When it comes to school memories, the people of Glack and surrounding areas have plenty to share.
Although, it would be fair to say, Conall Doherty has more than many.
The 49-year-old was one of the first pupils to attend St. Finlough’s P.S., formerly known as Sistrakeel P.S. Both of Conall’s parents worked at the school as well. Dad Richard was headmaster for 10 years, teaching P6 and P7 pupils, while mum Bridie taught P1 and P2. Three of Conall’s sisters also attended the school, and all of his children have attended the school too.
As the school celebrates its 40th anniversary, Conall looks back on his school days fondly. From the first time on a bus for a school trip on a warm, sunny day to Enniskillen, to his father working at weekends to fix the boiler, he said he has watched with pride at how the school has grown. Having come from the former Tartnakelly P.S. with just two rooms, he recalled how the new school was a big change.
“At Tartnakelly we had no running water, no heating, no inside toilets. It was just two rooms - the big room and the wee room,” said Conall. “The new school was modern and fancy for that time.”
Conall was all too aware at school “mammy and daddy” were ‘Mr Doherty’ and ‘Mrs Doherty’, and he knew the boundaries.
“I have happy memories,” said Conall, who described the school as a central part of the community these days. He believes his parents would be “over the moon” to see it now.
Principal Mary O’Neill says the success of the school has always been a supportive community.
“There is always that threat to schools in rural communities but, in Glack, the community has always been 100 per cent behind the school. Right now, with 82 pupils, we are almost at capacity,” said Mrs O’Neill. “No matter what you need, the support is there. The school is a real community hub, and we are delighted to be here and to be going strong.”
For former Limavady mayor, Michael Carten, the school in its present form is a world away from his school days.
Michael, aged 85, remembers his time at Tartnakelly P.S. as a happy time. Times were hard, and people didn’t have much, but everyone was the same.
“There were no school meals or school trips or computers in them days, but it was a happy time,” said Michael, explaining he started school early, at the age of three.
“I used to go to school at Christmas with my sisters and I’d get spoiled, and I loved it. I thought school was like this all the time so I had to get going to school,” he said, laughing. “You brought your own peats to school in the winter time and, in the summer, you walked in your bare feet. It was a vast difference from school today, but it’s far better for the children. They have a lot more opportunity.”
Vera O’Connor worked as a cook in the school for 20 years. She walked the half mile to work from home every day and loved her job.
“There was me and two other girls - Mary McLaughlin and Margaret Feeney,” said 77-year-old Vera. “I have great memories. I really loved it. I suppose it was the atmosphere. The children were great and, back then, they had roast dinners and stews, and fish and chips once a week. I see all the kids now - all grown up - and some of them I can’t remember, but they all remember me.”
Vera said she never got fed up cooking, even when she went home, and recalls with great fondness “Master Doherty” who she said was a great boss.
“I just loved it and I shed many a tear the day I retired,” said Vera. “Look at the school now. It’s terrific and has come on leaps and bounds. It’s absolutely great.”
Niamh Fenlon left St. Finlough’s in 2005. At that time there were just two computers in the school. Today there are 19.
“It’s because of St. Finlough’s I love computers,” said Niamh, aged 21. “I remember we had to get a bus to Ballykelly to use computers at the time.”
Niamh also recalled how from P1 to P6 she was in an all-girls class until P7 when Kieran McIntyre arrived.
“I remember the day he started, I’ll never forget it,” she said. “We never had a boy in our class so when he arrived we were like ‘wow it’s a boy!’ We’re still friends today.”
To celebrate the anniversary milestone, St. Finlough’s will hold a dinner dance on April 6 in the Drummond Hotel. There will also be an anniversary mass celebrated by the Bishop of Derry, Rev. Donal McKeown on April 29th at 7pm in St. Finlough’s chapel. Afterwards, at a reception in the parochial centre, a DVD featuring stories and memories of past and present teachers and pupils will be shown. The DVD has been compiled by current students.
“It’s a piece of oral history and I think it will be lovely for people to have,” said Mrs O’Neill, who said the school also hopes to publish a commemorative magazine to celebrate.
Mrs O’Neill said the week before the mass, 20-24th April, the school will be open to the public from 2-4pm to view old photographs and other materials.
“We are really excited about the year, and we are delighted to be here,” said Mrs O’Neill. “It has been 40 years and we hope it continues.”