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Ballyhaunis ‘academy’ that held first Mayo Féis closes its doors

Ballyhaunis ‘academy’ that held first Mayo Féis closes its doors

Michael Commins

Dr Douglas Hyde, many years before he became first President of Ireland, visited the new St Joseph’s Convent School in Ballyhaunis in 1903. Even then he knew it was rather special. “This is not a school, but an academy,” he enthused before a large congregation.
Close on 110 years later, the curtains finally came down on the “Academy” as the old Convent National School closed its doors for the last time as a primary education centre in the town last week.
Quietly and without fuss, it all came to a gentle end around 12.30pm on Friday as the staff and children transferred to the new campus on the Logboy Road. This marked the real amalgamation of the former St Joseph’s and St Mary’s Primary Schools in the town with full integration of all classes from September 2012.
Current principal, Kenneth Dennedy from Knock, said it was the end of one era and start of new one.
“All the boys and girls in primary education in Ballyhaunis will be on the same site for the first time from next September. There are obvious benefits and bonuses attached to that. The huge extension is now almost complete and the project is well ahead of schedule. Kilcawley’s Construction Company have gone about it in a very professional manner.
“This building (St Joseph’s) we are in for the last few minutes today was refurbished in 1962. It a fine solid building and will now revert back to the Sisters.  I hope it will be used someway within the community.  The last member of the Sisters of Mercy to serve as a teacher in the school was Sr Geraldine Farrell who retired this time last year and that ended a connection going back well over a century.
“There will be between 300 and 310 on the rolls in September. The numbers have grown by over 50 children in the last two years. The Parents Fund-raising Committee have worked so hard to ensure that our facilities will be top class. We will be the envy of the area when it comes to facilities, almost every possible facility is located here in Scoil Iosa now.”
Former principal, Sr Rosario Waldron, in a lecture delivered on the occasion of the transfer of the trusteeship of the school to the Archdiocese of Tuam on September 17, 2010, recalled the early history of the school. “There was great joy among the Sisters when the school was ready. They and the pupils moved in on the Feast of St. Raphael, 24th October 1901. Fr Canning celebrated Mass in the large infant room and every classroom was solemnly blessed by him.
“The first Mayo Féis was held in the Convent school on Easter week 15th – 16th April 1903. It was a notable undertaking organised by Gaelic enthusiasts of Ballyhaunis. They succeeded in bringing together one of the most notable gatherings ever held in Mayo, and perhaps the most successful. Among those present was Dr Douglas Hyde, President of the Gaelic League. Padraic Pearse dealt with the subject editorially, in ‘An Claidheamh Solais’.”
Carmel Cassidy, the first school secretary in St Joseph’s, has fond memories of working there over the years and right up to the closing on Friday. “The Sisters and the teachers gave many years of great service to the education of the young children here in this school. Maria Campbell became the first lay principal after Sr Teresa Fahy retired in the mid 1990s. Maria spent four years in that role. She is now a lecturer in Sligo IT. Jim Lundon, who was principal of St Mary’s Boys School, then became the first overall principal of the amalgamated schools in 2001 and was in charge until he retired in 2009. Kenneth Dennedy was then appointed as the new principal of Scoil Iosa.”
Carmel, together with the other school secretary, Mary Dillon, is now looking forward to continuing their excellent work in the fine new facilities when school resumes in September. And for school caretaker John Hurley from Ballinlough, it will mean no more travelling between the two locations. “I won’t even have to go under the railway bridge anymore. It’s all on my side of town now!” quips John.

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