On March 15th, there was a great sense of celebration and importance of the occasion when the entire school community in St. Paul’s Community College assembled in the sports hall which had been beautifully decorated with students art work commemorating the 1916 Rising,
The Mayor of Waterford City and County (and PE Teacher in St.Pauls Community College) Mr. John Cummins, Mr. Kevin Lewis, Chief Executive Waterford Wexford ETB , & Ms. Noreen Reilly Principal were escorted into the packed hall, by members of the Student Council, as the school choir led by Teacher Mary Minchin sang Ó ró sé de bheata bhaile the words of which were composed by Padraig Pierce.
The Principal welcomed the school community to the celebration of Proclamation Day, which she said was “a day of national pride and commemoration, a special day in the history of our school and in the history of the Irish Nation”.
Mayor Cummins officially opened the celebration, saying how delighted he was to be sharing this very special day with the students in St. Paul’s. He reminded students that Thomas Francis Meagher unveiled the Irish Tricolour for the first time in March 1848 from 33 The Mall in Waterford City. A month later he presented the Irish Tricolour in a speech to the citizens of Dublin at a banquet in April 1848.
Mayor Cummins said “The white in the centre signifies a lasting truce between the ‘Orange’ and the ‘Green’, and I trust that beneath its folds the hands of the Irish Protestant and the Irish Catholic may be clasped in generous and heroic brotherhood”.
Mayor Cummins said he felt these words were as significant now as they were in 1848 when they were first spoken.
Ms. Reilly then addressed the gathering.
She stated that The 1916 Rising and its aftermath changed Ireland for ever. The execution of fourteen of its volunteers transformed those previously thought of as troublemakers into national heroes. She said those who avoided execution went on to plan a new and ultimately successful struggle for Irish Independence our country’s destiny for the century to come.
Those who signed the proclamation, their families and dependents she described as selfless in their aspirations for Irish Independence. They may have differed in the priorities they emphasised within their definition of freedom she said, but they all pursued freedom in the fullest sense. Some gave priority to women’s rights, others the right to participate in public life, political rights and a distinguished number sought peace, equality and the rights of workers. The fact that they worked together though created for us the possibilities we enjoy today.
Ms Reilly suggested that the centenary celebrations invite us to reflect on the events of the past so that we remember and honour the ideals that inspired our nation.
She then referenced Waterford people who played a significant role in Irish History. She named Thomas Francis Meagher and the Irish tricolour, saying that today the white in the centre of the flag symbolises the hope for a lasting peace on the island of Ireland. The flag as a whole is therefore meant to symbolise inclusion and a hoped-for reconciliation of the various religions in Ireland, which is expressed in Article 2 of the Irish Constitution as the entitlement of every person born in Ireland to be part of the independent Irish nation, regardless of ethnic origin, religion or political conviction.
Speaking about the Irish constitution she reminded the audience that another Waterford man John Hearne framed the Irish Constitution.
She spoke of another famous Waterford man Richard James Mulcahy He fought in the 1916 Easter Rising, served as Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army during the War of Independence and became commander of the pro-treaty forces in the Irish Civil War after the death of Michael Collins. Richard Mulcahy went on to serve as Minister for Education from 1948 until 1951. She said Richard Mulcahy was responsible for the preservation of Democracy in Ireland and was instrumental in the survival of the VEC’s which he enshrined in Legislation.
She also spoke of Thomas Wise a founder member of the Catholic Association and Catholic emancipation, Architect of the National System of Education and Non denominational University Ed Ireland. She told students that St. Paul’s Community College was built on land originally owned by Thomas Wise.
Finally she referenced Private John Condon who was killed in the Second Battle of Ypres, Belgium, on 24 May 1915. Known as the ‘Boy Soldier’, he was only 14 years of age when he was killed and is recorded as being the youngest British soldier to have died in the Great War. Condon’s grave in Flanders is one of the most visited of all the war graves and is regarded by many as a fitting symbol for the futility of war.
John Condon was born in the parish of Trinity Without in Waterford City.
