50 years of ‘Tales from Westway’

June 1965... Boys from St Joseph's Intermediate School, under Mr. John Page (front left), who paid a visit to the Journal offices at Shipquay Street to see how a newspaper is made up from newsroom overseer Elijah McCay. [30-11-12 SML 50]

June 1965... Boys from St Joseph's Intermediate School, under Mr. John Page (front left), who paid a visit to the Journal offices at Shipquay Street to see how a newspaper is made up from newsroom overseer Elijah McCay. [30-11-12 SML 50]

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When the doors of the school first opened 50 years ago, a piece of educational history was created as it was the first intermediate school for boys in Derry.

A new book charting 50 years of St Joseph’s Boys’ School in Creggan will be launched in the city next week. Published by Guildhall Press, ‘Tales from Westway’ has been almost two years in the making and has been entirely written and edited by past and current pupils and staff members. The uniform and hairstyles may well have changed since 1963, but a read of the new book will quickly reveal that the ethos of St Joseph’s - ‘Achievement For All’ - hasn’t changed at all.

'Tales from Westway' - 50 years of St Joseph's Boys' School will be launched at the school on Tuesday, December 4, at 7pm. Following the launch, the book will be on sale at bookstores across the city. It will also be available to purchase on the website of Guildhall Press at http://www.ghpress.com.

'Tales from Westway' - 50 years of St Joseph's Boys' School will be launched at the school on Tuesday, December 4, at 7pm. Following the launch, the book will be on sale at bookstores across the city. It will also be available to purchase on the website of Guildhall Press at http://www.ghpress.com.

When the doors of the school first opened 50 years ago, a piece of educational history was created as it was the first intermediate school for boys in Derry.

The first principal of St Joseph’s was WJ Maultsaid who had an initial teaching staff of 44. Mr Maultsaid had originally taught at St Columb’s College and was approached by the then Bishop of Derry, Dr Neil Farren, to become the first headmaster of St Colman’s High School in Strabane. Having made a success of St Colman’s, WJ Maultsaid was then asked to lead the new St Joseph’s School in Creggan. As he had done at St Colman’s, Mr Maultsaid brought along with him his second-in-command, Mr Ted Armstrong.

Initially constructed to house 750 pupils, such was the demand for secondary education that the first intake was actually 850 pupils drawn from Rosemount, Long Tower and St Eugene’s Primary Schools.

The ‘privilege’ of competing for public examinations in this era remained firmly within the grasp of the country’s grammar schools. Yet, William John Maultsaid had other ideas and, with the help of four Belfast secondary school principals, successfully campaigned to secure the right of these schools to take exams - a move that would see working class teenagers enter universities en masse for the first time.

Having established these vital precedents, WJ Maultsaid retired in 1972 and was replaced at the helm by Ted Armstrong who, to this day, remains the longest serving head teacher of St Joseph’s (1972-86).

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s - as the ‘Troubles’ continued to tighten their grip - the school’s location meant it found itself in the frontline for a lot of violence and, at one stage, part of the school was actually partially taken over by the British Army. Somehow classes continued, apprentice tradesmen turned out, exams passed, sports teams, musicians and choirs were highly successful and, by 1979, having begun A Level courses, the first St Joe’s boys entered university.

Never an institution to rest on its laurels, the school continually sought to broaden its academic programme. In the late 80s, under the direction of new head teacher Dr Niall McCafferty, the school pioneered the introduction of social science subjects including A Level Politics, Sociology, Psychology and Communication Studies.

Almost 40 years after St Joseph’s opened, it became increasingly obvious that the hastily designed and constructed 1960s buildings that had also withstood a lot of physical turmoil were no longer fit for purpose. A campaign for a new school was spearheaded by then chair of the Board of Governors, Mr James Doherty and, in 2003, the ‘new’ St Joe’s opened its doors for the first time.

The book commemorating all these events is anything but a mundane chronicle of the day by day, decade by decade life of St Joseph’s. Quite the opposite, it is an at times funny, sometimes tragic, account of the social history of the area.

The ‘Troubles’, of course, features heavily in the history of the school. Research has revealed that no fewer than seven of the victims of Bloody Sunday attended St Joseph’s as did Ranger William Best, a young soldier killed by the Official IRA in the wake of January 30, 1972. Another victim of the conflict, Richard Moore, founder of Children In Crossfire, also attended St Joseph’s and his tale, as well as many other accounts of the era, are included.

The contributions of people such as John Dunne, Shaun Doherty, Eamonn Fitzpatrick, Ann Hutton, Mary McCay, Paul Eastwood and Kevin McCallion are also recorded.

St Joseph’s has also been renowned for producing many highly recognised and decorated sportsmen and there are interviews with people such as boxer Charlie Nash, current Derry City F.C. manager Declan Devine, kickboxing world title holder Daniel ‘Pinta’ Quigley and Everton defender Shane Duffy.

Also included are dozens of rarely seen photographs spanning the entire five decades of the school. Coupled with all this are valuable contributions from the current pupils of St Joseph’s, bringing the tale of the thousands who have passed through its gate right up to date.

One of those who helped produce the book is past pupil and local journalist Eamon Sweeney.

He explains how he first became involved in the project: “I arrived at work one morning to find an e-mail from a friend of mine, Seamus Breslin, a former pupil of St Joseph’s as were his six brothers, and a still a neighbour of my family in Melmore Gardens in Creggan. In typically Seamus and brilliantly brief Derry style, the email said something like, ‘St Joe’s need a book written for the 50th anniversary, anything you can do? Gimme a shout if you can.’

“And that’s how it began. Some weeks later, I found myself at the reception desk of St Joseph’s for the first time in more than 20 years. I couldn’t believe that I felt nervous, but that’s probably attributable to the fact that in my time at this school finding yourself at reception was a precursor to being, shall we say, ‘invited’ to ‘step into’ the headmaster’s office for a ‘brief chat.’

“After a few initial meetings, we drew up a tentative plan of what we thought the book should include. There was some concern that we might not be able to gather enough material to fill a book that would do St Joseph’s justice.

“However, that idea was immediately dispelled when we realised that 50 years was a lengthy timespan to cover, especially when considering the momentous events that have happened in this area and in this city - a lot of which St Joesph’s have a direct link to.

“In the end, what we hope you will find is an uplifting story. There are tragic moments, yes, but, mainly, those moments of tragedy are tales that end in triumph.”