Education - Past and Present

 

 

 

On 6 November 1798 the three Presentation Sisters opened the first school for Catholics in Jenkins Lane, Waterford, in the building which now houses a genealogy centre. In December, formal application was made by Eleanor Power (one of the founding members) to the Protestant Bishop, Dr. Richard Marley (uncle of Henry Graattan), for permission to teach and keep a school. Such an application was a legal requirement at that time. Obtaining such permission would:

 

  1. ensure the educational activities were on a legal footing and thus lessen any danger of a change of Government attitude affecting their freedom;
  2. excuse them from paying most of the Window Tax.

 

The application was successful and a licence was granted "to keep a boarding school for the education of females in the city of Waterford."

 

In 1800, the three Sisters moved their school into their new convent in Hennessy's Road. In 1803 the school was so overcrowded that a second school was built, adjacent to the existing one. By 1807 the community numbered sixteen.

 

To the poor of Waterford city, the availability of schooling would in time become an instrument enabling them to change their lives for the better. Some historians claim that it was the improved literacy rate among the poor that paved the way for Catholic Emancipation. (One October morning in 1840, Daniel O'Connell and his guests were welcomed to the convent for one of his famous working breakfasts.)

 

In 1825 the school was reported as having 630 pupils. In that year the Commissioners of Education visited Presentation schools, Waterford, and declared:

 

"We have visited these schools and found them well conducted with great order and regularity and the children well supplied with books and every school requisite. The nuns are the teachers and devote themselves to the duty of instruction with the most unwearied assiduity and attention. We were much impressed with the appearance of affection and respect on the part of the pupils towards their teachers which characterise these institutions to a remarkable degree."

 

"School requisites" provided by the school at that time included not only slates and pencils, quills and paper, prayer books and catechisms, books of reading and spelling, needles and thread, but also clothing and food. It was quite common to have families sending the children to school in turn, since they could not afford to dress the whole family. In fact, the national average for school attendance at the time was a mere 50% of the enrolment.

 

In all of Nano's schools, priority was given to the children's religious formation. Adults attended on Sunday forenoons after Mass. Vocational education was also an essential part of the curriculum and this continued to be the case in all Presentation schools throughout the nineteenth century. Having equipped the children to earn a living, an appeal was then made to those who were in a position to employ them.

 

In 1848 the Presentation School, and the community of eleven, moved from Hennessy's Road to Lisduggan, almost in the country! Augustus Welby Pugin was the architect of the nef building. . Part of the Pugin plan was a large schoolroom forming the north wing of the convent. This classroom was known to many generations of pupils as St. Mary's, a place full of that indefinable something known as atmosphere - a compound of the architecture, the furniture, the characters who taught and learned theree and the legends passed on from generation to generation. An Adults' Room, close to the schoolroom, was included. A large double doorway led from the schoolroom to the chapel.

 

The main purpose of the Presentation community was education, particularly education of the poor, that is of those who could not afford to pay for their schooling. Adults attended at eleven o'clock for instruction. A quarter of an hour was allowed for them to assemble and three quarters for the actual instruction. Books were provided for the literate and pictures for those who were unable to read. The language used in the instruction was to be simple and popular. Those unable to attend on weekdays were given a similar time on Sundays. If eleven o'clock did not suit those who wished to attend, the time was to be changed to four o'clock.

 

In 1850, when the order was 75 years in existence, a Directory was issued from the Motherhouse in Cork. The section on Schools sets forth in detail the philosophy and the current practice in the schools. This became a handbook for all engaged in the running of the schools. In dealing with the pupils the sisters were 'to study their natural disposition, inclinations and capacities in order to treat them accordingly.' Good staff relations were important. The children were to be taught 'to treat their parents with the utmost respect and affection and to practice great civility and charity in their communications with each other.' Corporal punishment was ruled out - 'they must never, through impatience or otherwise, strike or hurt them.' Parents or guardians should be met occasionally, in order to 'confer with them regarding their improvement in school, their conduct at home, or any other point on which it may be necessary or useful to consult them.'

 

In 1880 the schools came under the National Board of Education and on 18 October received their first remuneration from state monies in the form of a cheque for 237 pounds 18 shillings. State money was received for the payment of monitresses and for buying school requisites. Registers were kept, giving details of each pupil enrolled.

