From Bleak to Bountiful in Twenty Years

Clare Champion, Friday, 12th June 1998

It's a long way from a bleak day in 1976 when the Sisters of Mercy took what must have been a painful decision to phase out St. Anne's Secondary School in Killaloe. But this particular story turned out well for, nineteen years after the scheduled closure date, the school has been transformed into an ultra-modern community college on a fifteen acre campus at Clarisford. The student body has nearly trebled over the same period - up from 180 in 1970 to 480 today - and there are any number of subject options and extra-curricular activities available to the teenagers on its rolls.

The college itself stands on a seven acre site and consists of sixteen general classrooms and eight fully equipped specialist rooms, including two science laboratories, a library and home economics, art, metalwork, woodwork and computer rooms. The remaining eight acres have also been developed for games and sports facilities.

Principal, John Fitzgibbon, took up duty at St. Anne's in 1973 as a teacher of history, maths, geography and Irish. Despite the fact that he planned to stay just twelve months and despite the fact that his arrival coincided with the onset of the tough times, he somehow fell in love with the place and a quarter of a century later, still shows no sign of moving on. Actually, John Fitzgibbon wrote his name into the educational history books when, in 1979, he became the first lay teacher in the Diocese of Killaloe and one of the first in the country to take over stewardship of a second level school from a religious order.

By then, numbers were dropping rapidly. The threat of closure had prompted an increasing number of parents to send their children to school in Limerick and Ennis while the assortment of pre-fabricated buildings which made up St. Anne's School at Convent Hill continued to deteriorate. In fact, the dilapidated state of the buildings had been a key factor in the sisters' decision to pull out of Killaloe.

Although the Parents Council rose to the challenge by mounting a fund-raising campaign and purchasing the fifteen acre site at Clarisford for 26,000 in 1978, another nine years was to elapse before the college was built and amalgamated with Clare Vocational Education Committee.

When completed in 1987, the school complex was equipped to cope with 375 students. Now, there are 480 teenagers on campus, mainly drawn from the Killaloe, Ballina, Ardnataggle, Bridgetown, Kilbane, Broadford, Ogonnelloe and Clonlara areas, with a staff complement of thirty-two teachers.

Three years after construction finished on the college, the first pre-fabricated building was installed on the site. Today, a further two prefabs have been installed to cope with the additional numbers. However, in April, the Department of Education agreed to revise accommodation needs to 475 and approved the provision of a 700 square metres extension, which is likely to be constructed within the next two years. The extension - which will be quarter the size of the existing college building - will take in a language laboratory, a dress design room, a music and drama area, guidance offices and a canteen.

In addition to a broad academic programme, St. Anne's provide facilities for students to participate in a wide variety of sporting activities. At the moment, there are two outdoor multi-purpose courts, a full sized playing pitch and a practice pitch while there are plans to develop a running track. In addition, the college has a large hall suitable for a variety of indoor games.

College services take in physical education, career guidance and a chaplaincy service while the line-up of extra-curricular activities arranged by the teaching staff includes geography field trips to the Burren, college tours, day trips to places and events of educational interest and involvement in debates and public speaking competitions.

Through its Pastoral Care Programme, St. Anne's has also developed close links with the Wednesday Night Club for residents of St. Vincent's Hospital, Lisnagry and with Trocaire, Milford House Hospice and a missionary project in Kenya. The college is also twinned with a German post-primary school and a number of very successful exchanges between the two schools have taken place in recent years.

St. Anne's College German quiz team
(from Left) : Michael Kennedy, Liam Minogue,
Aileen Aherne and Helena Frawley.
At the presentation of the Killaloe Community Council
"Environmentally Aware Week" poster and poetry
competition prizes at St. Anne's were (from left) :
Patricia Cosgrove, first in junior section poetry,
George Healy, third and Lisa Woods, second.

Photographs by John Kelly, Clare Champion.

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