By Eamon O’ Connell February 1964
It is practically self-evident that there must be a considerable measure of economic expansion in West Limerick over the next few years, if more of its people are to be maintained at home at an acceptable standard of living. What is not so self-evident is how the related troubles of emigration and unemployment are to be solved.
The first essential in its solution is an examination of the extent of the problem. An investigation of the employment potential of our existing resources and an accurate estimate of the number of new jobs that must be created. Let us look at the problem of emigration first.
In the period of 1956 to 1961, the population of this area fell by 5%, which, allowing for the natural increase of population, means that over 3000 people left the district in that half decade of high emigration …
And of course not all those who left West Limerick in the last census period actually left the country. Some were employed in Dublin, Limerick and Shannon. This normal movement of people from their predominantly rural area to our own towns and cities is infinitely preferable to the abnormal movement into English cities.
This natural movements into areas of economic growth within the state is likely to continue for the remainder of this ‘Decade of Development’…
Those of us who remain must feel honour bound to see that not only are the existing resources fully utilised but that further opportunities for productive employment are created.
This is just the beginning of a very perceptive article where he also discussed the necessity and benefits of education, economic growth with factories in Newcastle West, the important contribution that agriculture can make and stating authoritatively that there was not a shortage of money as much as a shortage of ideas.
He also discusses the second programme of economic expansion which envisaged that West Limerick will have 20,000 extra cattle by 1970 and the Government will have to become involved in investment and subsidisation. Concluding he wrote;
Here we have confined ourselves to purely productive investment in industry and agriculture because we feel that in developed state of the economy that they should have the priority. To say that however is not to minimise the outstanding importance of development in schools, housing, building, roads, the retail trade, social service and other activities. The emphasis on productive investment is, in fact, to insure that these can be made more readily available.
Community Involvement of Staff
In 1964, The Monthly Observer notes that “the spectacular annual wren boys’ contest was held in The Square on a spacious platform. Several ‘Batches’ wended their colourful way in procession from the North Quay to The Square where the contest was held.
The display of traditional comedy, music, song and dance exceeded the high standard of previous years. One of the judges was Pádraig Collery. Eamon O’ Connell performed the onerous duty of MC with charming efficiency.
First Young Scientists’
A new challenge to student enterprise came in 1965 in the form of the young Scientists’ Exhibition at the R.D.S. Grounds in Dublin. Mr. O’Connell was the first to enter a group to this competition from Vocational Schools in 1966 and he also encouraged other teachers to follow his lead. The first student from Newcastle West was David Geary in the Junior Boys Biological Science section.
The study was of milk and milk products. Over the next three years, Mr. O’Connell mentored eight other projects. Little did he realise then, that the Young Scientist’s Competition, would come to mean so much and bring so much glory to so many families in the Newcastle West area and to the recognition of the school.
For any further information regarding Young Scientists reference Dónal Enright’s book.
1966. Game-changer, a Positive Landmark in Irish Education
Donogh O’Malley was born in Limerick in 1921, he was elected as T.D. for Fianna Fáil in 1954. In 1961 he was promoted as Parliamentary Secretary (Junior Minister) to the Minister for Finance. He joined the cabinet as Minister for Health in 1965.
A year later he was appointed Minister for Education, a position where he will be forever remembered for his dynamism as a Minister. Donogh O’Malley acted swiftly to introduce the recommendations that were made in an official report regarding education.
Shortly after he was appointed, he announced that from 1969 all schools up to Intermediate Certificate level would be free and that free buses would bring students from rural areas to their nearest school. As Minister he also extended the school transport scheme and commissioned the building of new non-denominational, Comprehensive and Community schools.
He also introduced Regional Colleges now called “Institutes of Technology” in areas where there were no third level colleges in the proximity.
The best example of this successful policy in Limerick is the University of Limerick where O’ Malley is credited with taking the steps to ensure the University came into existence.
Access to third level education was also extended as the old scholarship system was replaced by means-tested grants which gave easier access to less well off students.
Donogh O’Malley said “There is a psychological affect on the youngster of having some years at Post Primary School, there is a feeling that one can better look the world in the eye, for while there are many ways in which levelling down can come about, education is one great leveller up – greater than wealth or lineage or power or anything like.”
Some might say nothing is free, but this programme was welcomed by the overwhelming majority of Irish people – then and now appreciated across all political divides.
