We are very sad to report the passing of Mrs. Eithne Fisher. Eithne was a dedicated teacher of St. Aengus N.S. for many years. She retired in the year 2000 and is fondly remember by the staff of the school. During our 40th Anniversary celebration, Eithne wrote an article for the magazine. In it you’ll get an insight to her personality and her love for the school. She will be remembered fondly by alot of the former pupils/now current parents of the school.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam
By Mrs Eithne Fisher
I started teaching in the old school in Bridgend in 1965. I’d already taught in Birmingham for a couple of years and in 1964-65 I taught in Carrowmena N.S., a townland bordering on the parishes of Culdaff and Moville.
In those days, two and three teacher schools were the norm in country areas. The school buildings were ancient, with no piped water supply, no electricity and no central heating. The toilets were usually nasty smelly cess pools, best not talked about! In our school, the path up to them was quite steep and, in winter, could be wet and slippery. You risked falling on your backside on the way down! A lady inspector once asked me to direct her to the toilet. I pointed up the path to the loos, warning her that they were not the most elegant of facilities! When she returned she said, “you’d need to be a mountaineer to get up there, not to mention being a good shot”. Away in the dim and distant past, when I was a child at Gleneely school, the facilities were exactly similar.
However, the school building is only a part of the life of the school. It’s the children, parents, teachers and ancillary staff who make a school what it is. We had wonderful parents, delightful well behaved children and three hard working teachers namely Danny Sharkey, Máire Sharkey (R.I.P.) and myself. Danny was always trying to improve things for the better comfort of pupils and staff. We used to have to light the fire ourselves but Danny got a kindly gentleman from Skeog, Leo Porter, to come and set and light the fire before the arrival of pupils and staff. It was a great comfort to come into a warm classroom with a blazing fire in the grate, surrounded, of course, by a big strong fireguard. In those days, Molly Porter kept theclassrooms neat, clean and tidy for which we were very grateful. Danny also set up an excellent parent/teacher group. They raised funds for the school and as a result we were able to purchase enough books to set up a good library in each classroom. That was a great source of enjoyment for all the children, and teachers too. In the seventies, a new curriculum was introduced which included art and crafts. Art! Now that posed problems for schools like ours, with no water supply other than a bucket of drinking water in the hall. But, somehow, we managed.
I remember, in particular, one Christmas when I thought it would be a good idea to get the children to make a crib. They duly set to work enthusiastically. The figures were made from cardboard tubes, with heads made from potatoes! Eyes, noses and mouths were laboriously carved, then painted. The Wise Men, Joseph and shepherds had long beards made from sheeps’ wool. All the characters were suitably dressed in scraps of material brought from home. The figures were installed in the crib, a large cardboard box, with straw covered roof and floor. We were all proud of our creation. It was left there at the back of the classroomduring the Christmas holidays. When we returned in January, a tragic scene awaited us! The crowns of the three wise men were scattered about the floor, their heads, and those of Joseph and the shepherds, had great chunks bitten off them and were gnawed and chewed all over. A poor shepherd and a king were halfway down the mouse holes! We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry! Although we were well used to the mice, we’d forgotten the attraction to a hungry rodent, of a good feed of spuds!
The push was on in the early seventies for a new school, a central school, which would include the pupils and staff of Moness, Carrowen and Birdstown. After much deliberation and debate, a site was chosen and the building of the new school of St Aengus’ began. We could see it from the main road, and now and again went up to see its progress. We were thrilled at the size of it and were looking forward to its completion. In the meantime, the troubles in Derry were in full force. British Army soldiers were installed at a checkpoint opposite to Barney’s or The Three Flowers as it was also known. People travelling over the border were regularly searched. Riots were a daily occurrence in William Street. I remember the boys in the old school used to play a “rioting game”, under the leadership of a small boy called Noel Campbell. “Now, youse be the rioters and me and these boys are the police. I’m the leader and we’ll chase youse all down into the Bogside. If we catch you, you’re for the Kesh!” If someone had told me when I left the teacher training college in Dublin that I’d have to go through a British Army checkpoint every day on my way to school, I’d have thought they were crazy. I used to get a lift home to Derry from Mrs Austin who taught in Newtown. She also gave a lift to Mrs Hall from Moness. One day on our way home, as I looked idly out of the window, I saw the sheep in the field near the checkpoint, running like mad as if they were being chased by a dog. Mrs Hall thought she heard shooting. I thought she was imagining things. But as we stopped at the checkpoint there was a furious commotion – soldiers running, yelling and shouting. We were ordered to keep our heads down and to slide down to the floor of the car.
