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Coláiste Mhuire School History
Taken from Caoga Bliain ag Fás 2008

Coláiste Mhuire is unique in many ways. Firstly it was a project that involved the communities of the parish and the surrounding catchment areas. It was and still is lay managed by a board of Trustees presided over by the Parish Priest. It was co-educational, which was a first west of the Shannon, an educational concept which owed much to the tolerance and attitude of Bishop Doorly and Canon Feeley. Indeed the continuity and viability of the school would not have been possible without it.

1948 was not an auspicious year for the birth of a secondary school. It was within a few years to the ending of WWII. Unemployment was high, prices of agricultural products were low and emigration to America had resumed. Economic conditions generally did not change for many years to come. In addition it was difficult to break a tradition in the area of sending pupils to school in Roscommon, Athlone, Ballinasloe, Sligo and Tuam. Inducements, by way of bursaries or scholarships, full or halved in many instances, were offered to parents to entice pupils to schools in a very competitive educational environment. Tribute has to be paid to parents who stood loyally behind Coláiste Mhuire in those difficult years when family incomes were little above subsistence level and State per capita grants meagre.

While the famine had passed its one hundredth anniversary, the potato was still a much-valued food in Ireland and especially in the West. The Department of Agriculture acknowledged this fact and had appointed Mr. Tadhg O'Connor, a Limerick man, as Potato Inspector for the area. It was clear to Mr. O'Connor that the on-going emigration of primary school pupils was the only future for many of the boys and girls of the parish. This fact was accepted by all but many of the parents were ready to make sacrifices for their children if the proper leadership were given.

He asked Mr. Martin Lenihan as early as 1946 if he would be willing to come to Ballygar to discuss the setting up of a secondary school with the Parish Priest and others interested in the feasibility of providing post primary school facilities in the town. Canon Feeley, P.P., met a deputation, mostly of parents, in August 1948 and an ad hoc committee under his chairmanship decided that on the suggestion of Mr. O'Connor an invitation should be issued to Mr. Lenihan to come to Ballygar and act as headmaster of the new school. At one of further meetings a temporary tenancy of the Parochial Hall was issued to Mr. Lenihan by the Diocesan Trustees for Canon Feeley, pending the acquisition of a premises in conformity with the requirements of the Department of Education. Forty-one pupils attended on the opening day, 8th September 1948.

In the case of First Year entrants a written examination had to be undergone by them to test suitability to pursue a post primary course. Failure meant that while pupils could remain in school no government grants would be available to the school for them. The 1948 cohort consisted of two classes: Class 1 was made up of those who had passed the National Primary Certificate and Class 2 consisted of those who had not yet got the results of that particular examination. Class 1 completed their Intermediate successfully and was comprised totally of girls. The College attracted pupils from primary schools of the parish such as Ballygar, Ballaghlea, Windfield, Killyan, Trihill, Kilmore and Cappagh. Pupils also came from the neighbouring parish schools of Castleffrench, Ballyforan, Feevagh, Dysart, Four Roads, Mount Talbot, Hollygrove, Creggs, Friaryland and Gordradieve.

The accommodation was provided in the Town Hall by Canon Feeley at a modest rent. In those early years the Town Hall had many roles. The Court was held there on the first Tuesday of every second month, so the Hall had to be vacated by 11am on those days.

A new building, comprising three classrooms and a staff room with basic facilities, was constructed during the year 1950-51. The builder offering the lowest tender of about £1500 was Mr. Andrew Carty and this was accepted by the Trustees. The purchase price of the site, owned by the Forestry Department, was £10. Money to finance the project was provided by an interest-free loan of £1000 in units of £10 each, by subscribers, mostly parents, in the school catchment area. The local branch of the National Bank provided the balance by way of a bridging loan at interest. All who participated in that interest-free loan are to be commended. Remembered too, must be those men and women who gave of their free time and energy, promoting the establishment of the school in the months leading up to the opening date, 8th September, feast day of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, under whose patronage and guardianship the school was placed, and from whom its name, Coláiste Mhuire, is derived.

There was a bicycle race from the Hall to the new school on the first morning and Paul Hennigan of Borrnacurra, Athleague, was handed the yellow jersey as first student in the door.

From the beginning Coláiste Mhuire was more than a building. The staff was well aware that its pupils were its most important component and every effort was made to ensure that those who entered its doors were given every opportunity and encouraged to reach their potential.

An educational post-primary amenity, however humble its beginning, that was to have far-reaching beneficial effects for hundreds of pupils and was to grow and expand with the passing years, was in place.

Coláiste Mhuire School Crest
The castle represents Castle Kelly, on whose grounds the school is situated and it marks our roots in the local area. It also stands for how the skills, aptitudes, values and morals we instil in our pupils will be as a bastion to them when attacked by adversity in the future.

The torch is the light of knowledge, passed on to each new group of pupils and that will light the way forward for them in the world.

The letter M represents our devotion to our lady.

The Cross represents our adherence to Christian values and our commitment to maintain a Catholic ethos.

© 2013 Coláiste Mhuire