Martine Mulhern holds back tears as she thinks about the 24 years she spent teaching at St. Mary’s College.
Martine is now the new principal of St, Cecilia’s College in Creggan and despite the fond memories she has of teaching the girls in the famous blue blazers, she’s enjoying her new job and loves her new school.
“The staff here at St. Cecilia’s have been so welcoming - there’s a great team here and I am so excited at the prospect of working with them all.
“Now that I am principal it means that I no longer spend time in the classroom. I try to get to know girls by taking part in as many of their activities as possible - for example, this morning, just before you arrived I was taking part in a bit of salsa dancing,” she laughs.
Martine was born in Belfast in 1966 and when she was three years-old, her parents moved to Derry. Martine, whose maiden name is Cox, was reared in Strathfoyle and attended the old Enagh Primary School before moving into the more modern St. Oliver Plunkett’s P.S. a few years later.
“My father got a job teaching construction at what is now known as North West Regional College so when I was very young we up and moved.
“We lived in Strathfoyle for the first few years and I remember it being very tough on my mother. Strathfoyle was a different place to what it is now - what I mean is that it was much more rural and many of the people who lived there all knew one another because they worked in places nearby - my mother knew no one.
“Mammy was a skilled seamstress and when we moved to Derry she got a job working in the Tillie and Henderson shirt making factory but then it closed.
“Mammy made a lot of sacrifices coming here - she left her family behind in Belfast and even to this day she is still a proud Belfast woman,” she smiles.
Martine is the eldest of four girls; her three younger sister are Mary, Patricia and Sinead.
“It was always good having so many sisters - I always used to boss them about and from a very young age I realised that I wanted to be a teacher.”
Martine recalls hours spent teaching her younger siblings about the joys of reading and writing but she admits it was not always a pleasurable experience for her sisters.
“I loved teaching them - ever since that experience I knew that all I wanted to be when I got older was a teacher.
“I may have loved sitting my sisters down on the stairs and teaching but I think they might have saw it differently - they probably saw me as a bossy busy body,” she laughs.
No sooner had Martine settled in St. Oliver Plunkett’s P.S. and the family moved from Strathfoyle to newly built houses in Kilfennan.
“I had to move schools again,” she says with frustration.
“St. Oliver Plunkett’s was new and state of the art but when we moved to Kilfennan I moved schools to the Waterside Girls’ School, Chapel Road - it was a much smaller school but I still made lifelong friends there.”
Interestingly, Martine’s year group did not have to sit the 11 Plus examination. Instead, she was teacher assessed and as a result secured a place at Thornhill College.
“I think that the powers that be back then must have been experimenting to see how teacher assessment would work instead of the
“First years went to school in Artillery Street first before moving to Culmore Road a year later - it was at Thornhill in Artillery Street that I met my best friend Patricia McGrellis.
“Patricia told me later on that her first impressions of me were not good. Since I had been to two primary schools I knew plenty of girls at Thornhill and when she saw me saying hello she must have thought I was a bit of an eejit.
“But myself and Patricia are best friends to this very day. She’s a teacher too but she’s also the kind of person I have been trying to be my entire life.”
She continued: “I have been lucky throughout my life that I have always had good friends. As well as Patricia I have fond memories of spending time with Amanda Frazer and her family in Malin Head.
“Myself and Amanda wouldn’t have been close in school but outside of school we were really good friends. She lived near to me and we spent many summers together.
“Brenda McLaughlin was also a great friend - like I said I have been blessed with great friends throughout my life.”
Martine always knew that she wanted to be a teacher when she got older and realising that many schools were crying out for science teachers she decided to study Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics for A-level.
“My A-level grades were not great. The kind of exams that I did are the kind of exams they are trying to replace GCSEs with but I have no doubt that had I been at school when continual assessment and modules were used to determine grades, I would have done much better.”
Martine secured a place at St.Mary’s teaching college in Belfast where she studied for a degree in education with chemistry.
Martine spent three years studying in Belfast and shared accommodation with her good friend Patricia McGrellis.
“I have so many fond memories of living and studying in Belfast - it was great fun.
“Myself, Patricia and another girl called Nicola Coyle went everywhere together - they were good times.”
Martine is a qualified primary school teacher and her first experience in a classroom was at Good Shepherd PS in the Waterside.
“I just wasn’t ready to teach young children and as a result of my experience of primary school teaching I think the world of primary school teachers - they do such an amazing job.”
Martine then went on to teach older children in Sacred Heart PS. and in St. Columb’s College. She says it was then that she realised that she wanted to teach older children.
“I really took to it. I was really enjoyable and I felt so satisfied in my work.”
Soon after graduating, Martine applied for two teaching posts; one was in St. Mary’s College whilst the other was in St. Cecilia’s.
“I got called to interview for both and the St. Mary’s interview was first - I must have done something right because later on that day they offered me the job and I never went for the St. Cecelia’s interview - it’s funny how things turn out,” she smiles.
In her first year in teaching Martine taught Science, English, Drama, Technology and Mathematics.
“Science became a compulsory subject a while later and I became a full time science teacher.”
Five or six years after taking up her post at St. Mary’s, Martine agreed to take on the responsibility of being the school’s Duke of Edinburgh Award co-ordinator - soon things took a dramatic twist.
“Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am the most unsporty person you are ever likely to meet but I always liked trying out new things so that’s why I took on the Duke of Edinburgh responsibility.
“I remember on one school outing - we took the girls on a walk in the Sperrin Mountains, I was pregnant at the time and had to keep it a secret from my mum.
“A few of the girls became unwell on the trip - they were experiencing hypothermia and as a result a rescue helicopter, the police and an ambulance had to be called.
“We got the girls back to Derry and they were taken to Altnagelvin.
They were fine and were discharged almost immediately.
“The girls’ parents collected them from the hospital but I was there on my own. I couldn’t phone my mother because then she would know I’d been on a mountain expedition whilst being pregnant and I couldn’t phone my husband as he was in a cottage in the Sperrisns waiting for me. I don’t know how but my husband hitched a lift to Derry and managed to get me home.
“In a report about the rescue in the’ Derry Journal’ a few days later one of the other teachers praised me for keeping the girls safe. When my mum read it, she asked me why my name was in the paper so I told her it was a mistake.
“If my mammy didn’t know that I’d been out on the mountain when I was pregnant back then, she’ll know when she reads this interview,” she laughs.
Martine spent 24 years teaching science at St. Mary’s where she was head of department, head of sixth form and for the last few years she was the school’s vice-principal.
“I loved every minute of my time at St. Mary’s. I will always have a place in my heart for the girls and the staff there,” she says emotionally.
“My two daughters, Aisling and Roisin are at St. Mary’s so I tell the girls at St. Cecilia’s if they see me with two St. Mary’s girls it’s because I own them,” she jokes.
Martine has only been in her new position for a few months but she has a definite idea of what it is she wants to achieve at the school.
“I want to make sure that every child at this school has the opportunity to succeed using their skills and talents. Some children are good at certain subjects whilst others are good at other subjects but they are the same. I want every child to realise where their skills are and I want them to experience success in their communities, in Northern Ireland and throughout the rest of the world.”
Martine is married to John Mulhern and they have three children, John (18), Roisin (16) and Aisling (14).