02 Jul 2022

A woman of courage and tenacity who believed in education

Mrs Kathleen Lynch defied the Church and the Department of Education to open a secondary school for boys in 1942

A woman of courage and tenacity who believed in education

Members of the Lynch family, Carrick-on-Shannon, back l-r, Anthony, Ann, Charles, Margaret, Derry, Michael and Conor. Front l-r Marie Tunstead, Nora and Mickey Lynch, Aileen Keane, Sara Lynch.

The following is an abridged version of a speech delivered to Carrick-on-Shannon & District Historical Society on Wednesday, April 19, 2017, by Mickey Lynch, son of Mrs Kathleen Lynch, founder of the Rosary High School in Carrick-on-Shannon.

You are all most welcome here tonight. My task is to tell you the story of Ard Scoil na Coróine, or the Rosary High School.
Some of you are acquainted with that story. Some of you will remember my late mother, Kathleen Lynch. She died in 1986 which is 31 years ago. Coincidentally, if she were alive she would be the ripe old age of 112 years and tomorrow (April 20) would be her birthday. So my story stretches back 100 years.

I would not be so foolish to think that I can recreate in realistic terms a life and an institution that stretches across all those years. I am conscious too of how much life has changed over those many years. So I will mention a number of things that will help to set the scene.

There was no such thing as electricity in the houses, so there was no electric light. People used candles and oil lamps. There was no running water in houses, no toilets and bathrooms, so baths and showers did not exist. There were no televisions, radios and so on.
There were no buses. You walked, you had a pony and trap or a bicycle. Roads were poor and there was no such thing as central heating. People lived in small houses, many of them thatched, and, broadly speaking, everybody was poor.

After the start of World War I came 1916 followed by the Civil War, then the Economic War and then the Second World War (1939-1945) and into all of this The Rosary High School was born.

My late mother started out in this life in 1905. To try and encapsulate her contribution is a huge challenge and it is indeed with trepidation that I take on this task.

She was born in Drumlummon which is a townland out the Leitrim Road about two miles from town beside Cartown.
She was born into a small house which I believe was thatched at the time and had about three rooms. She lived there with her father and mother, Charles and Margaret Mulhern, her four brothers, Tom, Michael, Charles and Peter. Peter died in 1919 at the age of 11 years. He died of pneumonia which he got from a bad wetting which he received on a journey by pony and trap.

The family owned a small farm of about eleven acres and her father supplemented his earnings by transporting goods from the railway station in Carrick into the shops in town and to the creamery in Kiltoghert.

The Marist Sisters ran a national school for girls in Carrick, where Marymount is now, and she received her national school education there. On completion of her national school education she went on to receive her secondary education from the Marist Sisters.

She was a very bright student and won a scholarship to UCG from where she graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce in 1926 and her H.Dip. in 1927. It was while she was a student in UCG that her father died suddenly. I imagine the scene at the time. She was the eldest of the family, studying in Galway - a small country house in the heart of Leitrim and now the main source of income was gone. However, she returned to UCG and finished her studies.

She returned to live in Drumlummon and was lucky enough to get a job with the Marist Sisters. I don't know whether or not there were any other lay teachers there at the time.

Anyway, time passed and she got on with her life and, displaying her generosity and loyalty to her family, the first thing she did was to do up the old house and put a slate roof on it for the family.

Somewhere down the road, as time passed by, she fell for the charms of Frank Lynch who worked as Assistant Secretary to the Leitrim Board of Health. They got married in 1939 in Westland Row Church in Dublin.

When they returned from honeymoon they came to live in Cortober in a small house owned by the late Willie Winters Snr. It's the house where Frank O'Dowd lived and is beside the house where I now live. They rented this house, little knowing the part it would play in the history of education in this area.

This house is a small house with a sitting room and a dining room, a small kitchen and a scullery on the ground floor. Upstairs there were two small rooms and two bedrooms and a bathroom. None of the rooms were very big.

Frank and Kathleen and family lived there for 10 years and their children, Charles, Michael, Helen and Margaret (twins), and Anthony were all born in that house.

At the time when my father and mother got married it was compulsory for married women to give up their jobs. Talk about equality.

Women were compelled to retire if they got married because they worked in the public service.
Kathleen, a qualified teacher, sitting at home and not allowed to do her job just because she got married.

At that time, around 1940, there was no second level school for boys in Carrick-on-Shannon. Carrick was not unique in this because neither was there a school in Boyle, Mohill, Ballinamore or Drumshanbo, indeed anywhere in Leitrim.
She identified this need and set about seeing how it might be remedied.

The Marist Sisters provided a secondary education for girls and there was also a co-ed vocational school in the town. St. Mel's College in Longford and Summerhill College in Sligo were the nearest secondary schools for boys at the time.

Several attempts had been made to get the Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois to open a school but he had refused. It was impossible to open a school without the permission of the Church and the Department of Education.

