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To mark the occasion of the retirement of two long serving and dedicated teachers in our school we have published the speech given by principal James Roberts on Friday 24th June in the Church of the Most Holy Trinity, Bunclody. We wish both Brid O'Meara and Eilis Connaughton every blessing for the future and thank them most sincerely for their long years of dedicated service in our school.

Brid O'Meara

On an occasion such as this I think of the great artist Michelangelo who was appointed architect of St. Peter's Basilica at the age of 74. Both of these teachers are about 20 years younger than Michelangelo was at that time and are of course far too young to be retiring. They may be retiring and taking a well-deserved rest from teaching but they are not retiring from life and will continue to make valuable contributions to the communities where they live during the coming decades.

Bríd O'Meara started work in our school some 14 years ago on September 1st 1997 before any of the pupils in our school today were born. When she was appointed by the Board of Management little did we know just how fortunate the school would be. She came as a highly regarded infant's teacher from Glenbrien National School who were unlucky to lose a teacher because of falling pupil numbers. Glenbrien's bad luck was Bunclody's very good fortune.

Bunclody got an insightful and creative teacher of the very highest calibre. Bríd taught in infants first and showed why she was so highly regarded. Apart from her dedication and professionalism to her work, she had, and still has, the ability to stand back from a situation and analyse what is happening. When a pupil was having difficulty starting to read she could identify where the problem was. From her training and her experience she knew what developmental stage the pupil had missed before they came to school and better again she knew how to implement a classroom programme in conjunction with the parents to try to correct that problem.

She is a practical and hands-on person and could quickly see when a pupil had difficulty. One of her greatest assets was the ability to change her methods of teaching to accommodate the needs of her pupils. If Plan A wasn't working then Plan B or C were tried.

She created a quiet, industrious and artistic environment where children were never criticised but were affirmed, supported, encouraged and cajoled to achieve their potential.

After some years teaching in infants she worked as a support teacher in the junior classes and here she showed her analytical abilities in identifying pupils with learning difficulties. She quickly gained the support of parents who understood, sometimes for the first time, why their child was having problems learning in school. The other teachers in the school realised what a wonderful bank of knowledge she had and frequently asked her to look at a child in their class who was having learning difficulties. Teachers would come to me and say that they were concerned about a child in their class and my first reaction was to ask them to talk to Bríd. I was always confident that she would use her skills to support the other teachers and pupils in the school. For this I thank her most sincerely.

She is very artistic and used her talents in all sorts of ways. Her classroom reflected these artistic talents - she introduced a reading corner to her classroom with a recycled couch from Bridie O'Connor, she had a colourful mat and soft cushions to make the reading area comfortable and attractive - reading was going to be an enjoyable experience in her classroom.

She arranged wonderful displays in front of the altar here in the church for First Confession, First Communion and Confirmation. From a collection of odd bits & pieces she created wonderful displays that told the story of the Good Shepherd, the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of Jesus. It looked effortless for her and the rest of us asked ourselves 'How did she think of that? - it looks fantastic!'

She tackled the school staffroom - a room that was cluttered with files and folders and shelves everywhere. These all found new homes and a soft light, new curtains, a new colour scheme and carefully selected artistic prints transformed the room.

Like many teachers who started work in the 1970's she recycled and reused everything possible and taught her pupils the importance of not wasting the earth's scarce resources. She encouraged her pupils to be environmentally friendly long before it was fashionable and before there was any mention of the Green Schools Programme.

A few years ago she started her work as Home School Community Liaison teacher. It was a position she undertook with the same dedicated and professional attitude she had displayed in her teaching. She was instantly accepted by all the parents as she genuinely had both their interests and their children's interest at heart. She started a wide variety of activities which are too numerous to mention but worthy of note are:

The Homework Club
The Breakfast Club
The making of St. Brigid's Crosses
The very successful Grandparents Day
Involvement of parents and members of the wider Community in Paired Reading Projects
The Maths for Fun Project
Organising Personal Development & Counselling Service for pupils
Parenting Courses
Gardening Courses
and Liaison with the Secondary Schools

All these activities and many more helped to make the school a better place for pupils and helped parents to be more involved in the education of their children. It should also be said that her work made life much easier for teachers and especially for me.

But as principal what I valued most about her, was her ability to look at the overall context of what we try to do in the school and to offer a considered opinion which was often at difference to what was generally accepted. She has that unique ability to 'step outside the box' and see things from a different slant. As HSCL she had a unique insight into how parents viewed what we were doing and she brought these views to all our discussions. She represented very well the concerns of parents. This of course helped our projects and programmes to be grounded in reality and were far more likely therefore to be effective and accepted by all.

I know Bríd will enjoy her rest from teaching as she has many other interests. She enjoys gardening - this was obvious recently when she and Julie Murphy were out in the spills of rain one morning, weeding and planting around her prefab and at the front gate. Not deterred by the wind and rain and armed with gloves, hat and coat she wasn't going to let the weeds get the better of her!

She firmly believes that a little work can transform the environment in which we live. If she took up working for television she would make an ideal presenter for RTE's programme 'Dirty Old Towns'. Actually when RTE visited the school a few years ago to film children for their Nativity play the staff all agreed who should go on camera to speak - it was Bríd. Although reluctant at the time she proved to be the ideal person.

