Reflections on a rewarding 40 years

Amelia O'Duffy, Stephen Ghee, Bridie McGuinness, Abigail Flynn, and Shauna Madden. Photo: Shelley Corcoran
Being able to call time on your career in the same workplace you entered almost 40 years earlier is somewhat of a rarity these days.

Being able to call time on your career in the same workplace you entered almost 40 years earlier is somewhat of a rarity these days.

But that’s precisely what Scoil Mhuire National School Principal in Newtownforbes, Bridie McGuinness did as she retired from her post last month after more than 20 years at the helm.

Around two weeks on from her retirement, the Leader caught up with Bridie recently to reflect on her long and distinguished teaching career.

A brief stroll up the corridor and we were directed into Bridie’s office, a neat and tastefully decorated room she was still in the process of cleaning during our visit.

“When I came here on September 1 1977, this was a three teacher all boys school,” she recalled.

“That was the way it remained until 1993 at which point the two schools in the parish were amalgamated.”

As the merger with the Covent of Mercy Primary School was rubber-stamped, a need to appoint a new principal arose and Bridie was appointed in 1993.

Changing from an all-boys to mixed school might have presented the odd challenge, but for Bridie it was a chance to excel and to see the new Scoil Mhuire prosper.

“Back then, we had nine class teachers and myself,” she recalled.

“Over the course of the 22 years, it has grown very significantly.

“We now have 18 full-time teachers and two part-time and ancillary staff.”

It’s sprawling campus on the edge of Newtownforbes has, likewise, kept pace with those changes.

Since 1993, no fewer than three extensions have been built, the most recent earlier this year with the formation of two state of the art classrooms.

“Over time, the school has changed from a rural to semi-urban one,” Bridie pointed out, adding that 350 pupils are presently enrolled on its books.

“The school population has increased hugely and become more diverse too.”

For someone with such vast experience, she has also noted the many shifts that have come through changing attitudes and economic advancement.

“The curriculum is a lot broader than it was.

“It was a lot narrower back then. Now children are afforded the chance to develop to their maximum potential.”

One of the catalysts behind that changing dynamic is the closeness schools like Scoil Mhuire enjoy with their local GAA counterparts.

Another is its ability to play its part in ever increasing initiatives such as the Department of Education’s Green Flag programme.

In May, the school was awarded its fifth green flag for environmental awareness and is also a regular contributor to the Junior School Warden Scheme.

Under Bridie’s stewardship, Scoil Mhuire’s sporting achievements have also gone from strength to strength, most notably with a boys and girls side winning the Co Championships.

In truth, they are just a flavour.

And in typically modest fashion, Bridie insists any accomplishments gained during her tenure were down to the unflinching support from teachers and parents alike.

“As a principal, there are highlights every day.

“Interacting with children brings its own joys. But there are 18 very dedicated staff here that go above and beyond their call of duty.

There were kind and supportive words also to her successor, Liam Madden.

“Liam’s wealth of knowledge and expertise will ensure that he will manage and lead the school in a capable and professional manner in the years ahead,” she added.

But the last word fittingly was left to Bridie as she offered advice to those looking to follow in her footsteps.

“Teaching has a lot to offer,” she pointedly remarked.

“There are many opportunities and challenges and it is a very fulfilling career.

“It is something that brings a lot of joy too because you get the chance to see children grow and develop.

“I certainly found it very rewarding and have no regrets.”