29 Jun 2022

Kilkenny's St Kieran's College remembers former teachers

Tributes paid as St Kieran’s College mourns passing of influential members of teaching staff


The late Tomás Ó Murchú

Brón ar an mbás, ní féidir a shéanadh,
Leagann sé úr is críon le chéile

The above couplet from a poem by poet and patriot Pádraig Mac Piarais tells the sad fact that death does not respect youth or old age.

This was made clear to the community of St Kieran’s College recently when, in the space of two weeks, four members of that community were called away from us.

The very sad and tragic passing of 13-year-old student Harry Byrne was met with grief and sadness. May the Lord console his grieving parents and family in these difficult times.

On the other end of the age spectrum, the death of Fr John Duggan in the parish of St John and Paul, Rhode Island, USA will be of interest to past pupils of a certain vintage.

From Flemingstown, Glenmore, Fr John received his secondary education in St Kieran’s College before going on to Maynooth. There, he graduated with a BA in Latin and Greek and a BD in Theology. After ordination in 1956, he took the Higher Diploma in Education, before joining the staff of the secondary school in St Kieran’s, where he taught the classical languages with great dedication for 15 years.

His interest in drama came to good use in the production of many plays. This built the self-confidence of many young boys and helped them to endure the long dark nights spent in the boarding school. The College Record for 1966, in a review of the production of The Mummy and the Mumps, mentions Fr Duggan’s fast moving direction.

The long summer holidays afforded Fr John the opportunity to spend time in the US doing supply for Irish-born priests, visiting their homes. Leaving teaching in 1972, Fr John spent some years as curate in Johnstown and Ballyouskill before going on to study for a doctorate in Counselling in Boston College. He continued his priestly ministry in the States and was a frequent visitor home.

Tomás Ó Murchú and Maureen Meany spent many years together on the staff of St Kieran’s College until they reached retirement age.

Strong personalities
Being very good friends did not prevent them from occasionally engaging in strong arguments. Both had very strong personalities. Tomás had studied Logic in First Arts in Maynooth and could engage in a dialectical discussion with aplomb. Maureen could hold her own however, by bluntly calling a spade a spade.
Tomás Ó Murchú was a Cork City boy and did the Leaving Cert in the diocesan college, Farrenferris.

Like so many other young men of the 1960s, Tomás went on to Maynooth College. At that time Maynooth was confined to those who believed they had a calling to the priesthood. The big influences on his studies there were An t-Athair Tomás Ó Fiaich, professor of History, an t-Athair Pádraig Ó Fiannachta, Ollamh le Gaeilge.

A year spent sharing a room with Gaeltacht born Kerry footballer Miceál Ó Sé, as well as months spent on Oileán Cléire during summer holidays, gave him the fluency of a native speaker of Gaeilge. Tomás was a member of voluntary Irish enthusiasts who installed a system of running water on what was then a neglected island. Of course it should be remembered that St Kieran himself hailed from Oileán Cléire.

After some years in Maynooth, Tomás decided not to continue there and in 1969 he was appointed to the staff of St Kieran’s College to teach Irish and History.

Generations of students have fond memories of Tomás as their teacher. He had a thorough knowledge of his subjects. He had an analytical mind and was adept at imparting that knowledge.

In the 1980s Tomas was one of those teachers who undertook the study of German. Tuition was funded by the late Fr Flavin, the principal at that time. Tomás, with others, obtained a diploma from the Goethe Institute of German Studies and commenced teaching German in the school.
To immerse himself in German culture during the summer holidays, he and his wife Patricia, along with their four young children, set off to drive around Germany in their VW camper van. Some good stories emerged from that tour.

Tomás was an active member of the ASTI at local and national level. He was aware of the changing role of the lay teacher at that time. The lay teacher was playing a more active role in the management of schools and needed to be remunerated accordingly.

Hurling always held pride of place in St Kieran’s. Tomás saw that there was a substantial number of students who were not into competitive games. During free time he organised groups and introduced them to chess. The game caught on. Tomás himself would admit that some of the pupils could outplay him after some time.

There was a big change in St Kieran’s College in 1974 when two young single women, Mary Lyndon and Maureen Meany, were appointed as teachers. If students thought that they might run rings round Miss Meany, they were in for a rude awakening.

Maureen very quickly asserted her authority and was a femme formidable during all her years in the school. On the other hand, she was a most caring woman, looked after the underdog and had a great sense of humour. Parents knew her commitment to her work and respected her.

Maureen was a native of the parish of Ballyfoyle. As the oldest of a large family she was used to taking on responsibilities. She received secondary education as a boarder in Coláiste Bríde in Callan. She then studied Science and Biology in UCD. Biology was a new subject in St Kieran’s and Maureen had to operate from a makeshift lab for some years. This was the time when science was being promoted and Latin and Greek were losing their primacy.

After some years she decided to spend a few years in Africa. Her experience there gave her a broad outlook on life.
St Kieran’s College has an extensive agricultural hinterland. Quite a number of parents wished to have Agricultural Science as an option. As there was a ban on the recruitment of staff at the time, Maureen undertook to take on the challenge. The course incorporated a lot of Biology, as well as practical farming.

Maureen familiarised herself with that element of the course so thoroughly, that she was selected to act as a monitor of those assessing the on-farm project. The visit to the National Ploughing Match, organised by Maureen, was one of the high points of the year. She also promoted the sowing of trees in the College grounds before there was any mention of climate change.

The passing of each of the three teachers mentioned above leaves a void in the lives of their families. In different ways they made a contribution to the lives of those who belong to the family of St Kieran’s College.

Thuig siad an sean-oidhreacht a bhain le Coláiste Chiaráin agus bhí siad bródúil as an oidhreacht sin. Leaba I measc na naomh go raibh acu.

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