John McCormack was appointed principal of Ardscoil na Tríonóide in 2013. His appointment was one of huge importance in terms of the history of education in the town as John, or Johnny as he is generally known, is a past pupil of Athy Christian Brothers School which following an amalgamation with Scoil Mhuire has evolved as one of the largest educational campuses in South Kildare.
Born in Kilkenny in 1962 Johnny came to live in Athy nine years later and joined the 2nd class in the St. John’s Lane School where Brother Murphy, the last in a long line of Christian Brother principals, was head teacher. Later on ascending the iron stairs to the secondary school classrooms he came under the tutelage of Bill Ryan, Mick Hannon and Brother Tobin. He finished his secondary education in 1981 and having graduated with a B.Com. from U.C.D. returned as a teacher to his old alma mater four years later.
Just a year before John returned to Athy the old Christian Brothers secondary school closed and reopened in new premises at Rathstewart. The move came 167 years after the Christian Brothers came to Athy on the invitation of the Archbishop of Dublin to provide schooling facilities for the young boys of St. Michael’s parish. A year earlier the Sisters of Mercy had opened their convent school here in Athy. The move to a new site in Rathstewart saw the Christian Brothers secondary school operating side by side with the Convent of Mercy secondary school, Scoil Mhuire. While there were some shared facilities the boys and girls schools operated under different school Boards of Management, separate principalships and under their own names, Scoil Eoin and Scoil Mhuire. Lay principals would later replace the previous principals who like their predecessors going back to the schools foundations had always been members of religious orders.
John McCormack was appointed vice principal of Scoil Eoin in 2002 following the retirement of Mick Hannon. Five years later Scoil Eoin and Scoil Mhuire amalgamated to become a co-educational school under the name Ardscoil na Tríonóide. The religious trusteeships under which Scoil Eoin and Scoil Mhuire had previously operated were replaced by a trusteeship under the name, Catholic Education Irish School Trust (C.E.I.S.T.). In 2012 John McCormack was appointed principal. He was the first past pupil of Athy C.B.S. School to assume that position.
Today Ardscoil na Tríonóide is a far bigger secondary school than that which my school pals and myself attended in the 1950s. Secondary education in those days was a facility which the vast majority of my primary schoolmates could not avail of. While the Christian Brothers sought a very small fee where they felt it could be paid and no fee if thought otherwise, family circumstances often dictated that the young boys had to leave school at 14 years of age and sometimes earlier. So it was that four small classrooms at the top of the iron stairs in the St. Johns Lane School provided sufficient accommodation for Athy’s Secondary School pupils up to more recent years. The school staff in the 1950s consisted of four teachers, two Christian Brothers, Brett and Keogh and two lay teachers, Bill Ryan and Michael O’Riordan.
It was not until Donagh O’Malley’s move to make secondary education more freely available that the secondary school scene started to change dramatically. Today Ardscoil na Tríonóide caters for upwards of 840 pupils with enrolment two years in advance. A maximum of 150 pupils can be catered for in each class year, a number which is even larger than the total secondary school population of the Christian Brothers School in my time. Another huge change is that approximately 95% of those who enrol in the first year of secondary school go on to sit their Leaving Certificate. In my time the dropout rate after 6th class primary and 1st year secondary was very high and just a few years before I sat my Leaving Certificate the Leaving Cert. class in the local Christian Brothers School consisted of just one pupil.
Today Ardscoil na Tríonóide has 53 teachers, with backup secretarial staff. The range of sports provided include basketball, rugby, soccer, equestrian and Gaelic games, with sports hall facilities not dreamed of in my St. John’s Lane school days.
The Catholic ethos of Ardscoil na Tríonóide reflects those of the community it serves but it is a passive inclusion in a school which is non denominational and respectful of the religious beliefs of others. Johnny McCormack, as a past pupil of the earlier Christian Brothers School, fosters and encourages his pupils to continue on to University. The fact that up to 90% of the school’s pupils continue on to third level education is a tribute to the quality of education provided in Ardscoil na Tríonóide and the educational philosophy pursued by Johnny McCormack and his team. The gateway to success in life is a good education and Ardscoil na Tríonóide combines the best traditions of my old secondary school and that of Scoil Mhuire to provide a first class educational environment for its pupils.
Last week I mentioned the sad death of journalist and last editor of the Sunday Press, Michael Keane. As I finish this article I have before me a copy of ‘The Greenhills Magazine’ published at Christmas 1964 by the pupils of the C.B.S. Athy. Its editor was Michael Keane who in his editorial expressed the hope that the magazine ‘will make you a little bit more proud of your school’. We were indeed proud of our school and proud of Michael’s achievement in Irish journalism and we can be justifiably proud of the wonderful educational facilities available in Ardscoil na Tríonóide provided under the guidance of Johnny McCormack who like the late Michael Keane is a past pupil of the C.B.S. here in Athy.