THE new school year has got off to an exciting start for the pupils and staff of St Colmcille’s Primary School, in Claudy, which is celebrating 40 years of educating the children of the parish.
A special anniversary Mass was concelebrated in St Patrick’s Church, in the village, by the parish priest, Fr David O’Kane, Monsignor Eamon Martin, administrator for the Derry Diocese, and former curates in the parish, Fr Noel McDermott and Fr Michael McCaughey.
During the Mass, Fr O’Kane spoke about the opening of the school, known then as Claudy Central Primary, in what was one of the worst years of The Troubles and just a month after the village had been torn apart by bombs.
“The school opened its doors on the first of September to a community traumatised by the bombings and yet, with great courage and resilience, the staff, parents and ancillary workers united to give comfort and guidance to the children who were part of that historic day.
“Each year, the children from Year 5 complete a project on the village and, as part of that project, they are informed about the bombings and the opening of the new school,” said Fr O’Kane.
When Claudy Central Primary School opened, it was an amalgamation of Claudy Public Elementary School in the village and the three rural primary schools of Gortilea, Altahoney and Kilgort, and over the 40 years there have been three principals, Jim Stone, Mrs Marcella Grant and Mrs Briege O’Neill.
Fr O’Kane remarked: “Those who were part of that move and those who made that day possible should be proud of the achievements of the school since then. The school has been blessed with strong leadership, excellent teaching and dedicated back-up in all areas of its life and work.
“The academic growth of the children has always been paramount but the overall development of each child passing through its doors each day is the key to making this a great school.
“The academic, moral, social and spiritual growth of the children is at the core of school life. St Colmcille’s, as it is now named, has a sense of dedication of purpose, mixed with a warmth and friendliness that is evident to anyone who visits it.
“It teaches real Christian values and reaches out to neighbouring schools, especially to Cumber Claudy Primary School, with a sense of community spirit and mutual understanding. It sees itself as part of the parish community and has been involved over the years in many church based activities, and interacts well with our parish school, St Patrick’s and St Brigid’s College and with local businesses.”
It was pointed out that not only does the school excel in the teaching staff, but also boasts a Classroom Assistant of the Year, Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year and Lollipop Person of the Year!
Saying that St Colmcille’s continues a tradition of education which has been vital to the parish down the centuries, Fr O’Kane noted that even as far back as 1832, when the parish of Upper Cumber was surveyed, there were nine schools in total, with 414 Catholic scholars.
He concluded: “Our prayer is that St Colmcille’s will produce many more scholars, today and into the future, who will leave the school with gratitude, satisfaction and confidence, grounded by the education they received there.”
Adding his congratulations on the 40th anniversary, Monsignor Martin commended St Colmcille’s for fulfilling its role in supporting parents in teaching the children about their faith, about what is right and what is wrong, and helping them to develop a friendship with Jesus throughout their lives.
The Monsignor paid tribute to Mrs O’Neill for her great work in carrying on from Mrs Grant and Mr Stone and thanked the Board of Governors for their contribution.
The principal of the St Colmcille’s since 1999, Mrs O’Neill, said that she felt privileged to be part of such a great school: “Our school has created a lot of good memories for a lot of you present and we hope to continue to make more in the years to come. This can only happen with the support of the whole school community and we are blessed with such support.”
Thanking all the staff, past and present, she added: “You have strived to deliver a high standard of education for the young people of the parish. Under the leadership of Mr Stone, Mrs Grant and, currently, I, we have and continue to promote a Catholic education for all, and our staff has supported us with their dedication and commitment.
“The pupils of 1972 may see a lot of changes in the way the modern day education is delivered, but the central message in our school, based on the Gospel, is the same. Our motto – Live to Learn, Learn to Live – embraces the whole person and all abilities.”
Pupils and staff members, past and present, were joined by their families, parishioners and friends of the school for the anniversary Mass, and they gathered in St Colmcille’s afterwards for refreshments.
There was also an opportunity to view displays of photographs spanning the school’s 40-year history as well as old 1972 video footage, which had been filmed by the late Jim McGrellis, a former member of staff. These displays will remain in the school Assembly Hall during the month of September for anyone visiting the school to view.
The celebrations will continue with a 40th Anniversary Gala Ball in The Belfray Country Inn, on Saturday, November 3, at 8pm, when there will be a four-course meal, cabaret act and dancing to a live band.
The £30 tickets for the Ball are on sale on a first come, first served basis, and are available in the school office.
The 40-year milestone will also be marked with the publication of a magazine by the school and this will be available to buy in the run-up to Christmas.