This successful policy generated a growing participation in Second Level schools and the natural follow-on resulted in a major expansion in Third Level participation.
Donogh O’Malley’s sudden death in Limerick on 3rd March 1968, before his vision for the Education System was completed, came as a great shock to the Irish public.
In the meantime changes were taking place in the curriculum in our schools with the incorporation of the Intermediate Certificate syllabus in the late 60’s. This resulted in the appointment of teachers of French, History, Geography and Art.
In 1968 a more radical change occurred in school administration. Formerly the Headmaster had been responsible for all administrative work. Now under a new regulation, a senior member of the staff, Mr Pádraig Collery was appointed Vice-Principal and other members to posts of responsibility, the number of these varying with the size of the school.
Because of school and town development, the administrative work in Newcastle West School had been increasing to a point where it was no longer feasible for one person to cope with it; so this innovation was a welcome relief to Mr O’Connell.
It allowed him to delegate certain duties like timetabling, provision of text books, student transport and other time-consuming duties. It also left him more time for meeting with students and parents, which was probably even more necessary then than now, when parents are represented on a Board of Management.
Jim Kelleher began teaching in the school in 1968 joining Mr O’ Connell, whom he described as one of the greatest intellectuals in West Limerick.
Also working there were; Pádraig Collery, Irene Ryan, Alice King (Home Economics), J Hennessy (Art), Pat Twomey, Liam Higgins and John McAuliffe (Caretaker), Martin McNamara, Richard Barry, Hillary Tattin- Collins (French), Fr. M. O Connor, Fr. P Cuinlean, Fr. Elliot (Christian Docterine).
Jim also recalls the friendly atmosphere of the school and also of the frosty winter mornings when the old turf boiler wouldn’t gain heat until about midday. On those days John McAuliffe would have the salute ‘noble morning’ and he would be singing ‘The Rose of Tralee’ outside the window, while we sat inside frozen.
In 1970 a new Science Lab was built. This room was required due to extra numbers enrolling in the school as the result of the introduction of the three year Intermediate Course.
A Major Step in Education
Limerick Leader 2/10/71
A major breakthrough in Vocational and Technological Education means that the Co. Limerick VEC has been empowered by the Department to award scholarships varying from £50 to £250 to students.
The scholarships will be awarded to vocational students who obtain the highest total of points in 4 or 5 subjects in the Leaving Certificate Examinations. The scholarships will enable students to attend any of the eight regional colleges of technology in the country or to the School of Building, School of Commerce and School of Engineering in Limerick.
A special educational sub-committee has been set up to advise the full committee on the distribution of the scholarships. A number of students from Newcastle West were successful in gaining these scholarships.
Mr. Michael Herbert, Chairman told the meeting that the new scholarship scheme was a very significant step forward for vocational students. He extended a vote of congratulations to the Minister for Education for this most praiseworthy scheme, one he said would help to gear the country for entry into the Common Market and ensure higher technological education for post-primary students throughout the country.
Back Row: Mr. O’Connell, Ms. Ryan, Patricia Power, Mary McAuliffe, Maria Maguire, Joan Nolan, Mary O’ Sullivan, Mary Behan, Cora Mackessy, Anthony Lenihan and Francis Hayden.
Front Row: Mary O’ Connor, Mary Shine, Joan Flynn, Kathleen Ambrose, Mary Roche, Mary Riordan, Mary Downes, Betty O’ Connor, Mary O’ Sullivan, Gill Roche and Bridie Clifford.
Although this article so far, has been concerned chiefly with the more practical dimension in the school’s development, the cultural had an equal if not greater importance, and must be included even if in less detail. In the early days, drama had an important place in the school’s activities. Three-act plays by well-known authors were performed by the students at Latchford’s Cinema, the Carnegie Library and in local halls. Mr. Collery and Ms. Ryan were leaders and producers of these activities.
Outside artists were also invited and of these visits the best remembered must be that of Peter O’Brien and his group at the invitation of Mr. O’Connell. Accompanied by the renowned pianist Veronica McSweeney, they gave a performance of the Barber of Seville before a large audience in the Olympic Ballroom.
The whole school were involved in promoting this special event. This was just one of numerous social events organised by the school. The producers and students worked together after school hours in preparation for these and all helped on the day of the performance.
