The past few weeks have been bittersweet for the staff and students of St Joseph’s National School in Longford town.
The place has been a hive of activity preparing for the summer holidays, and while there is plenty of excitement, there is also a hint of sadness as the school bids a fond farewell to their Principal, Mrs Loretta Farrell, who has retired after 21 years at the helm of the school.
Speaking to the Leader as the school year draws to a close, Loretta explains that she trained as a teacher in Carysfort College. After qualifying in 1974, she taught in Maynooth for five years before moving to Longford.
In 1979, Loretta took up a position at St Joseph’s, teaching first class. During her time as a teacher, there were two Principals; Sr Scholastica Kenny and Sr Beatrice Ruddy, both of whom Loretta regards as ‘caring, committed and dedicated’ principals.
In 1993, following the retirement of Sr Beatrice, Loretta stepped up to the role. Though admittedly a daunting challenge, Loretta says that the wonderful staff aided her in her post.
“I was aware of the huge role that it was,” she admits, continuing, “but I felt that I was sustained and strengthened in my role by the staff.”
It wasn’t long before Loretta settled into the role, quickly becoming a familiar and comforting face to the children and parents in the school community.
Over the course of her term as Principal, Loretta has seen many changes. One huge change that came about was the dwindling numbers of Sisters of Mercy, who were then replaced by lay-teachers. Though it did make a difference to the school community, Loretta adds that it wasn’t a negative one, as the new teachers shared the same all-embracing, holistic view of education held by the Sisters.
For the children, Loretta admits that the internet has brought a huge change to their lives, but with a useage policy, an anti-bullying policy and Home School Liaison Officer in the school, they take a proactive approach to the difficulties that may arise by helping the pupils build up their self-esteem and allowing the parents to play a key role in their child’s education.
Looking back on her 21 years as Principal, Loretta says, “One of the great joys is that past pupils have achieved success. Opportunities have broadened, particularly for girls, and it’s wonderful to see.” Eager to celebrate the achievements of pupils and past pupils, Loretta is equally mindful of when a sadness, loss or tragedy affects those around her. “You have a special relationship with the children you teach and educate,” she adds.
With a huge store of cherished memories, it is difficult for Loretta to pick just one, but smiling fondly, she refers to a particular event on the school’s calendar, which has remained extremely popular down through the years.
“I remember the huge things that school tours were,” she recalls, “and I’m glad to see they’re just as excited about school tours now!”
Extra-curricular activities have always been encouraged by Loretta and the staff at St Joseph’s. The talent of each individual child is nurtured; be it in sport, art, music, drama or even handwriting.
“What I feel is that there is definitely a very crowded curriculum and the day doesn’t seem to be long enough,” Loretta admits, adding her praise to the “talented” staff, including Sr Angela who piloted the drama therapy class, who have gone above and beyond to ensure that the students were given the opportunity to grow and develop their respective skills and talents.
The outgoing Principal also praises the international community both in the school and throughout the county, who she says “have a huge amount to give, which is a great advantage within the community”.
As if the school wasn’t busy enough, St Joseph’s NS have also had the honour of winning the Best Overall Entry at the Longford St Patrick’s Day parade for the past three years in a row and Loretta is quick to acknowledge the work of the School Completion Coordinator, the staff, the pupils and the children for the creativity and hard work that they put into the project. Receiving a lot of positive feedback throughout the town, Loretta believes that the floats offer a little “boost” to the county.
“Longford needs a lot of boosting at the moment, and we all have a role to play in that,” she explains.
When asked if she will miss it, Loretta mentions the hustle and bustle of the busy school and states, “I know I will miss it,” before she jokingly adds, “at this stage, I’m in survival mode!”
Paying tribute to the teachers and the ancillary staff for their hard work and dedication to the school, Loretta admits that she would be very willing to return to help out in the future, as many of the former staff members continue to do.
“I really feel very fulfilled and very fortunate that I have had this role,” Loretta smiles. “I feel a huge loyalty and fondness for the school and the children in it.” The mother of two also acknowledges the invaluable support of her family throughout her career, saying that she is thankful to her parents, who encouraged her to become a teacher. “I also want to thank my husband PJ and my children, Mairead and Patrick, past-pupils of St Joseph’s and St Michael’s, who have always supported me in my work,” Loretta says, adding her thanks to the teachers in both schools.
Before passing on the reigns to the new Principal, Orla Egan, Loretta shares some advice that she received before taking up the position. “There may exist a kernel of truth in the words of people who disagree with you,” she remembers, adding that it stood to her well over the years. Offering her own words of advice, Loretta simply stresses the importance of putting the children first in every decision made.
Honoured with songs, gifts and prayers, there is absolutely no doubt that Loretta has left her mark on the hundreds of pupils, staff members and parents that have passed through the school.
Though the school community is sad to see her go, Loretta is in no doubt that the school is in good hands, as she concludes; “Orla is a caring, hardworking and committed person and I wish her every success in the role.”