BY HELEN RIDDELL
CHILDREN and staff at St Michael’s National School Bere Island, along with the island community, bade a fond farewell to their school principal Deirdre Ní Dhonchada who retired recently after 25 years teaching at the school.
After graduating from St Patrick’s College in Drumcondra in 1980, Deirdre’s first teaching post was at Turners Cross in Cork city. She then spent some time teaching in Darwin, Australia before taking up a teaching position in Walthamstow, North London for two years, but had a yearning to move home.
‘I was deeply unhappy being away from Ireland, and when I was home on holidays one summer, I walked into Twomey’s Bar in Castletownbere to be met by a heavily pregnant Kathleen Twomey who was then a teacher on Bere Island, and who asked me “what are you doing at the moment?” So I ended up covering for Kathleen’s maternity leave and that was the start of my career on Bere Island.’
Deirdre had holidayed on the Beara peninsula when she was a child and always felt drawn to the area.
After completing the maternity cover, she stayed in Beara working as a substitute teacher before taking up a permanent post in St Michael’s School in 1996.
When Kathleen Twomey retired in 2008, Deirdre became principal of the two-teacher school.
Both Deirdre and colleague Katrina Ladden live on the mainland and travel to the island every day by ferry, and are joined by school secretary Marion O’Sullivan, who keeps everything running smoothly.
Deirdre agreed that there are certain challenges to working on an island school. ‘It’s mainly having to work around ferry times and the logistics of getting the children off the island for class outings and their swimming classes.’
But for all its challenges, teaching in an island school has been rewarding she said because the island is such a close knit community. ‘If you need something, you only have to ask and it will happen.’
Numbers have declined in the school since Deirdre started – dropping from 30 to 16 pupils. She says she will miss her pupils, adding: ‘Island children have a special quality of co-operation and an independent way of thinking, and always look out for each other.”
A function was held at the school to mark Deirdre’s retirement and the end-of-year mass was said by Fr Noel Spring, which was followed by a presentation and a speech by Pauline Hanley on behalf of the parents.
‘In any community a school plays a central role and under your guidance, this school has played a huge part in our community,’ said Pauline.
As for her plans for retirement, Deirdre says she has none. ‘I’m just going to see what happens.’