Later, when the pressure of examination work became more severe and the leisure time of teachers and students became more limited, short sketches and concert items were substituted and performed in the school itself.
Among other cultural activities were discussions, debates (including inter-school competitions) and quizzes.
by Pat O’Connor
Mr. Pat Twomey was the woodwork teacher in the school until his untimely death in September 1973. His woodwork room was exceptional even by top-organisational standards. The modern term for the precise storage positions of absolutely every tool in the room would be positioned in a ‘shadow-board’. There were safety slots for all cutting equipment.
On immediate observation when checking the order of all the equipment it could be instantly noted if anything was out of place. Even after nearly 20 years use, there was hardly a mark on the woodwork benches. A perfectionist could be a term used to describe him. He set very high standards for his students.
The room was unbelievably well cared-for and laid out with educational posters and samples of exotic woods and woodwork joints from those of a simple nature to some of the most intricate ones used in carpentry and joinery. There were many master copies of projects including teapot stands, picture frames, key holders, coat hangers, small tables, stools and bedside lockers.
Mr. Pat Twomey with a 2nd year boys woodwork class.
There was razor-edge sharpness to all the cutting tools and a sense of neatness and order to everything else. Pat was renowned for his style of teaching which demanded accuracy, excellence and perfection from his students. One of the adages in the woodwork room printed by Pat was;
‘Only those who have the patience to do simple things perfectly ever acquire the skill to do difficult things easily’.
Pat was very proud in 1953 when John Delee was awarded 1st prize in Ireland for woodwork, with him are fellow students, woodwork teacher Mr. Pat Twomey and Principal Mr. Eamon O’ Connell.
On a number of occasions, students received awards from the County Limerick VEC for their manual training group certs. There was significant demand for night classes in Woodwork. Many of the night students attended classes with Pat, year after year. The majority of the work on wood at this time had to be done by hand.
The woodwork classes for the day students concentrated on developing skills with hand and eye co-ordination and all the work was done without the work of machinery. Up to this time, theory of woodwork was only spoken of as there was no written exam paper in the Group Certificate.
Tom Ahern remembers,
“The woodwork room shaped my future working life as I went on to become a cabinet maker and spent over 30 years in fitted furniture for 4 different companies. While Woodwork was not my favourite subject in school, something must have clicked there amongst the shavings and the aroma of the timber and glue.
The smell of freshly planed timber will always stay with me, and the joy I got from being able to roll out a long length of shaving after a lot of practise with the wooden jackplane.
Pat Twomey was the woodwork teacher and a disciplinarian. He instilled in us a work ethic and an aim and desire to do better next time. His woodwork room was a source of joy for him and it was always kept neat and tidy and everything was kept in its place.
The tools were very well looked after and he kept a fine edge up on the blades of the planes, spoke-shaves, chisels and mitre saw. From my time at the school, many of the students who passed from the woodwork room through the corridor of life made carpentry their chosen career. Names I recall are Pa Crowley, Seamas Moloney, Tom Ahern, Con Lawlor and Mike Downes. He instilled in me the need for accuracy and sharpness in my work. This was to be of great benefit to me throughout my working life.”
Some of the inlaid furniture pieces that Pat Twomey made for his own personal use.
There is very fine, delicate inlay in all of the pieces shown and justice is not done to them by this photo. Similar artifacts were produced and french polished by students in the night classes, and would be presented by their makers in the previously mentioned Newcastle West Shows.
In some of the night classes at that particular time, kitchen tables, stools, wardrobes and even the body of horse and donkey carts were made. Mass produced products and built in furniture at reasonable prices contributed to a gradual decline in the demand for woodwork night classes in later years. A similar type of activity was fostered in the metal work room and in other areas.
Golf Social Outing
Left: Tom Dooley, Harry Knight, PJ Twomey. Gerry Normoyle in the centre
Back: Ned Kenny, Barry McEnery, Jim Sullivan, Seamus Normoyle, Liam Higgins, Bobby Cussen, and Tim Murphy.
Cash prizes and certificates were presented regularly to students throughout the county who achieved 1st and 2nd places in Vocation and Technical Examinations. These prizes and the associated publicilty was very much sought after by the students. The prizes came from the interest on the sale of Mungret College to the Jesuits in 1882.