A number of business people from the town went to the bishop and again they were told that this area of education belonged to St. Mel's and Summerhill and they prepared boys for entry into Maynooth and the other seminaries.
My mother applied for permission and she was turned down.

As the late John McGahern said, “The idea of a woman opening a lay secondary school in Carrick was preposterous.”

Kathleen was not that easily dismissed. Whether it was by chance or inspiration or through the advice of some friend or perhaps it was her own fighting spirit, she, with the help of Fr. Casey, the then curate in Drumlion, applied to Dr. Doorly, the then Bishop of Elphin, and, with the agreement of the Department of Education, permission was forthcoming.

The Diocese of Elphin took a different attitude to that which prevailed in Ardagh and Clonmacnois.

I do not know what other, if any, influences were brought to bear on the matter.
There was a lot of criticism for certain and I'm sure a lot of “who does she think she is?” But, undaunted, this woman who was to become an “icon” in this area of education was not to be denied.

In essence, she brought secondary education to a generation of boys who otherwise would never have experienced it.
She was now to face many difficulties as she set out to turn her dream into reality. She now had to obtain funding for teachers' salaries and the provision of adequate space and furniture, etc., all of which she provided for in her own unique way.

Remember too that she had been married in 1939 and by now, 1941/1942, she had two children. At the same time her husband, as well as supporting her in her efforts, was setting up the first Fire Brigade Service throughout Co Leitrim. Not an easy task in those times.

I was born in July of 1942 and the doors of Rosary High School were opened in September of 1942. I was six weeks old.
You can imagine the situation. A family, a man and wife and two children and a housekeeper, living in a small house which was to become a new school by day and a house and home by night.

Fourteen pupils arrived on the first day. The doors opened, the pupils came and the teachers were present and waiting. The dream had become a reality. A school was born.

Irish, English, Mathematics, History, Geography, Latin and Drawing were the subjects. As time went by the school developed and grew, new teachers joined the staff and new students came every year and thus new rooms were needed.

The rooms which were bedrooms by night became classrooms by day. The scullery became the cloakroom. The dining room became the staff room. Other children arrived and life went on.

Inspectors called and were dealt with and the school population grew. The parents of North Roscommon and South Leitrim sent their children to this new seat of learning.

In the meantime, the Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois welcomed the opening of a new school for boys in Carrick in 1943. It was to be run by the Presentation Brothers.
Its purpose was, as McGahern had said, to close Mrs Lynch's. But it failed in this objective.

From Arigna they came, from Croghan, Boyle, Leitrim, Cootehall and Ballinamore and Aughavas and Kilmore and Mohill.
The little house could not cater for all and once again a huge decision had to be made.

Providentially, the house next door came up for sale, the house where I live now, and my parents bought it. There was no grant aid or anything like that available at the time.

I think it was in July 1949 that everything was completed. I remember the day well. My uncle from Leitrim ferried in all the heavier items of furniture on his donkey and cart, helped by Tom Veasy from Cloonfad.

The rest of us carried all the light stuff and Rosary High School was reborn in a new house in 1949. Life and school continued. The yard was longer, the rooms bigger, and we even built on a new room to the newly acquired house.

Rosary High School made a huge contribution to the sporting and cultural life of the area. The GAA was the main game and we sported and played in the Show Grounds twice a week.

In 1949, Shannon Gaels was founded and Rosary High School supplied players to this club as well as to St. Mary's, Cootehall, Drumshanbo, Annaduff and Jamestown Sarsfields. When Shannon Gaels won the Roscommon Senior Championship in 1964, between past pupils and staff, the Rosary High School supplied 12 members to the team.
At one time Rosary High School had a team playing in the Leitrim Minor Championship. Mrs. Lynch's concerts were an annual affair in the Gaiety Cinema and played to packed audiences.

In the 40s, 50s and 60s, Carrick was a very different town to what it it today. There were two cattle fairs, in November and December, when the streets would be lined with cattle from the bridge to the top of the town and in the evening the streets were hosed and washed by the Fire Brigade. Tolls were collected on the bridge.

There was a market yard which was called The Shambles and there was a farmers market, held mostly on Main Street, to which farmers brought their pigs and other produce to be sold.
The donkey and horse carts would be lined up on both sides of the street where animals and other produce were bought and sold.

My late mother believed in education as the great equaliser. She opened her school not in competition with anybody. Certainly not for profit, but because she saw at that time a need.
She comprehended a race of people who deserved better and she saw education as the door to a greater and happier existence where people did not have to tolerate endless emigration, degradation, poverty and abuse from the moneyed classes.

She also saw that even if people had to emigrate they would be better equipped to meet the world if they were better educated.

This woman of courage and tenacity took on the disbelievers and the religious and the begrudging ways. Each day, school commenced with the Rosary for all the pupils and staff.

