Scoil Phádraig Naofa will be officially opened on Monday next, 11th June, by the Minister for Education. What was once a Christian Brothers boys school is now a co-educational non-denominational school staffed by female and male lay teachers. Located in new premises at Tomard, the present primary school is a far cry from the primary school I attended so many years ago.
I remember my first day of my new life in the Christian Brothers Primary School in St. John’s Lane. More precisely I recall some parts of that first day. For instance I remember lining up with my school pals on the gravel driveway by the side of St. Joseph’s Boy’s School which led to the Sisters of Mercy Convent. There we awaited the arrival of the Christian Brother who was to lead us through the town centre to our new school in St. John’s Lane.
My other memory of that day is passing my father as he stood on the corner of the L&N shop in Emily Square. He had obviously waited to see his fourth son in the long line of school boys coming around Carolan’s Corner and passing along Bryan Brothers and Reid Lawlor’s public house before walking over Crom a Boo bridge to reach the Christian Brothers School. No doubt I was bursting with pride that day as with my school mates with whom I had spent three years with the nuns in St. Joseph’s, we were now going to the ‘big school’. I can’t remember anything else of that first day in the Christian Brothers Primary School and indeed can recall only snatches of my first and subsequent years in the school.
Our journey to St. John’s Lane that day in 1949 came just 88 years after three Christian Brothers arrived in Athy to open a single storey two roomed school in the town. Brother Stanislaus O’Flanagan and Luke Holland were accompanied by lay brother Patrick Sheely. They arrived by train at the town’s recently opened railway station and were brought by horse carriage to Greenhills House which was to be the Christian Brothers Monastery for the next 140 years or so.
The construction of the school rooms and the refurbishment of Greenhills House, which some years earlier had been donated to the Sisters of Mercy, was the work of a local committee whose secretary, Mark Bealin, operated a bakery business from 2 William Street. The committee was formed following an invitation extended by the Dublin Archbishop Paul Cullen to the Christian Brothers to open a school in Athy. Patrick Maher of Kilrush, a generous benefactor to both the Sisters of Mercy, who arrived in Athy 9 years previously, and to the Christian Brothers, made a substantial contribution to the school building cost. Indeed, when a further Christian Brothers teacher was required owing to the growing number of pupils, Patrick Maher agreed to pay £30 annually for two years towards his maintenance.
The Christian Brothers Primary School opened its doors on 19th August, 1861. On that day 120 boys were enrolled. Eight days previously Archbishop Cullen who was born near Ballitore and who had attended the Quaker School in that South Kildare village, celebrated Mass in St. Michael’s Parish Church and introduced the Christian Brothers to the townspeople. The following morning he celebrated Mass in the new Monastery in Greenhills House and blessed the two schoolrooms. The numbers attending the school increased year by year, necessitating the building of an extension to the school in 1873. At the turn of the century an extra storey was added to the original school house and the extension and the famous iron staircase so well remembered by those who attended the Secondary School was put in place.
Brother Stanislaus O’Flanagan, who was the first superior of the Monastery, left Athy in 1867 to open a Christian Brothers School in Monaghan. Brother Luke Holland left in 1875 to open the first Christian Brothers School in Newfoundland. About 35 years ago, while browsing in Greene’s book shop in Clare Street Dublin, I came across a leather bound book with the embossed title ‘Deceased Brothers’. It turned out to be a necrology of the Christian Brother and by a strange coincidence the first entry recorded the death of Brother Luke Holland in Marino Dublin on 8th January 1900. The same volume also recorded the deaths of another Stanislaus O’Flanagan and Patrick Sheely who had accompanied him to Athy on 11th August 1861.
Scoil Phádraig Naofa is the successor to the Primary School opened by the Christian Brothers in 1861. Many thousands have passed through the primary education system which first started with the Athy Poor School as it was called in the early part of the 19th century. We can be proud of the tradition of education in Athy, the foundation for which was laid by lay teachers over 200 years ago. Subsequently developed by the Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers, the education of the present and future generations continues in that proud tradition.