1972 Officers of the Limerick County Vocational Education Committee with prize-winners in the Limerick County Endowment Scheme for Technical Education, after the award-giving ceremony at the County Council offices. The awards were handed over by the Committee chairman, Mr. Michael Herbert TD (front centre), assisted by the vice-chairman, Very Rev. Michael Canon Tynan, PP Croom (front left). With them is Mr. John Rushe, CEO (front right). Newcastle West award winners were; Áine Ní Dhubhda, 1st, Commerce General; Eibhlín Sheasnáin, 1st Domestic Science, Bernard Ó Gealagáin, 1st Manual Training; Máire Ní Leathlobhair, 2nd Commerce General; and Íde Ní Mhaoláin, 2nd Domestic Science.
Recorded in the Limerick Leader in January 1972, was “the fine achievement of Michael O’Shea” (NCW) as he was awarded 2nd place in the “advance plane and solid geometry” category Department of Education exam. He received a prize of £4. It wasn’t all about the prize money, far more important was the honour.
National Institute for Higher Education (NIHE)
September 27th 1972 was an auspicious day in Limerick when the Taoiseach Jack Lynch performed the ceremony at the opening of the National Institute of Higher Education at Plassey house, which now over 40 years later, is one of the greater successes in Irish Education, the University of Limerick.
In his keynote address, the Taoiseach said
‘like more other Western societies we have experienced shock waves of educational explosion both in the availability of knowledge and in encouraging such people to secure knowledge on the other hand’.
The benefit of this college to this general area could never be overstated. It made 3rd level education much more accessible in every sense to our students and an increasing number of them avail of this University every year. The proximity of such a college and its effect on the local area in terms of sport, recreation and academic excellence, encourages our students to strive for entry and avail of its facilities.
Co.Limerick VEC General School Prospectus
Presented below are photographs from the school’s prospectus for the County VEC, taken in the specialists rooms with top class facilities of Newcastle West Vocational School. The students pictured were very proud of their presence in this publication. Luckily these historic photos were preserved on the County Limerick VEC school general prospectus – testimony to the high esteem that this school, its teachers and students were held by the CEO Seán Rushe.
A group of young ladies being instructed by the Domestic Science teacher Mrs. Eva Brosnan.
A group of young ladies being instructed by the Domestic Science teacher Mrs. Eva Brosnan.
Eva Brosnan on the occasion of retirement.
Home Economics covers four subjects; Cookery, Needle work, Laundry and Home Management. It was examined at Group, Inter and Leaving Certificate levels. It equips a student for life with the basic things that go into making a home.
A greater number of male students took up the subject around this time. Many interested students have made Home Economics the basis of a career in the Hotel and Catering Industry. They have completed many courses under CERT ( Council for Education, Recruitment and Training of personel in the Hotel, Tourism and Catering Industries.
A tradition of providing Home Economics for adults has been maintained in this school down through the years through the adult education programme.
This subject has played a large role in the impact made by this school in the life of the local community.
Mr. McNamara in his new science room.
Secretarial Class practising their typewriting with Ms. Irene Ryan.
Irene Ryan – Promoter of Arts and Culture
Irene Ryan contributed many articles on books, theatre and films. Here is an extract from one published in the monthly Observer in February 1964.
Origin of the Theatre
So far back as the 4th century BC, the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle said ‘From childhood men have an instinct for representation, and in this respect, man differs from the other animals, in that he is far more imitative and learns his first lesson by representing things and then there is the enjoyment people always get from representation’.
Thus even in ancient Greece this instinct in man for the dramatic was recognised, and great writers like Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes, were quick to respond to it by creating the third of the elements which together comprised the Theatre. This other element was the Play, and between them they developed the Theatre along lines which brought it close to that of the present day. It is perhaps amazing to think that the art of the theatre is so old, and more amazing still to know that these authors’ plays are still being produced over 2000 years later’.
Within this article Irene further develops the title theme with comment on the religious festivals of winter and spring, and the development of comic drama. Gaiety, tragic ritual, pageantry, burlesque, parody, and many other elements of performance are discussed. Also the roofless theatres, lighting unnecessary as performances were held in daylight and the only props in earlier times was the thunder machine to denote the wrath of Gods, and a crane-like structure which descended on the stage, carrying the actors who represented the Gods.
No doubt this deep knowledge of the theatre contributed to Irene’s involvement in cultural productions within the school with school students.