She enjoys walking and dancing and has spent many happy days on walking holidays in Ireland and around Europe. I know she has plans to be out walking in September so she won't miss the excitement of the start of the new school year.

Bríd, on behalf of our school I wish to thank you for the dedicated and enthusiastic work you have done for us. I want you to know that you will be missed by the pupils, by the teachers, by me and most especially by the parents. Our very best wishes go with you today and we hope and pray that you will have many years of good health and happiness to enjoy your life after teaching. Even though we say goodbye to Bríd today don't be surprised when you see her in the school during July - yes during her summer holidays, as she has volunteered to use her artistic talents in a summer project with the children. Such is a mark of her dedication. Very sincere thanks to you Bríd and good luck.

Eilis Connaughton

Eilis Connaughton started her teaching career on July 1st 1977. I know this because both she and I graduated from St. Patrick's College that same year. So now you know why I say that she is far too young to be retiring!

She taught in Enniscorthy at first but moved to our school shortly afterwards. She and her husband Pat decided to relocate from Enniscorthy and settle in Bunclody and so began one family's lifelong dedicated service to education in Bunclody with Pat teaching in the FCJ Secondary School and Eilís teaching in Our Lady of Lourdes National School - a combined service to education in Bunclody of nearly 70 years. It is a record which the Connaughton's can be justly proud of.

During her long career Eilís has taught every class from Junior Infants up to Sixth. She also taught in Learning Support for many years. She has prepared children for First Confession, First Communion and for Confirmation - work which showed her deep commitment to the support of the school's Catholic ethos.

She started teaching in the 1970's at a time when Ireland was experiencing great unemployment, very high taxes, considerable poverty and very high emigration. It was a time when parents had little but valued education as the best way to give their children a 'better chance in life' . Eilís understood this and worked closely with the parents to give their children the best education possible.

I often ask myself what makes a great teacher? Certainly one essential tool which every good teacher should have, Eilís has. That is the ability to 'listen' to children and to hear what is said behind the words. Eilís was always sensitive to the needs of the children in her care. As teachers we strive to raise literacy and numeracy standards all the time and although Eilís certainly did that she never forgot that she was dealing with small and sometimes fragile children who also needed to be reassured and reaffirmed and listened to. She has a wonderful caring side - both her teaching and her character. It is no surprise that she taught so successfully in Learning Support, a job she carried out with sensitivity and care.

I know it a source of great pride and joy to her that she taught many of the parents of pupils currently in our school. Having been taught by such a kind and considerate teacher when they were at school themselves, these parents know they can trust her to be equally kind and genuinely affectionate towards their children. She is always anxious to hear how her past pupils are getting on and is delighted with any good news about them.

She was always very good at distracting pupils from their worries and engaging them in creative and enjoyable activities in school. She used this talent especially well, when the occasional troublesome student was in her class. She always managed to win them onside and get around them without them even knowing it. Very quickly the troublesome pupil became calm, began to enjoy school and realised that he or she was genuinely welcome in Eilís' class. I spoke just the other day with one of her past pupils who heard that she was retiring. He said and I quote: "Mrs. Connaughton always gave you a second chance if you were bold but not if you didn't do your homework."

Her pupils looked forward to telling her all about their home lives and what they had done with their parents. She was very good at talking to pupils and getting them to talk to her. Indeed she has a collection of very funny sayings and stories, told to her by pupils over the years and she certainly should write them down and have them published in some format as they show just how much fun children can be and how witty they are.

Eilís has prepared children for Christmas Concerts on many occasions over the years. The Connaughton household of course has a wealth of talent and experience in dealing with the stage and she used this to great effect. Coming up to Christmas Concert time teachers and pupils are often a little frazzled. It is a very enjoyable but anxious enough time especially as the 'big day' comes closer. Eilís however was never frazzled or ruffled. She was always calm and kind to everyone and she passed this calmness to the children and other teachers she dealt with.

In her work as Assistant Principal in the school I wish to acknowledge the kind and caring manner she worked with everyone. She had responsibility for Book Rental - a job she carried out with great sensitivity, care and discretion. She also set up our Library and undertook the refurbishment of the library stock some years ago when we managed to persuade the Department to give us over €20,000 to spend on library books. She spent many long hours researching the best books possible before she spent anything. She regularly stayed for long hours after school sorting out the library and books for the Book Rental Scheme. Indeed I'm sure that her two younger children Timmy & Mairead will be relieved now that she is retiring as she often brought both of them back to school on Saturdays to help her even when they had moved on to university.

But probably her greatest gift she gives to all of us in the school is the gift of her time. She always has time to talk to everyone, teachers, parents, visiting coaches, secondary school pupils on work experience, student teachers on teaching practice and especially the children. She is definitely a people person and if Bríd O'Meara would make a TV presenter Eilís Connaughton would make an ideal presenter of a radio talk show because she is excellent at making you feel comfortable and relaxed and allowing you to play the leading role. When we hold interviews for new teachers in the school she is often the person who meets them when they arrive. She manages to reassure and calm them before the interview and gives a lovely warm and welcoming face to the school.

Today Eilís we want you to know that you will indeed be missed next September. We will miss your relaxed and caring manner, we will miss your kind and loving attention given to the pupils and we will certainly miss the many funny stories which pupils tell you.

Today we want to thank you for your long dedicated years of service and to wish you and indeed Pat every blessing for a long, happy and healthy retirement from teaching.