Getting the Balance Right in Ennistymon

Clare Champion, Friday, 15th January 1999

The 23 girls whose names rang out at the first roll call at the new Sisters of Mercy School at Bridge House, Ennistymon in September of 1872 were lucky young ladies. They could look forward with confidence to careers in the much coveted areas of teaching, nursing and the civil service.

Below the school the Inagh River ran through a much different world than today. The entire instruments of the Lahinch Temperance Brass Band, practising down the road that evening, cost a total of just forty pounds! The Ennistymon Dispensary Doctor was on a salary of just over 30 per annum. Any of their fathers could have a good evening in the town's pubs for a half crown!

One hundred and twenty seven years later how times have changed! That half crown (twelve and a half pence now) would not buy the lightest snack for any of the 310 students now enrolled annually at Scoil Mhuire all-girls school; forty pounds would certainly not equip a brass band and what the good doctor earned annually would not go far towards the cost of purchasing textbooks for the wide and stimulating curriculum on offer to the students today. The course covers information technology, medicine, pharmacy, law, engineering, accountancy, hotel and catering, tourism skills, languages - and still there, teaching, nursing and the Civil Service.

Scoil Mhuire principal, Mrs. Siobhan Quinn, after almost a decade at the helm, firmly believes in the importance of a broadly-based curriculum and has a clear vision of the direction education should take to meet future needs. "Considering the rapid pace of change in educational systems it is of the utmost importance to provide an academic programme which is challenging but above all to ensure that students receive a balanced education", she says, acknowledging the ongoing co-operation with Ennistymon CBS on this front. "Certainly over the years students at Scoil Mhuire have attained the highest academic levels. Right to the present, pupils have received Entrance Exhibitions from Trinity College for outstanding achievements in the Leaving Certificate. To mention just one - Ann Marie Barrett (Leaving Cert '98) is currently a freshman of Princeton University studying Aeronautical Engineering".

However, a school which provides for only the academic needs of its pupils is one that fails them ultimately. It was against this background that Scoil Mhuire watched the 1996 Atlanta Olympics with a special interest to see past pupil, Marie McMahon, participating. Students are encouraged to participate in sporting curriculum including basketball, badminton, camogie, ladies soccer, ladies football and volleyball. The latter sport is a relatively recent addition much strengthened by the 1997 All-Ireland Volleyball victory for the cadette C team. And the ladies football team from Scoil Mhuire is doing very well indeed this season.

CULTURAL LIFE

Anyone who has ever had associations with Scoil Mhuire will be aware of its long and prestigious musical tradition. Choirs, ballad groups and dance drama groups have participated with unparalleled success in Slogadh over the years. Famous past pupil, Catherine Marie Hegarty, soprano, now a final year opera student at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, began her singing career under the expert tutelage of Mrs. Mary O'Loghlin, Music Department, Scoil Mhuire. The choir from the school performed with her at the launch of her Shadows and Light album in Ailwee Cave recently.

The Scoil Mhuire musical is now an event not to be missed! The first musical - Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat' was an outstanding success. It was followed by 'Jesus Christ Superstar', but the tour de force - this year's incredible spectacular and truly entertaining production 'My Fair Lady' - drew unprecedented crowds from Ennistymon and surrounding areas.

Community links are important to the school. In 1993, Scoil Mhuire's Arts Week was grant aided by American Ireland Fund for "bringing the community together in the form of an Arts Festival hosted in Scoil Mhuire in conjunction with the Arts Council, and have provided a wide range of artistic and educational opportunities ranging from sculpture workshops and street entertainment to poetry readings and art workshops". Art weeks have fostered an appreciation of the aesthetic, and inspiration in the area of visual art is certainly in evidence in recent years with student work exhibited in the National Gallery, Dublin and The Belltable, Limerick.

Debating and public speaking are also encouraged, not only to create awareness of issues like mental health but to encourage the girls to play a prominent role in public life. The 1993 All-Ireland title in the Soroptimist public speaking competition brought great celebration as it was a "first" for Scoil Mhuire and County Clare.

Scoil Mhuire's Transition Programme provides the opportunity for a broad educational experience and the attainment of increased maturity. During Transition Year students are afforded the opportunity to travel either as part of an organised school exchange programme (to Europe) or as individuals to places as diverse as Connemara Gaeltacht to Russia. Personal and social development, as well as entrepreneurial skills are fostered in this way. Incorporating a multi-cultural dimension into the curriculum has been ongoing in Scoil Mhuire for a number of years now. Events like the 1996 Euroscola trip to Strasbourg, whereby 36 students from the school were MEP's for a day in the Parliament, and as well as debating topical issues are seen as ways of promoting intercultural understanding and appreciation.

This school year Scoil Mhuire's cultural understanding was enhanced by the presence of Manuela and Carlotta from Italy who spent three months studying in the school. Last year teachers from Africa and America joined the staff for a period. All pronounced it a wonderful experience.

The school actively promotes the sciences and endeavours to deepen understanding in this discipline. And while this year's students displayed their work at the Young Scientist Exhibition, three other students of the school took command of the airways to broadcast live from the RDS Project. Work like Young Scientist is aided enormously by the emphasis on Information Technology, within the school I.T. is now an integral part of the curriculum with all students pursuing courses in Computer Studies.

Some of Scoil Mhuire young scientists. Manuela Ommarino and Carlotta Minore on
exchange from Italy at Scoil Mhuire, Ennistymon.

Photographs from The Clare Champion.

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