PAST pupils and teachers of St Oliver Plunkett’s Primary School and Nursery School in Beragh are preparing to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the school’s opening.
It was on June 4, 1979, that then Archbishop and later Cardinal Tomas O’Fiaich unveiled a plaque marking the completion of the new school, which is located on Laragh Road.
Now, four decades on, many of the teachers, staff and pupils who have attended and worked at the school during the intervening period will gather to mark the historic milestone.
Amazingly, throughout that time, the school has had just two principals. Hugh Ward, the first, was succeeded in the early 2000s by Mrs Bronagh Maguire who remains at the helm, now in 2019.
When it was first opened at the start of June, 40 years ago, the new school was at the centre of an Educational Development Plan for the parish which was published in 1967.
It recommended that both the existing Aughnaglea and Cloughfin Primary Schools be closed and amalgamated into one new school.
St Oliver Plunkett’s therefore came into existence and also replaced the nearby Beragh National School which had been opened in 1875.
The initial enrolment 40 years ago was 130 and the school continues to serve the educational needs of pupils from all over the parish of Beragh.
Construction on the building was carried out by local contractor, Hugh Hackett and the first teaching staff consisted of five members. They were Hugh Ward, principal, Claire Rodgers, vice-principal, Jack Woods, Vera McCann and Phyllis McAleer.
Consisting of five beautifully-decorated classrooms, built around an assembly hall and dining room, the then St Oliver Plunkett’s complex also entailed a staff room, toilets and a cloakroom.
Speaking at the opening 40 years ago, Archbishop O’Fiaich said the people of Beragh should be proud to have provided such a beautiful school for their children.
“You have been blessed, too, in that you have here one of the finest group of teachers in Ireland. They are so dedicated and so sincere, and will set a fine example to your children,” he added.
Those sentiments have remained true throughout the intervening period and it is expected that many former staff members will return to the school on Tuesday night to renew old friendships and join in the celebrations.
The site has been extensively extended and refurbished since 1979, with one of the most noteworthy developments being the construction and opening of a new Nursery School.
The number of staff working in the school and nursery unit has also increased considerably during the past 40 years.
“The celebrations for the 40th anniversary will take place on the exact date of the official opening of the school in 1979,” said Mrs Maguire.
“There will be a Mass in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at 6.30pm next Tuesday, June 4, followed by refreshments and a concert in the school.
“We would like to take this opportunity to extend a warm invitation to all past staff members, governors and pupils to join us on June 4.
“We look forward to seeing everyone, meeting old school friends and taking a trip down memory lane.”
It is expected that old photographs and other items chronicling the past 40 years will be on display in the school for people to look at.