Brendan Grant laughs. “I’m in the departure lounge,” he jokes.
The 64-year-old Rosemount Primary School Principal is talking about retirement, but there are no plans in place just yet. Mr. Grant, as he’s known to the hundreds of pupils who’ve passed through the gates at the Helen Street school, lives and breathes the place.
He knows the children, the parents and probably a good few grandparents at this stage. “They are great, great people,” he beams. It’s a platitude that can be easily rhymed off, but Brendan means it. As he makes his way around the school corridors, he’s at the heart of it, and make no mistake about it, the 100-year-old building is at the heart of him.
Many would shout about the fact that they’re running the ship which has had pupils such as John Hume and Richard Moore on the roll. But Brendan, while celebrating the school’s centenary recently, felt it important to involve all the children in what is fondly known as the ‘School on the Hill.’
He says seeing the children from the nursery school around the place does his heart good. Watching other local children on their educational journey is, he says, a privilege,
Brendan began his own educational journey not far from Rosemount in the Longtower Boys’ School. He was never, he admits, a strong academic. He struggled with dyslexia at Primary School in an era before the condition was even recognised.
“I wasn’t a great student, I definitely wasn’t at the top of the class,” he says.
Alongside his school life, Brendan was kept busy with his part-time job as a messenger boy in his father’s shop. Grant’s Grocers at the top of Ferguson Lane served the community he now works in.
“I was delivering groceries to Creggan and Rosemount a few times a week,” he says.
“My father’s shop was well known by everyone in that area and I used to love that job delivering groceries. It was great getting out and around and seeing people in the community.”
After the Longtower Boys’ Brendan moved on to St Columb’s College. He was still lacking confidence and describes himself back then as being a “nervous learner.”
“I spent many’s a long hard day at the College. I was anxious, and I think that anxiety can cut out learning,” he says.
Despite the challenges Brendan faced at school, it didn’t stop him forging ahead and he was accepted into Teacher Training College in Manchester after his time at St Columb’s. After qualifying from Manchester, he returned to Derry in 1970 and took up a teaching post in Rosemount Primary. At that point, the school had over 1100 pupils. Like many of his professional contemporaries, along with getting used to the job, Brendan had to contend with the presence of the British Army and the turbulent atmosphere on the streets surrounding the school.
“Because we were so close to Rosemount Barracks the foot patrols used to come through the school and I can actually remember at times having to ask children to lie on the ground when snipers were firing.
“It was just a totally different time. It’s wonderful how different the city is now and it’s hard to even imagine that it was once like that,” he says.
When the school gates were closed, Brendan enjoyed a lively social life when he joined others who were regulars in the Borderland and Embassy ballrooms.
“Teaching in Rosemount at that time was great craic. It was a school with a lot of young male teachers and we had great times,” he recalls.
It was during one particular evening at the Embassy that Brendan met his wife Anne, who was then a teacher at St Brigid’s Primary School in Carnhill.
“I’d asked her to dance, and after the dance, the coat I was wearing caught on her charm bracelet and that was that! It was a lucky charm,” he smiles.
The pair went on to have two daughters, Aoife and Niamh.
In 1986, Brendan left teaching to take up a secondment post as Curriculum Field Officer with the Western Education and Library Board. While on secondment, he applied for a job as a Teaching Principal at St Matthew’s Primary School in Drumsurn where he remained until 2000.
“It was a lovely school and a totally different experience to teaching in the city. It was a culture shock but a wonderful experience and a more leisurely atmosphere. I worked with some lovely people and I have really lovely memories of my time there,” he says.
When the job as principal of Rosemount Primary came up in 2000, Brendan decided to apply for the role and was successful. In the twelve years that have followed, he’s enjoyed every moment of returning to his old stomping ground and he’s incredibly proud of the school, and the people who make it work.
“This is a great community to be a part of and we have great support from the parents,” he says,
“We have families who’ve been with us for generations and fantastic staff. Everybody works as a team and we have a school of 300 children so it’s not so big that it’s impersonal.
“I really do love being here and I’d definitely miss being around here every day,” he says.
When he’s not overseeing life in the Rosemount school, you’re likely to find Brendan enjoying a pint of Guinness in his holiday home in Downings or enjoying the banter in the golf club at Greencastle.
Along with spending time with his wife Anne, these are the things that make him happy, he says.
This summer he’ll enjoy his usual break in even better form than usual having presided over the school’s fantastic centenary celebrations.
“The celebrations have just been wonderful,” he says.
“Having President Higgins visit the school was definitely the high point of my career.
“The children were just so excited, I’ll never forget it. The weather was beautiful and the children entertained him with their singing and dancing and he responded so well to it all. He was a lovely gentleman and it was a great day for the school.”
While he’s keeping any mention of a retirement date under his hat, Brendan laughs as he says life will have a more relaxed pace over the next few years. He’ll have a sip of Guinness and play a round of golf or two.
“There are no plans, other than to say that I’ll act according to my feelings,” he smiles.
You get the feeling that if he were to do this, really, Brendan would never retire from the school which he so clearly loves being a part of.