Local History by Seán Beattie


The Sisters of Mercy in the Community School, Carndonagh

The Carndonagh Heritage website has published an interesting article on the history of the Convent of Mercy in Carndonagh, including a gallery of photographs of Sisters, teachers and students from the Convent.

As part of the history of education in Carndonagh, it is interesting to note the role of the Sisters of Mercy in education in the area. In the 1940s, there were nine nuns working as teachers in the town and Glentogher.

The Community School (CCS) founded in 1973. When I was transferred to the staff of CCS in 1973, there were three nuns who were my teaching colleagues: Sr Margaret Mary from Bootagh, Culdaff, Sr Francis and Sister Eugenius. The latter was on leave of absence at the opening of the school. She was qualified as a primary teacher but felt she needed to upgrade her qualifications to teach at second level in CCS. Her subject was mainly Irish.

She was a very resourceful woman, who believed strongly in secondary education for girls. To this end, she took steps to establish second-level education to Leaving Certificate level for girls. In the 1960s, female students attended the Vocational School, known locally as the Tech but the curriculum was based on the Group Certificate, which students obtained after two years. It was basic English but was oriented towards vocational training. For example, typewriting was taught and thus female students were eligible to apply for jobs as receptionists, nurses, secretaries and in business.

Woodwork and metalwork were prioritized and thus male students had basic qualifications to seek jobs in the construction industry, or as craftsmen, plumbers etc.

Both male and female students in later life had the option to become teachers of these subjects or hold managerial posts or set up their own businesses. (I taught English at Group Cert level myself for one year in Ballyfermot Vocational School in Dublin. It was an excellent subject as it trained students in the skills of writing English, with an emphasis on hand-writing, punctuation, paragraphing, punctuation, grammar and spelling).

The “Secondary Top”

Sr Eugenius established a “Secondary Top”. Let me explain. As girls in the Convent reached sixth class, they usually left school. Sr Eugenius urged them to remain at school for another year and during that year, they started to follow the secondary curriculum. The following year, they pursued the second year of the secondary course and thus the “Secondary Top” was born. Thus, Sr Eugenius can be credited as the founder of secondary education for girls in the Carndonagh area.

Once the CCS opened, the students were eligible to enter the appropriate year and continue  to Leaving Certificate. The small walled graveyard at the former Convent is a place of tranquility overlooking the town with small black Celtic crosses recording the names of deceased nuns. In later years, the nuns were interred in the main graveyard. They can indeed claim to have formed the ground base for the progressive education system which is offered to Inishowen students today.

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