The 1950s was an exciting decade for industrial development in Co Longford. It was fuelled by the arrival of Bord na Mona, the location of the ESB power station in Lanesboro, and the increased popularity of the family car in the aftermath of the war years. Similarly, tractors and related implements replaced the traditional horse and together with rural electrification, a new Longford was being born.
It was into this environment that Patrick (Paddy) J. Bunce first arrived in Longford town. A young enthusiastic engineering teacher from Tarbert, county Kerry, Mr Bunce came to Longford on his first appointment. He had served his apprenticeship in the garage of poet Brendan Kennelly’s father in Kerry.
Although the Vocational Education Committee (VEC) had a well equipped engineering workshop on the Battery Road, the building was a stand alone asbestos roofed shed. Heated by a coal burning pot stove, it was not an appealing place to work and it resulted in many engineering teachers staying short periods during the 1940s.
By the 1950s, Mr Bunce had arrived and as the only engineering teacher in Longford he worked in the only engineering workshop in the county. Consequently, he was a busy man from the offset. He conducted classes for boys during the daytime and for adults during the winter evenings. He also undertook block release courses for apprentices from Bord na Mona during his summer holidays. In the summer of 1954, he held a farrier course for rural blacksmiths to teach them how to use the electric welder.
In addition, Mr Bunce conducted higher studies for the motor car and prepared apprentices for trade examinations both in practice and theory. Many of them were rewarded with silver and gold medals. His students obtained places as technicians in the fledgling Aer Lingus and Baldonnel and other state institutions. They also represented Ireland in European trade competitions, and many other students followed in his footsteps and became engineering teachers and later school principals.
Today, garages throughout the county hold former pupils of Mr Bunce, alongside factories.
Mr Bunce was a teacher at county Longford VEC from 1951 to 1971, at which time he became principal at the newly opened Templemichael College (formerly known as St. Oliver Plunkett). He retired in 1992.
Mr Bunce is also well remembered for his love of boxing and to that end he taught boxing in the Fr. McGibney’s Youth Club on the Market Square. Mr Bunce is also remembered for his colourful comments.
In October 2001, past students gathered together to pay tribute to their former teacher and principal in the Longford Arms Hotel. Bishop Colm O’Reilly, Albert Reynolds TD, and VEC CEO Josephine O’Donnell were in attendance. Former student Benny McGuinness piped Mr Bunce and his wife Rita into the ballroom where he was presented with many gifts from paintings to sculptures. Among the gifts was a special scripted poem by Fr. Sean Casey.
On August 9 last, Mr Bunce passed to his eternal reward leaving behind his loving family, wife Rita, sister Rita, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, relatives and friends. His burial took place at Ballymacormack Cemetery in the county of his adoption among former colleagues, students and family members. May his soul rest in peace.