17 Aug 2022

Pictures: Máirín O’Keeffe recalls her time at Drumshanbo NS as she retires after 39 years of service

Following the opening of the new autism unit at Drumshanbo National School last week principal Máirín O'Keeffe officially retired.
In her final speech to the school she said “I really can’t believe that this day has come, that I am standing in front of you today and saying goodbye. I know that the theme of this service is New Beginnings which is a lovely idea. But there is no getting away from the fact that before the new beginning comes the leaving. That’s true for 6th class and it’s true for me. 6th class are leaving but they have a plan. They know where they’re going next and I want to wish them the very best as they embark on their new beginning.

“ I have no plan. Those of you here who have worked with me know that I always like to have a plan – I like the act of planning. I have made some amazing plans, written some wonderful policies – I’ve even managed to carry out a few of them. But in the past few years I’ve learned that following through with plans when you literally don’t know what will happen the next day, is more or less impossible. You can plan nothing. And you all know that too. Planning anything from a holiday to a concert to a school outing to a term’s work is a blind leap of faith – you just don’t know if it will ever happen. But – the one thing you can plan with some degree of confidence, is to retire, even if you don’t know what you’re going to do – the joy is that you don’t need to know. At least that’s what I’m hoping.

“And speaking of no plan, can I say good morning to Fr Frankie who never has a plan and even when we give him one he never sticks to it. But I’m so sorry that you aren’t here – not sticking to the plan – today. On the other hand, I’m very grateful to Sr Helen, for today and all the days that she has supported me and the children in the school. Like myself, she likes to get it right!.
“Ironically in all my planning, I never actually had a plan for my career. Things just happened. I got my first job here in Drumshanbo in 1983. I was asked at the interview if I knew how to organise a children’s choir. I lied and said that I knew all about it – well, jobs were scarce at the time – and it went from there. The last interview that I did was also for a job here in Drumshanbo. This time I didn’t lie. When, at the end of the interview, I was asked if I had anything I wanted to say, I said that I only wanted this job, in this school, that it was personal for me and that if I were lucky enough to get it, I would work as hard as I could on behalf of the school and the people in it.

“I am so grateful to have worked here for the last 8 years, so grateful to have been given this opportunity. I has meant everything to me, “ she stated while also thanking the boadr for all their support.

She continued “I am bound up in this school. I was in it the day it opened along with my father. My girls went to school here. I taught many of the teachers in our school. I have taught many of the parents of the children in the school and, embarrassingly, one of the grandparents! The people who are and were in the school are woven into my life. Mrs. McWeeney, who taught me in Arigna, whose grandaughter Lily is in 6th class, Andrea who worked alongside me in Drumkeerin and whose daughter Ciara is also leaving in 6th class, Sinéad who worked with me in St. Emer’s and whose daughter Áine has joined the staff in our school – I remember when she was born. Now you know you’re officially old when you start to say things like that. And then of course, there’s Cody in first class whose great-granny Eileen was my principal in Drumkeerin. So once you start to talk about teaching great grandchildren, you have to accept that might be time to retire.

“There are 244 children on the roll of our school today. Children, I want to thank you. I want to thank you for your good humour, your sense of fun, for learning your tables, for winning the football, for the plays, for the singing – and especially for singing today, for doing your homework, for the beautiful art work all over the school, for being quiet in the lines, for being so pleasant at the gate in the morning – even when it’s raining.

“Honestly, we ask a lot of you and you always deliver. People who visit our school or who meet you on school outings, always remark about how nice you are. I want to tell you how proud I am of that and of you. Of course, I can’t resist asking two things of you today – first of all, read more – sorry, I can’t help it, I just have to say it. Secondly, whatever you decide to be, give it your best shot – and I really hope that some of you will decide to be teachers.

“To the parents of the children who are here today, you really should be proud of them. The support you give to your children and to their teachers really makes a difference. And on a personal note, thank you for the many lovely emails that you sent to me when the school was closed. There were many days when they made the difference.

“I have had the privilege of working alongside a most committed, professional staff of about 25 people. The staff includes teachers, SNAs, cleaner and caretaker, bus escorts. And it takes every one of us to make the school what it is. Covid really brought that home to me.

“So much time and effort went into ensuring that there was enough staff to meet the needs of each class and it was very stressful and there were days when we were stretched very thin but actually one of the worst days was when Raymond told me he had Covid – that’s when you realise who can’t be done without! Maurice is probably the longest serving member of staff in the school and the pride he takes in his work is there for all to see.

“I won’t go through each teacher and SNA individually but as a group they are just great to work with. They go the extra mile all the time and nothing is too much trouble. If you knew all that has been done just in this month of June alone – between reports and plays and tours and sports days and football and basketball leagues and the odd bit of teaching and learning, not to mention the work that has gone in to today!
“In the many things that they have done for the school and for me over the past 8 years, I want to mention two things that stand out. In September. 2020 we were reopening the school after lockdown and, in our school, the build had been going on. This included an upgrade of the electrics in the whole school and the place was a mess.

“The furniture was all piled up, there wasn’t a sanitiser anywhere and the dirt and the dust was beyond belief. And this was with days to go. So I sent out a text to the staff, looking for help. You’ll never know the way people worked to reopen the school – everyone, every staff member. You’ll never know that way Raymond and Maurice worked.

“The other day that I will never forget was my father’s funeral. It was the most moving and wonderful act of respect for him and I will be forever grateful to my school community for it. I think possibly that today will be another stand out day and I’m well aware that there isn’t a member of staff who hasn’t has input into it. I’m already loving all the children singing and I want to thank Deborah along with Áine and, of course, Charlie who always gives the gift of his music so generously to the school. And I’m very grateful for all you have done to prepare for this day of celebration.

“School really is like a family - we celebrate births deaths and marriages and everything in between. We try to support each other in good times and bad. The worst day for all of us was when we lost Conor. There’s no way to make that better but I’m glad that we will think of him always and that his path is there for everyone in the school to enjoy in his memory.

“Ruth – Mrs. McLoughlin told me just recently that when the inspector visited the school during my first week there, she told Ruth that her job was to support me. Ruth has been a friend and a support to me every day of my eight years and never more so in these last weeks. I cannot thank you enough. I am delighted that you will lead this school in the years ahead because, I know that, like me, you take it personally. Thank you, Ruth and my very best wishes to you. I know that you will enjoy the same support that the staff has given to me so you have nothing to worry about – well nothing much!

“It’s always dangerous to single one person out but I am going to thank most especially my friend and colleague, Caroline. She is a gift and she has looked after me and every other person in the school and every parent who needs anything. She does it with grace and patience – often despite considerable provocation and a whirlwind of chaos flying around her. I will miss her calm presence so much.”

Concluding she stated “So what I want to say to you today is thank you. At this point I better not neglect to thank my family – I have neglected them on many other occasions - and my friend Tess who looked after them when I didn’t.
“I always wanted to be a teacher from the time I got a blackboard from Santa many years ago. I loved teaching in Aughavas and in Longford and in Drumkeerin. But for the last 8 years I have had my dream job. I am so grateful to you all.
“ Go raibh maith agaibh go léir agus slán go fóill“.”

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