She opened her own home and without any financial backing gave her talents to the betterment of her fellow people.
A school at any level is serious business. Just think about it. Meeting the parents, preparing timetables, buying school furniture, books and other equipment.

Every morning brings a new day and new problems. School inspections and day to day things that need to be dealt with here and now. All this and rear a family as well. Add to all of the above the Intermediate Certificate and the Leaving Certificate.

One aspect of this story is the quality of people she employed as teachers. She brought to this town many of the finest.
Eugene Doherty came from Cootehill and brought new life to the whole area. He founded Muintir na Tíre and was instrumental in building the Patrician Hall. He played for Shannon Gaels and won a Roscommon Senior medal with them. He went on to open his own schools in Delvin, Co. Westmeath.

Michael Regan from Mayo went on to become head of the newly created Geography Department in UCG.
Pat McLoughlin became the first Principal of the new St. Clare's School in Manorhamilton. James McNerney became Principal of the new comprehensive in Moyne, Co. Longford.

Farrell McElgunn combined his teaching with a very well respected contribution to the political life of this area. He became a member of Leitrim County Council, became a Senator in succession to Margaret Pearse who was sister to Patrick Pearse. He also served in the EU in Brussels and was on the governing body of UCG for many years.

Stephen Chawke, Joe McGuire, Mary McElgunn, Gus McNamara, Rev. Fr. Donnellan, Mrs Hanahoe, Phyllis Glancy O'Dowd and Mrs. Anderson also taught with us.

An interesting story about two Jamestown men. Kevin Duignan had been a clerical student and he became ill and had to leave college. As he recovered his health he came to Rosary High School as a teacher. He was a brilliant organiser and a great help to my mother. His health improved and he returned to his clerical studies. He became a priest and served all his priestly life in Mobile, Alabama, USA.

Sean (John Joe) Maxwell also came from Jamestown. He was a trained teacher who had studied in St. Patrick's, Drumcondra. A man of strong republican sympathies, he had been interned in the Curragh for his beliefs. Because of this he found it hard to get a job because the Government did not like people like him at that time. Kathleen, my mother, gave him a job.

He was a brilliant Irish teacher and Irish speaker and the pupils loved him. I'd like to think that my mother also had an amount of sympathy with his republican sympathies. Sean Maxwell went on to become a journalist and Editor of the Irish Echo in New York.

We also had Jack McGrath, Vincent Creighton and yours truly who finished our careers in the Community School.

We had Patrick Duignan from Flagford who went on to hold Professorships in Canada and Australia and was appointed Chief Advisor in Education by the Sultan of Brunei.

In seventy five years many changes take place. The craic, the football, the soccer on the road. The matches in the yard. The drove of bicycles coming down the hill at speed. The cups of cocoa or tea in the basement. The clothes being dried on the furnace and being borrowed from Frank's wardrobe. The table tennis in the basement; are all over.

Here in Ireland and throughout the world hundreds of students of various backgrounds received their all-rounded education at the hands of those highly qualified teachers.

Many nurses, doctors, teachers, journalists, housewives, farmers, carpenters, lawyers, accountants and consultants found their first love of learning in the Rosary High School and we hope that Kathleen's vision of a better, happier life came true for them.

The maintenance staff are not forgotten. Tom Veasy, Michael Harris, Mary Mitchell, Miss Vaughan, Mary Meehan, Mrs Hayden, Mrs Gavin and Mrs Coles all helped to keep the show on the road at different times down through the years.
Those of us still alive still retain those memories of happy times and the friendships formed.

Bean Uí Loinsigh treated all her pupils fairly and equally. I can honestly say I never saw her lose her temper. Maybe an odd shout or the white of an eye might be used to put somebody on their guard.

As with all things, time alters everything. One day the change came. Rationalisation.
All the schools in Carrick-on-Shannon were to be amalgamated and as we were the smallest, it was to start with us. It was not unexpected but it was extremely painful.

Like the highly intelligent and courageous lady that she always was, my mother accepted the march of progress with great dignity. Teachers' jobs were guaranteed and students were shared among the other schools.
My mother returned to a teaching position with the Marist Sisters where she had been edcuated and where her teaching career had commenced.

The next year the Convent and the Brothers amalgamated and subsequently the Vocational School also joined with the others in the new Community School which is there today. Free transport and free education put education into everybody's reach.

Had my mother not taken the brave step of opening her own house up to everyone so that she could share with them the gift of education in very lean times and thus open for them and their children the window of opportunity, one can only wonder what course the whole story might have taken.

It is worth appreciating that it all came to pass because brave people took on the responsibility, showed leadership, had the determination and ability to pick up the torch of knowledge and show the way though their resources were meagre.
Kathleen Lynch was a leader among them and the seed has fallen on fertile ground.

On my own behalf and on behalf of the Lynch family, I would like to thank all the parents who sent their children to be educated by this wonderful woman and indeed all the past pupils who availed of her generosity and talent and who brought joy into her and our lives and hopefully their lives as well.

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