Longford Lives: 'Education has changed utterly' says former Principal Moira Mahon

After retiring from her role as Principal at Cnoc Mhuire, Granard, Moira Mahon reflects on a career spanning 36 years

Jessica Thompson


Jessica Thompson



Longford Lives: 'Education has changed utterly' says former Principal Moira Mahon

A lot of things have changed since Moira Mahon embarked on her teaching journey in 1981, and her recent retirement from Cnoc Mhuire Granard has allowed her to reflect on a career spanning more than 35 years.

“When I started teaching, the only phone available for teachers to use was an old wind up phone, and the only coin it would take was a 5p coin,” Moira recalled.

“As the PE teacher, I’d often have to make calls to organise matches. So first I’d have to go across to the shop and make sure I had enough 5p coins to make the call. Then I’d have to turn the handle on the phone to get through to the post office in Granard.

“And then, if for example I wanted to make a call to a school in Carrick-on-Shannon, the post office in Granard would have to get through to the post office in Carrick-on-Shannon, who would then have to get through to the school, and then they had to go and find the PE teacher to come and talk to me to organise a match.

“The whole process could take an hour, where a simple text message would do it today,” she laughed.

Moira's career has been a long and enjoyable one.

With a keen interest in sport and competitive swimming, and a couple of inspiring PE teachers when she was a student herself, it was always clear in Moira's mind what career path she would follow.

“I started in Cnoc Mhuire in 1981. Sr Maria Plunkett was the newly appointed principal of the school when I started,” she said, adding that the Sisters of Mercy who set up the school had a great vision for education.

“And one thing I always appreciated was that there was no violence in the school.

“I read an article recently about schools in the 50s and about children who went into school and got battered.

“When I started, teaching was about teaching. Now it’s about learning. But there was never any violence in the classroom,” Moira added.

“Education has changed utterly. There has been more research into education and there’s more understanding of the psychological needs of the children now.

“What makes a good classroom is the relationship between student and teacher.

“And as principal, my job was to try and facilitate that part of school life, and to nurture and encourage those relationships.”

It was in 2008 that Moira became principal of the school and she immediately started improving Cnoc Mhuire in a number of ways.

“I’m one of these people who feels that a modern, well-equipped, comfortable environment is very important. That was one of my priorities - to continue the modernisation and development of the school.

“Over the years, we’ve made the school wheelchair accessible, it’s warmer, it’s more comfortable and more modern. There are computers and projectors and ipads.”

But one of Moira's main goals, as a former PE teacher, was to develop a new pitch for the school.

“One of the founding sisters at the school said to me that an all-weather pitch was one of the things the school needs, and that stuck with me, so we went ahead and developed it.”

A number of fundraisers were held to raise the money for the pitch, including a Strictly Come Dancing event in which Moira herself participated.

“I have to say, I really, really enjoyed the whole process up until the day.

“Whether it was stage fright, or too much confidence, the whole thing went belly up in practice and we were the only couple told to stay back and do our dance again,” she laughed.

It worked though - the event helped the school to reach its target fund for the new pitch.

“Strictly Come Dancing brought us over the line and the pitch will hopefully open for its first match next May,” said Moira proudly.

Succeeding in developing the much-needed pitch for the school was certainly a big achievement in Moira's career. But this was only one of many highlights, as she's quick to point out.

“I always enjoyed the good humour of the students. Teenagers are just full of craic. I also loved the camaraderie of the staff room. Those are two things that will always stick with me,” she said.

And, as a PE teacher with a keen interest in sport, it comes as no surprise that a number of All-Ireland successes in both Gaelic Football and Basketball are fond memories for her, both as a teacher and as a principal.

“I also really enjoyed the musical extravaganzas in the school, and Féach Magazine, which was produced by the Transition Years every year,” she said.

“That magazine was really a testament to all the activities in the school and I felt huge anticipation leading up to it. I loved reading it to see who was saying what, and what was important to the students. Those magazines are great historical documents for the school.

“I’m very lucky to have been principal at a time when the school has been so successful. I’ve been lucky to work with such a high calibre of teachers, who had a vision and followed it through and brought the students with them.”

In fact, Moira is full of praise for not just the teachers at Cnoc Mhuire, but the entire staff who she says have been so dedicated and supportive throughout her career - as have the two Deputy Principals she worked with over the past nine years.

“I was lucky to work with two great deputy principals - Una Tierney, who retired four years ago, and also Sandra Durkan,” said Moira.

“I have really appreciated their help and support throughout my years as principal.”

Other memories that stand out in Moira's mind are the big life events of students and staff - both the good and the bad.

“It’s a privilege to be involved in people’s lives when things go well, but also when things go bad and people lose family members,” she said, adding that there is a strong support system in the school.

“A school is a family and that was what Cnoc Mhuire always was - an extension of the children’s families.

“There were the highs of the births and the marriages, but there were also the lows of the deaths and the illnesses.”

It's been a long and fulfilling career for Moira who says she was quite sad when she announced she was leaving.

“The busy-ness of the job was a challenge. You need a great deal of energy and enthusiasm to deal with it and, while I still had the enthusiasm, as the years passed, the energy for that busy-ness started to reduce.

“It was time for new energy and new ideas and we found that in our new principal, Pauline McBrien.

“But I loved my career. I’m not one of those teachers who is leaving and saying 'thanks be to God'. I really enjoyed every minute of it.”

And, while Moira is retiring from Cnoc Mhuire, she's certainly not cutting all ties to teaching.

“I’m very involved with UL now, supervising their students on teaching practice,” she said.

“I also trained as a mentor for new principals. New principals need a lot of support in their new roles. A lot of people don’t understand how steep a learning curve it is.”

But her retirement will also consist of spending time with her children - “who are all reared now”, she points out - Ian, Katie and Brian, and her husband, Micheál Walsh, who also retired from his role as Deputy Principal in Mercy Secondary School Ballymahon earlier this year.

“We’ve been a great support to each other over the years and it was great to come home in the evening and run things past him,” Moira explains.

The pair met in Thomond College, which is now part of the University of Limerick, when they were both training to be PE teachers.

“It will be nice to spend more time going to matches together and getting involved in sport. He loves golf and I love tennis, so it’ll be nice to do that.

“I’m looking forward to playing tennis, cycling and going for walks - all the things that people take for granted.

“The big challenge for me will be coming out of fifth gear into a lower gear,” she laughed.