Mrs Hall was right. The I.R.A. was firing at the checkpoint from the field where the poor sheep had been running and who were now huddled in a corner. There were many cars and lorries in the line. Mrs Hall was sure we were all going to be killed. I’d never heard gunfire before and stupidly believed we were in no danger. But, when I heard Mrs Hall say the prayer for a happy death and the act of contrition, I thought maybe I ought to be more scared. Eventually, we all had to get out of our cars, heads down and hide under a large truck. We were there until the shooting stopped. we were told we could drive on, but we weren’t allowed up the Buncrana Road to Derry. We had to go back to Bridgend and up through Birdstown, then Muff, and finally we reached home safe and sound. For a while after that, if I saw the sheep racing through the fields at the checkpoint, I’d be highly suspicious and wonder if it was something I ought to be worried about. Eventually, the new school was completed. Before the grand opening day we went over to view it. Bishop Daly was there on that occasion and an inspector as well as all the teachers who’d been working there. We were delighted with the large bright classrooms, the child friendly furniture, central heating, electricity, cupboards, shelves, a blackboard, sink, handbasin and best of all, beautiful clean hygienic flush toilets. The cloakrooms also had radiators which would help dry damp coats. There was a grand opening day with many important people attending. A mass was said in the school and afterwards there were treats for the children, who got the rest of the day off. The “important guests” and all the teachers of the parish were invited to a meal in the local hotel at the border. After the festivities were over we settled into the new school. It took a while to get used to the novelty of having plenty of space and a great playground. The view from the school was lovely, looking up at Scalp and the line of low hills. A stream ran down the farside of the playground. I remember bringing a group of junior infants over to listen to the sound of running water. One little lad said, “Aye, I can hear it laughing away at us!” I taught junior infants for a good few years. They were a delight to teach. even though at times there were 40 in the class. Four and five year olds have a magic all of their own. There was rarely a day passed without one or two of them bringing a smile to my face. If you were in a gloomy mood, that group of four year olds would cheer you up straight away. I think that my years teaching junior infants were among the happiest days of my teaching career. Later I taught the First Communion class. Fr John Doherty used to come in to talk to the children who were preparing for their first confession. One day he said, “We are all sinners, Mrs Fisher is a sinner, I’m a sinner, the Pope is a sinner!” A little boy interrupted – “Please Father, I’m not a sinner. My mammy says I’m a very good boy.” When First Communion was over we usually had a party in the classroom. On one occasion Fr Doherty brought in a tray of beautifully decorated pastries. One little girl, Avril I think, said to Fr Doherty – “I bet you I know where you got those lovely buns! Your wife made them for you!” Father John and I laughed heartly at that. We enjoyed being part of a much larger staff of teachers. Master McClafferty and Miss Kathleen O’Doherty joined us from Birdstown school and Mrs Hall from Moness.
As the years passed there were changes.
Master McClafferty retired. Hugh Harkin from Ballyliffin joined us. we were very fond of Hugh. Eventually he left to become Principal of Glentogher School. Sadly, Hugh died in a car accident some years later. Two members of our staff died while still in their prime, Kathleen O’Doherty and Owenie Gallagher. We were greatly saddened by their deaths. Time passing brought more changes Sean Hannaway, Colm Davis and Mary Heron joined us and later Eileen McLaughlin and Mary Deeney. Apart from the teaching staff we had a terrific back-up from our school secretary, Anne Strain. Anne was extremely helpful and reliable in every way. No matter what problem you had,
Then there were the Caretakers, who without, we would not have managed. In latter years we had Eileen and Austin Wallace who kept the classrooms and cloakrooms in immaculate order. We were very grateful for their hard work in keeping so many rooms, halls and cloakrooms spic and span. It was great to have such a large and happy staff. As the younger teachers joined us there was lots of “craic” and banter during tea breaks and throughout the day. Sports Day was one of the highlights of the school year. Parents, Teachers and Pupils combined to make sports day a happy occasion. There was great rivalry among the senior classes especially at the tug-o-war, while the infants struggled in the sack race and spud and spoon races. Other occasions were the school concerts, sometimes each class performed in their own classroom with parents as an audience. On other occasions concerts took place in Burt Hall. Perhaps one of the most memorable school occasions was the year in the nineties when Donegal won the All-Ireland Football Final. The team visited schools throughout Donegal to show off the Sam Maguire Cup. The day came when it was our turn. The children, teachers and parents formed a guard of honour down along the road, waving Donegal flags as the team arrived. The children were thrilled to touch the trophy or have their photos taken beside it. One young mum put her small baby into the cup! I’m sure that baby will have grown up to be a staunch G.A.A. supporter.
Eventually, Danny decided to retire. We gave him a royal send-off, for he’d been at the helm for many years, leading, innovating, guiding and encouraging staff and pupils. Sean Hannaway, whom we all knew well, liked and respected, took over the job and played a similar role. Some years later, Máire Sharkey retired to be followed soon after by my good self in the year 2000.
I have many happy memories my days in St Aengus’ school. I meet past pupils from time to time and it’s a delight to see them. I don’t think I could have taught in any other school in Ireland with such good, kind, generous parents and well brought up children and a hardworking committed staff. Long may St Aengus’ continue its good work under its present talented Principal Joan and her hard working staff.
Beannacht Dé ar an obair, agus go dteigh sibh uilig slán. Eithne Fisher