow Road in 1940 allowed the V.E.C. to provide, for the first-time, full-time technical education in the town. The new school called St. Brigids, built by the local building contractors D. & J. Carbery, was officially opened by the Minister for Education Thomas O’Deirig and blessed by the local Parish Priest Archdeacon McDonnell. The first principal of the school was Mr. T.C. Walsh who presided over an education programme for boys and girls over 14 years of age which for boys included woodwork and metalwork and for girl’s cookery and needlework. Tom McDonnell, followed T.C. Walsh as principal in 1950 and he oversaw the introduction of the Intermediate Certificate Examination in the school in 1966 and two years later the Leaving Certificate Examination. Nicholas Walsh was Acting Principal for a while following Tom McDonnell’s death and in 1976 John Doyle was appointed principal. John, who remained in that position for 17 years, saw the successful transition from a ‘Technical’ school and in that his successor, Richard Daly, appointed in 1993 also played a major part. When first opened St. Brigid’s School had 40 students but soon increasing student numbers necessitated the provision of prefabricated classrooms and the building of an extension to the original school building in 1963/’64. A further building extension was required in the early 1980s which was officially opened by the Minister for Education Mary O’Rourke. By then the student number had increased to about 400 and subsequent student increases warranted the construction of a new school on a green field site at Rathstewart which was officially opened in 2010 by the Minister for Education, Mary Coughlan. Located on a 25 acre education campus the new St. Brigid’s School, now named Athy Community College, was recently awarded School of Distinction status by Trinity College Dublin. On Thursday 23rd January the Community College will celebrate the 80th anniversary of the opening of St. Brigid’s School Teachers and pupils alike, past and present, deserve great praise for the success which has marked the school’s past 80 years.

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