The pioneering first principal of St. Cecilia’s College, the late Terry Cunningham, who steered several generations of young Derry women to adulthood through some of the most turbulent years in the city’s history, was laid to rest in the City Cemetery a stone’s throw away from her old school yesterday.
Though first and foremost an educationalist, the late Ms. Cunningham, who died peacefully at home in Gleneagles on New Year’s Day, rose above and beyond the normal standards of pastoral care to ensure her girls received a first class education despite the war raging outside the school gates.
Appointed in May 1967 she remained in post until her retirement in 1982 - a tenure of 15 years.
Tragically, within six-and-half years of her appointment she had lost two young pupils, Annette McGavigan and Kathleen Feeney, to the Troubles.
Annette was shot dead by a British soldier on September 6, 1971. Kathleen was killed by the IRA on November 14, 1973. Both were 14.
Staff and pupils of St. Cecilia’s have paid tribute to the late Ms. Cunningham’s bravery and dedication.
In a statement the school said: “These were the days when education was constantly disrupted by rioting, frequent bomb-scares and even shooting in the school grounds. The tragic deaths of two of the pupils Annette Mc Gavigan and Kathleen Feeney, were particularly traumatic experiences for her and for the whole school community.
“Miss Cunningham, however, firmly believed that, in spite of the ongoing turmoil experienced by the pupils, the education of every child was paramount. She led the staff to work tirelessly to create and maintain a degree of normality and to provide a safe, secure, disciplined and peaceful environment in which all pupils could develop academically, physically and spiritually to reach their true potential. Ms. Cunningham instilled self-belief in children in the school and helped to restore self-confidence to pupils disappointed by their ‘failure’ at the 11 plus Selection Procedure. She introduced the first ‘A’ Level courses to be delivered in the school in 1976 and was incredibly proud of the successes of these first pupils as they continued their education onto university.”
She is predeceased by her late sister Patricia and her brother Father Joe.