St Columb’s College head to retire after forty years

St Columb's College principal Sean McGinty.
St Columb's College principal Sean McGinty.

St. Columb’s College principal Sean McGinty is to retire this summer after forty years at the school.

The St Columb’s head - who took over at the helm in 2008 - says he’s looking forward to spending more time with his family, travelling abroad and “doing a lot of walking.”

He told the ‘Journal’ this week: “There were times when I had planned to retire after 30 or 35 years - so I’m pleasantly surprised to have lasted for 40.”

Asked why he had decided to go this year, he said: “There comes a time for everyone to consider what to do after one’s working life. I feel fit and healthy, have lots of family members scattered around the world and I would like to visit them while still able to do so. Then, I’d like to give a lot more time to hobbies - some of which I’ve yet to take up!”

Mr. McGinty says he’s thoroughly enjoyed his time at St Columb’s - both as teacher and principal: “I’ve always loved the buzz of the classroom, the eagerness of boys to debate and even argue whilst learning. It’s gratifying to watch the students grow in knowledge, self-confidence and maturity – ready to move on to Third Level Education and anxious to make a meaningful contribution to society.

“As Principal, there are many tough decisions to be made, no fudging and a lot of straight talking. It’s not going to get any easier as the economic belt continues to tighten but working with colleagues to improve provision for our young people has been enormously satisfying as well as challenging. I don’t think that I would have been as fulfilled had I chosen any other career path.

“There have certainly been some very dark days, weeks and even months. When things have gone terribly wrong, though, I’ve often been able to derive consolation from the generous support of all those parents, students, colleagues and friends who rally round.”

Mr. McGinty - whose career at St Columb’s started in September 1972 at the school’s Bishop Street site - says his early days at the college were marked by a “tremendous sense of camaraderie”.

“I was employed to teach English and History but I well remember looking at my first timetable and wondering if Father Tierney and Sean McMahon (the timetablers) had taken leave of their senses. I found myself teaching French, Latin, Religion as well as English and History! Still, I brushed up where I had to and stayed a page or two ahead of the boys.”

He’s also witnessed many changes during his time as a teacher: “Apart from the obvious changes in curriculum and the manner in which students are tested and examined, I think two changes above all others strike me most forcibly – the growing partnership between home and school and the changing nature of the role of the educators.

“Society has changed considerably over the past half century and schools are now well aware of the necessity to work closely with parents on almost every aspect of a student’s development. This has certainly become easier over the years and is now widely accepted – we live, thank goodness, in a more open society and issues which previously were often unaddressed are more likely to be resolved with parents and teachers working together.”

Acknowledging the college’s illustrious history - not to mention the high profile achievements of some of its past pupils - Mr. McGinty says he has no doubt the college’s current crop of talent will “blaze a trail in years to come”.

“There is a danger as one gets older of thinking that the very best times and the very best pupils were way back in the past,” he says. “I don’t subscribe to that view – young people today never cease to amaze me with their talents, generosity and optimism. I’ve no doubt that many of our past and current students will match the accomplishments of our better known alumni.”

Asked if he was proud of his achievements, the college principal said: “I’m honestly not sure of what I have achieved. At times I appreciate the honour bestowed on me by having been made Principal of St Columb’s but I also realise that I am charged with the heavy responsibility of providing the very best possible education for thousands of young men. I’m certainly proud of the fact that I’ve worked at St Columb’s for 40 years but I think I’ll leave it to others to judge what I’ve achieved.”

“It’s impossible to have worked at St Columb’s for a lengthy period of time and not have regrets. What are they? For too many years I saw only black and white. With age comes the realisation that most of life is grey. Be slow to judge and, where possible, give the benefit of the doubt. This, of course, is wisdom that I can freely dispense to others but still have difficulty accepting myself.”

Asked if he had any advice for his successor, Mr. McGinty said: “St Columb’s is a fabulous school – students, staff and parents. See your position as one of service to the school and wider community and you won’t go far wrong – remember, too, that you won’t be able to please everyone all of the time – so don’t try to.”