RESPECTED The late Fursey Heneghan.
If I can help somebody as I pass along,
Then my living shall not be in vain!
- Alma Bazel Androzzo
For at least two generations of Presentation College Headford past-pupils the sudden passing of Fursey Heneghan last weekend prompted a resonance of magical memories.
From his time teaching there Fursey bequeathed a lifetime of treasured reminiscences. Fursey Heneghan wasn’t your normal run-of-the-mill teacher. Anything but. He smashed that mould to smithereens.
When Fursey walked through the portals of a Headford learning hub in 1968 the world conducted its affairs in monochrome. Fursey swept the cobwebs of a staid system and brush stroked colour across a dark and uninspiring canvas. He also attired himself in a daily wearing of dazzling colourful ties.
His appendages ran every gamut and worn as a salute to every occasion. He sported more shades and hues than a Berger paint catalogue. He shared the Christian moniker of a patron saint of the region but there was only one instantly recognisable Fursey.
He grabbed conventional schooling by the scruff of the neck, dragging it into modernity. He made learning interesting and fun. There wasn’t a hope of dozing off during Fursey’s class. There was too much going down demanding alertness. The unexpected was expected and it always materialised. Fursey was a force of nature. He was a gifted communicator, a captivating long-playing talker, energetic, flamboyant, a performer and a refreshing breath of air.
Geography and English were his specialised subjects. Daily he led his pupils across the Andes or down the Amazon. It was a journey of discovery from the town of Hiawatha to the wheat fields of Big Bow and the world back then.
In teaching English he found his true calling. A keen student of the writings of Shakespeare he made learning Macbeth or other plays an enjoyable experience. Claire who is domiciled in a Parisian arrondissement now shared her memory of Fursey: “I always think fondly of him when I hear a quote or reference to Macbeth. I did that play with him in Leaving Cert English. He certainly brought a daily flourish of Shakespearean drama into a Headford classroom which was no mean feat.” That was Fursey. He was a thespian and the classroom his theatre.
Poetry too. He had a special grá for Yeats, Robert Frost and Milton among others. Decades later Sarah from Ballycurrin credits him with giving his pupils a deep appreciation of English and can instantly quote a verse of Frost’s “Stopping by woods on a snowy evening.”
That’s the impact Fursey had on his students. For him it was never about attaining the highest grade or maximum points. He only wanted them to be the best they could be. Fursey was aware of the old adage, there’s a lid for every pot. Each would all find their own niche in life. He just steadied the ladder so as they could climb.
He looked beyond the confines of the schoolroom also. Daily he patrolled the yard at break-time. There was never madness but always method to his rationale. There he could meet pupils on a one to one setting. If some issue within or outside of school bothered them they confided in him. And when they shared their concerns Fursey listened.
And days too when Fursey ignored the equator and leant against the radiator. He abandoned teaching, opting instead for open discussion on whatever topic came to mind. It was an unscheduled respite from the regular routine.
A Shrule send-off
He passed away peacefully in the depth of a Shrule night as the season turned and another school year beckoned. It was a call he no longer had to answer. His wife Carmel was his constant companion. They complimented each other perfectly. Carmel, his son John, daughters Aisling and Mary, the grandchildren he adored, his sisters Mary and Hilda, brothers Jack and Tony and his extended family will miss him most of all.
He got the renowned Shrule send-off. The huge crowd who turned out on both days to pay their respects was testament to his popularity and high esteem he was held in. On Sunday morning Shrule Church was wedged to overflowing. His son John was the warm-up act with a rendition of Lady of Knock. Chanteuse Sandra Schalks plucked notes from on high and the congregation chorused her.
His sister Hilda carried an accordion to the altar depicting Fursey’s love of music of every genre. John Boner, his great friend and teaching colleague brought a book of Shakespeare’s writings. Another member of that wonderful cast Sr Mary Whyte did a reading and his two daughters regaled all with humourous anecdotes of a wonderful husband and father.
Sporadic spurts of mirth echoed up the centre and down the aisles too as someone whispered another nugget of happenings in Fursey’s class. At his graveside they played The Coolin and The West’s Awake.
John Boner, that brilliant gaelgeoir, essayed the most poignant message of all on a mass card. It read ‘Tá gile na bhFlaitheas ag lonrú ar a anam uasal’. Translated it means ‘the brightness of Heaven is shining on his noble soul’.
On the day of his retirement Fursey was asked about his time in Presentation College Headford and what it meant to him. Without a millisecond of pause Fursey replied “I was happy here.” He was that for sure because nobody encountered Fursey in bad disposition. His joviality was infectious. He was always the biggest child in the classroom.
He never demanded respect from his pupils but by his actions he earned it. Every scholar privileged enough to have sat at his seat of learning will ever hold him in highest regard. Fursey was the communal pal through idyllic schooldays and the camaraderie prolonged along life’s journey.
Even in the oldest of nice memories Fursey Heneghan will live forever young.