‘Noeleen’s Corner’ unveiled in memory of much missed loved one, friend, colleague and mentor Noeleen O’Kane

A beautiful tribute was paid to the much-missed Ardnashee College classroom assistant Noeleen O’Kane when a dedicated new space in her memory was launched in the school’s staffroom this week.

By Kevin Mullan
Friday, 1st July 2022, 4:50 pm

Noeleen’s family, friends, former colleagues and sister and brother trade unionists gathered at the school on Wednesday for the unveiling of ‘Noeleen’s Corner’.

The special space is designed as an area where staff can take five minutes to speak with trade union representatives within a school setting should the need arise.

Her brother Michael said it was a fitting memorial to his late sister who passed away at just 49 last December after a short battle with cancer.

Noeleen O’Kane’s family, friends, former colleagues and trade unionists gather in the Ardnashee College staff room for the launch of ‘Noeleen’s Corner’.

“She was a great sister and a great daughter, a great union member and a great colleague, a great staff member and great with the children,” said Michael.

He told the ‘Journal’ Noeleen would never have sought such recognition herself but would have been pleased by what has been created.

“You have to say it tells its own story,” said Michael.

Ardnashee vice-principal Julie McDevitt remarked: “This is very reflective of who Noeleen was. It’s an opportunity for people to come and sit down, connect and chat, something Noeleen was all about. That’s who she was and that’s the opportunity she offered everybody.

Noeleen O’Kane’s family and loved ones with her colleague and friend Karen Rathfield, standing on right.

“I think the only way I can sum Noeleen up in my eyes and how I’ve always seen her is that she just flew like a bird with two wings.

“One was Ardnashee and the children and the other was all about the union and her members. Both, in equal proportion, she was completely passionate about.”

Noreen Robinson, Unison’s Joint Branch Secretary, Derry Education Branch, said: “It’s a beautiful tribute to Noeleen. She was very, very important to the branch. She was very protective of her branch and she would have loved this.

“She always felt that there wasn’t a corner to have a conversation with someone privately if there were issues they wanted to raise.

‘Noeleen’s Corner’ has been decorated with artwork by the pupils.

“It is very emotional today to come in and see all those photographs of her.”

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Remembering Noeleen O’Kane

Ms. Robinson said: “That just sums her up and I think anybody in this room that knows her, knows that’s what it was. We have to carry her work on and we are certainly doing that back at the branch and her name is mentioned at every branch meeting.”

Eamonn Colhoun, a teacher and former colleague, said: “I worked with Noeleen for the first four or five years I have been here. We all know how important Noeleen was within the school. But to me Noeleen was my friend and I thought it was very important that we continued Noeleen’s name within the school.”

The late Noeleen O’Kane.

Mr. Colhoun revealed a new award has been instituted in Noeleen’s memory.

“Every year in our senior prizegiving we are going to present a new award. Whenever we were thinking about it two words kept jumping out at me to try and describe Noeleen and those were ‘commitment’ and ‘dedication’. So it is the Noeleen O’Kane Award for Committment and Dedication.”

Karen Rathfield, started her career as a classroom assistant on August 28, 1993, the very same day as Noeleen. They were, she said, ‘two young girls without a care in the world and we became the best of friends’.

“Noeleen loved her job. She was so passionate about the children and the staff. So much so that she joined Unison and trained up to be the most amazing rep.

“Noeleen had a fantastic listening ear and no problem was either too big or too small for Noeleen to deal with.

“Noeleen may have been small in stature but she was more than capable of standing up for here members.”

A plaque dedicated to Noeleen’s memory.

Karen explained how the pupils had played a big part in the creation of the new space.

“We wanted to involve the kids so we sent out templates of flowers and asked the kids to decorate them. The kids have done an amazing job.

“I thought I was going to get enough to do one notice board but look [the staff room is ringed with colourful flowers] there is so much love for Noeleen.”