Ms Reilly said “In every Irish family I believe there is a story relating to 1916” and went on to share her family story.
She said she was actually, wearing part of her family story. As a child her mother was given this brooch as a gift when a lady she referred to as Granny McGarry passed away. Granny McGarry was no blood relation of her mother’s, a neighbour who lived in a tenement house in Blackhall Street in Dublin. Granny McGarry was a widow, originally from Co. Limerick and a member of Cumann na mban, In the week prior to the Easter rising 1916 Granny McGarry went to Limerick by train to visit relatives and collected 6 rifles which were used in the GPO on Easter Monday 1916. She returned to Dublin by train with the 6 rifles hidden in a roll of carpet. When she disembarked from the train in Dublin in what was then called Kingsbridge station now called Heuston station, 2 kind British Army officers helped carry the very heavy roll of carpet for Granny McGarry to a waiting horse and cart outside of the station, where Granny transported them home for safe keeping for the rising.
Ms Reilly then mentioned Padraig Pierce one of the signatories to the proclamation and quoted from him saying “There are in every generation those who shrink from the ultimate sacrifice, but there in every generation those who make it with joy and laughter and these are the salt of the generations”.
She then asked student “ will you be the salt of your generation?”
She told the students that history matters, She said “ Look back with gratitude to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to make our nation what it is today, celebrate the vision, courage and dedication of people whose beliefs and actions that led to our independence. Together we should recognise this great gift and we should work together to ensure that we treasure the gift of freedom and independence for the generations to come. One hundred years ago students your age had little access to education. She said to students, cherish this time in your lives because right now you have it all, the power of your imagination, the velocity of your dreams, the passion of new beginnings. Don’t lose your enthusiasm for learning and for life, don’t let it evaporate or get worn away. The most important thing is to be true to yourself and to make the most of your time in school. As the 1916 Irish volunteers did, the great American poet Harold R. McAlindon advises “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
To the Parents present she said, you have wonderful and amazing sons and daughters who are following in the footsteps of generations of Waterford people who have been educated here in St. Pauls Community College. There is a proud tradition in this school of producing talented young people who did, who do, who can and who will influence and achieve at the highest level of Irish and European Socio, Economic and Political life. And we look forward to working with you and our students to see your children achieve their potential and to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors and to make their own individual contributions at local national and international level.
Mr. Kevin Lewis then addressed the gathering saying he was honoured to attend the celebration; it was his first formal function in a school since his appointment. He complemented the students & staff present on the work that had gone into today’s celebration and referenced the wonderful artwork displayed in the hall. He said he looked forward to working with St. Pauls Community college in his new role as CE, WWETB.
A Candle was lit to remember Children of the Rising by student Council member Amelia McSweeney, an Irish air way played by the “The Libra Trio” who were accompanying the school choir.
The Proclamation was read as gaeilge by muinteoir Miseil Ni Dhonnabhain, and in English by Dr. Martin Hearne history teacher in the school.
Ms. Reilly then raised the Flag while the choir sang the National Anthem.
Presentations were made to student Ben Neald & his Woodwork teacher Ms. Wilson by the CE Mr. K Lewis. Ben attained 3rd place nationally in his Junior Certificate WW exam OL.
Adam Murphy Student Council member presented the CE Mr. Lewiswith a copy of a book on Thomas Francis Meagher which was edited by Dr. John Hearn.
Evan Marshall Student Council member then presented Dr. Hearne with a gift in recognition of his work on Thomas Francis Meagher.
Ms. Reilly then complemented the students on their excellent engagement with the ceremony saying they were a credit to themselves their families and their teachers.
She thanked the Management team in the school and in particular Deputy Principal Mr. Keane for all their ongoing hard work , She thanked the teaching & SNA staff, the Parent’s Council, and the Board of Management for their unfailing support, dedication and commitment to the school.
She paid tribute to administration staff, the caretaking staff and auxiliary staff also,
The ceremony concluded with the entire gathering joining with the choir to sing “Ireland’s Call”. Students were then served with sausages in bla’s cooked by the HE Department. Parents and invited guests were served light refreshments in the staff room.