 

From August 1882, the Sunday morning instruction of adults took on a new form, when a branch of the Sodality of Our Lady, a Jesuit organisation whose members were popularly known as Children of Mary, was set up. The Sodality had its own library containing, in addition to books of a religious nature, works on 'mathematics, psychology, the science, home management, the history of our own country, of England, and of ancient Greece and Rome, and some of the best works of fiction.' The Sodality members took a great interest in the wider affairs of the Church, at home and abroad.

 

The centenary, in 1898, was a time of celebration. Waterford had changed a lot in a century. People were better off by comparison with what went before and had more freedom especially in religious practice. The Compulsory Education Act meant that parents who had never bothered sending their children to school had to do so now. Corporation housing had been increased in the areas near the Presentation. An increased enrolment meant the need for more classrooms. A new Infant School was built and was much admired for its spaciousness and brightness. Intended merely as temporary accommodation until a better school could be built, it lasted until the 1980's. During that time it served as schoolroom, concert hall, music room, Guides' meeting room and youth club premises. The erection of this building left the community in debt. The people of Waterford rallied round. A meeting was held in City Hall, presided over by Bishop Sheehan. A committee of 12 ladies and 22 gentlemen was formed. A motion "That the Presentation Convent Centenary Bazaar be held next June" was proposed by the High Sheriff and carried. The wholehearted involvement of many people ensured that the bazaar was an unqualified success. Thanks to the generosity and hard work of so many, the nuns were able to pay what they owed to the builders. It was very clear that education of the poor in the city was not seen as the sole responsibility of the nuns but was shared by many people.

 

The infant classes took over the new school and the other classes continued in St. Mary's. The Gaelic Revival was very much alive in the early years of the century. The annual Feis was one of the highlights of the year. Padraig Pearse was an adjudicator at the Feis in 1915.

 

As time passed, it soon became clear that the accommodation provided in 1898 was inadequate once again. Plans were made for another building but it was 1923 before the new stone building was ready. Donations came from the families of the nuns and from whatever the community could spare from their own earnings. There was no great bazaar! There were no Government grants. The two-storey stone building complimented the architecture of the convent. For over 40 years it served its purpose well. However, it the 1950's it too was found wanting.

 

In the mid-1930's a decision was taken to set up an Intermediate School where children would be prepared for the state examinations. St. Mary's was to be the school premises. A few partitions were erected but little else was changed. The wooden floors with their semicircle of nails, hammered in ninety years before to guide the feet of children as they stood before their teachers, still remained as did the long desks. The small room to the west, originally the Adults' Room and now known as the Academy, was reserved for the seniors. Part of the convent field became the Hockey Field. Preparations were complete by 1938. The first graduate employed, Frances O'Donnell, was destined to spend the remainder of her life in Waterford and was still on the staff at the time of her unexpected death in 1974. Her contribution was immense; her enthusiasm never waned. Sr. Catherine Kelleher was the first Principal. In spite of rather inadequate facilities, the standard in the new Secondary school was high. All subjects were taught through the medium of Irish. French, Games, P.E. Art and Music were part of the curriculum. For many years classes were quite small. The school was originally known as St. Philomena's but in 1961 the name was changed to Colaiste na Maighdine.

 

In the 1950's accommodation for primary pupils was found inadequate. A supplementary school was built to accommodate the junior classes. A Government grant was obtained though the site was provided by the nuns, land which had been acquired from the Corporation in 1928. Scoil an Linbh Iosa was officially opened in 1956. Shortly afterwards a fine Assembly Hall was built.

 

In the 1960's the Industrial Estate was developed in Lisduggan. New housing estates were built in the area. Again the school buildings were inadequate to cater for the upsurge in population.

 

In 1963 a new primary school was built and linked to the Assembly Hall. The Secondary School moved into the Stone Building just vacated by the Primary School in 1964. St. Mary's was then absorbed into the convent.

 

On 11 October 1970 work began on a new Secondary School and the First Years of 1971 moved in there in September. This school was built in stages. The final stage included the building of a full-sized Sportshall.

 

The most recent developments include a Pre-School and a Post-Leaving Certificate course.

 

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