Quarter of a century in Loughboy – Mícheál P. Ó’Caoimh

For thousands of Kilkenny people, Market Cross, Superquinn, Penney’s, Dubray and so on conjure images of shopping, queuing, working or even just browsing or strolling around, meeting friends and passing time.

For thousands of others, this very same part of Kilkenny City brings images of schooldays, schoolwork, punishment, class-rooms, friends, teachers and so on.

It’s surprising now, how many young Kilkenny people are not aware at all that The Presentation Secondary School, or “The Pres” as it was fondly known then as now, was the long and historical occupier of this centre city site.

A bit of history

The Presentation Convent was founded in James’s Street in 1800 and its primary and secondary schools, have provided education for girls and some boys, from the local population ever since.

The convent section was a fine elegant three-storey building facing onto James’s street. The gardens, the sisters’ burial crypt, school playground and pre-fab buildings occupied the area between the convent and the two-story school building which formed a part of one side of Chapel Lane.

Another essential part of the secondary school was the pre-fabricated classrooms between St. Mary’s car park and the Primary school on Parnell St. – this section was known as the First Year Pre-fabs.

The day to day school logistics involved here, meant that teachers and class groups, made regular trips from James’s Street – where the Science and Home Economics rooms were - through the convent grounds and along by The Mother of Fair Love school, to the pre fabs in Parnell Street. Students didn’t rush too quickly to their next tuition class and teachers stopped off to the staff-room, along by Chapel Lane, to acquire the relevant books, collect a bunch of homework copies or even sometimes to have a quick smoke or a brief chat. Life in school was indeed very different in those halcyon days.

Inclement weather conditions – heavy rain, strong winds, searing harsh winter cold often meant an uncomfortable morning, afternoon or indeed a whole day for the students and staff.

Free education and free school transport, in the late nineteen sixties, meant an explosion in student numbers and consequently in teacher numbers. This in turn meant that the archaic conditions of The Presentation School in James’s Street could not continue indefinitely.

As happens so often in history, the right person, in the right place comes along, just at the right time.

In the case of Pres Kilkenny this is exactly what happened.

A New School

In 1973 Sr. Helen Lenehan became Principal. She was young, determined, energetic, innovative, far-seeing and fearless. Within a very short time, she began the long relentless battle to have a new secondary Presentation school built, as a replacement for the old, cold. scattered structure, which was complimented by leaking, vermin-filled prefabricated classrooms.

The Presentation Order, parents, school staff and so many wonderful members of the local community all worked hand in hand to attain the much sought after prize – a new secondary school for the Presentation.

I have a clear recollection of Mr. Donal Creed T.D. – Junior Minister of Education at that time – responding to an invitation, in 1983, to visit the school and observe the appalling conditions that existed in the classrooms and pre-fabs. He was shocked by what he saw and soon afterwards we were awarded the permission to build a new school in Loughboy.  The site was purchased in Smithsland, Loughboy in 1984, from Fr. Brian Flynn of St. Patrick’s Parish, and work began almost immediately.

The official blessing and turning of the sod, by Most Rev. Laurence Forristal, Bishop of Ossory, on 30th May 1984 was a truly joyous and momentous occasion - a dream come true.  This day was, in fact, the first huge step on a wished-for journey away from the long historical establishment in James’s Street. It was a wonderful, dramatic, joyous and yet, in some ways, a sad occasion for the students and staff of the school. It certainly was a sight to behold, as all 600 or so students as well as the teachers marched triumphantly to what would become their new education home within eighteen months. Messrs. W.K Cleere & Co. were the builders.

Final Parting – New Beginning

Eventually, on November 21st 1985 – a very important date in the annual school calendar, as it is Presentation Day - the great and final parting from the James’s St. Convent and old school-site took place. Not surprisingly, there were many mixed emotions. History and tradition and loyalty to place and people, can be a very strong bond indeed. We would miss the warmth and undying support of the sisters and “the cup of tea” in the convent. Manys the sick or troubled student was “sent over to the nuns” for comfort, consolation and care in moments of distress and the door was always wide open.

The city shops, offices, post office and supermarkets were all close at hand for a quick “run out” during a free period or lunch-break and would now be a thing of the past. We would miss that too.

However, new times, standards, attitudes and demands beckoned and we were prepared, as always, for the challenge.

There was no staff-room as yet in the new school so we used the library – after all, for obvious reasons, we hadn’t known the day to day value of a school library so there was no problem there. Yes, there was pandemonium for a while as science rooms and home economics rooms waited to be fitted out, classrooms had to be allotted, lockers for the students was a completely new concept for us and each student had to be handed her own individual key. Each teacher was handed a map or drawing of the building to help in our orienteering venture as we sought out our classes. It was all very good humoured, exciting and entertaining.

We were immediately impressed by the warmth, comfort and brightness of the building – it was strange not to have to take an overcoat or an umbrella to the classroom. The new system certainly meant more time in the classroom for all and far less time looking at a threatening sky or wondering which coat or shoes would be most appropriate. This in turn meant far better discipline and supervision. Students’ bicycles – all 300 or so were far safer out of town. Incidentally, there isn’t even one student or staff bicycle today so that has provided its own solution!

But time moves on and so do we. Looking at the names of the staff in 1985 I noted that only ten remain from a list of thirty-eight or so on that fateful first day in Loughboy. This list of names included six nuns. Today there are no sisters teaching in the school. The number of staff today is fifty-five and there are more than 650 students enrolled at present. The demand for places in first year is continually rising. This reflects in no small way, the superb results obtained by our students in state examinations, in other fields of endeavour and also the warm and welcoming atmosphere in the school as a whole.

We are constantly striving to improve in every aspect of school life. We never cease in trying to impress on each student, her value and worth to herself, to her family, to the school and to society in general. Our simple code is mutual respect and the students always respond. We are a very happy community of staff, students and parents. We are very proud to continue on in the footsteps of that great Cork woman Nano Nagle – the lady with the lantern - who founded the Presentation Order in 1775 and whose vision was to educate the poor.

Remembering our friends

This year, we are celebrating a quarter of a century in Loughboy. We are very mindful of the many great and loyal supporters, down through the years, who have worked so hard and willingly to make us what we are today and what we are so proud to be.

Many former staff members from the Presentation Convent have made their homes in higher places. Many members of our finance committee, who supervised and co-ordinated fund raising, to make the transition possible, have also left us, as have so many parents and voluntary workers and former students, whose contributions will never be forgotten by those of us who realise their tireless efforts on our behalf. Go ndéana Dia ar Neamh trócaire ar a n-anamacha uaisle go léir.