BY HELEN RIDDELL
BEARA Community School in Castletownbere said a fond farewell to its principal Mary O’Sullivan who retired after 38 years teaching, 18 of which she was at the helm.
A native of Kanturk, Mary graduated from St Angela’s College, Sligo as a Home Economics teacher, taking up her first teaching post in Abbyfeale. She then moved to Castletownbere, teaching in the former vocational school at the North Road, moving on again to teach in Newcastlewest. However, ‘the lure of Beara proved too strong’ she said and she returned to teach in the newly opened Beara Community School, settling in the area and marrying local man Ollie O’Sullivan and raising four children.
During her time at the school, Mary was also transition year co-ordinator. ‘Becoming principal has definitely been the highlight of my career in education, but being involved in transition year was a huge experience in leadership and management. I was always very conscious that the school didn’t miss out on opportunities because of its geographic location, and some of the projects pupils have become involved in with transition year have seen them travel all over the country and achieve great success.’
She also credits the growth of the special needs facilities in the school as one of the most positive aspects of her time there: ‘We now have two special needs classes which enable students with special needs to fully integrate with mainstream education.’
She noted how during her teaching career, there has been huge changes in education legislation and welfare: ‘One time there was only one annual parent teacher meeting but now parents play an active role in the school, it’s something which is very welcome and very positive. When the school first opened here in 1980 being a community school we had parents on the board, from day one, long before other schools did in the country, so Beara was actually ahead of its time.’
Mary wished her successor in the role of principal well for the future.
‘Pauline Hurley has been appointed school principal, and she will be the first principal in the school’s history who is a born and bred Beara native. I wish her and Niamh O’Driscoll who will take up the role of deputy principal the very best.’
As for plans for her retirement, Mary is heading off shortly to walk the first leg of the Camino, but may not stay away from education completely: ‘I’m not a person to be idle, so I could well end up going back to studying, maybe something new.’