Thornhill’s Eithne passes away

Eithne McCloskey - pictured in 2002 - who passed away this week aged 98.
Eithne McCloskey - pictured in 2002 - who passed away this week aged 98.

The funeral took place yesterday of former Thornhill College teacher and speech and drama tutor Eithne McCloskey (nee MacDermott).

Mrs. McCloskey, formerly of Strand Road, passed away peacefully at William Street Residential Home on Tuesday. She was aged 98.

Her Requiem Mass took place at St. Eugene’s Cathedral.

In an in-depth interview with the ‘Derry Journal’ in 2002, Mrs. McCloskey - who was pre-deceased by her husband, Harry - recalled being the first pupil to walk through the gates of the newly opened Thornhill College at Culmore Road in 1932.

She was to go on to become, as she said herself, “almost a part of the furniture at the College” - not only as a pupil but also as a teacher and, most memorably, as the producer of more than 15 of the school’s shows.

She said: “I will never forget my first day at Thornhill on Culmore Road. The nuns had bought the house from the Watts who owned the distillery in William Street and all the pupils were in complete awe of it - it was beautiful. Some of the boarders at the school were given their own single rooms and I have vivid memories of the girls running in and out of each other’s rooms exploring.

“The girls would often hold concerts in the rooms. The concerts began as very private occasions but, before long, we had parents and teachers coming in for a listen. But, for all the fun times, the Sisters of Mercy were determined that all the girls would come out of the school with their Senior and Junior certificates. We had a lot of homework. We had to learn pages and pages of work off by heart and we also had intense lessons in arithmetic, geometry and trigonometry.

“Unfortunately, I was rubbish at both these and found it hard to keep up. I was more of an imaginative and creative person and would spend my time daydreaming looking out of the window at the Donegal hills and the River Foyle. I dreamed about everything but especially about becoming an actress.

When Eithne left Thornhill, she was determined that she would achieve her long time ambition to work in speech and drama.

“I spent two years in London before returning to Derry and, by that stage, I was ready to set the heather on fire.”

Eithne took jobs in three up-and-coming schools: Omagh College, Coleraine College and Letterkenny College, teaching speech and drama.

“It was very tiring travelling around all the schools but I was very keen on the work... I was also working for St. Mary’s Teacher Training College in Belfast and, when they asked me to come and work for them full time, I was in a bit of a quandary. It was a tough choice but I decided to make the break to Belfast even though I knew I was going to miss Derry so much.

“I worked in the College first as a lecturer in phonetics and later moved on to become a senior lecturer in speech an drama.”

However, Eithne’s life was about to undergo a dramatic change when she met her husband to be, Harry, an American, at a function locally.

“I had gone to America to get engaged to Harry. The plan was that after the wedding we would move to America. However, I was delighted when he said that he wanted to move to Ireland which meant that I could go home.

“As soon as I was back, Thornhill snapped me up as a full-time teacher which gave me responsibility for all the school productions.

“There were many productions I was involved in that I feel so proud of: ‘The Mikado’ in 1948, ‘HMS Pinafore’ in 1956, ‘Love from Judy’ in 1964 and, my own favourite, ‘The King and I’ in 1978. I also had the honour of working with many talented teachers including music teachers Sister Imelda and Una McGinley and Mary Murphy and Brigid Keenan.

“I demanded a high standard from the girls but was never tough on them. We’re all still friends, at least I hope so. However, the worst feeling came on opening night. I felt physically sick but the great enthusiasm of all involved kept us all going. And every single opening night that I have had has been a wonderful success.”