Thursday last was a huge day in the life of the Ursuline Secondary School in Thurles for a number of reasons - principle amongst them, the visit of An Taoiseach Enda Kenny to present the David Molony medal.
The late former TD and Seantor was a good friend and party colleague of Mr Kenny, and when the invitation came from Eve Molony to present the medal as the 10th anniversary of his passing approaches, the Taoiseach moved mountains to be in attendance.
“It is great to be in Thurles today. And it is a particular pleasure for me to join with the staff, pupils, and friends of the Ursuline Secondary School for this celebration of talent, commitment and achievement in debating and the performing arts. This is also an occasion on which we pause to reflect on the life of my former party colleague, the late David Molony. David was a highly valued and respected member of the Dáil and Seanad. He was imaginative. He was frank, an eloquent speaker, a courageous doer and an able legislator. He left a legacy of social progress to his community and we remember him with fondness and esteem.
“David’s personal qualities as a public representative made him a great role model for our youth. And, as a marvellous public speaker, it is fitting to remember him through a special award recognising students’ achievements in public speaking, debating and the performing arts,” said Mr Kenny who had a special word for Eve Molony and her sons Conor and Patrick who were also present. The medal went to Fiona O’Sullivan who displayed excellence in the performing arts and in public speaking.
The day was also one of celebration for the Ursulines on a number of spheres. The sixth years were completing their final day in the school before tackling the Leaving Cert; the annual prizegiving took place; and five members of staff, including Principal Sr Berchmans, were honoured as they retired. Helen Quinlan, David Morris, Mae Quinn, and Annette Kelly have all retired are a huge loss to the teaching staff in the school.
It was a special day for Mae Quinn, former Thurles Town and North Tipperary County Councillor, and long time member of Fine Gael. She greeted the Taoiseach when he arrived at the school before the Students Council performed a Guard of Honour. It was high fives all the way as Mr Kenny processed through the students to the stage, with the Chamber Choir and the Cecilian Choir welcoming the country’s leader.
Sr Berchmans described it as an honour and privilege to welcome An Taoiseach, while Mae Quinn paid tribute to Mr Kenny and said that he had taken a borken party and turned it into a party of power. She hoped that he can do the same “with this broken country of ours.”
Mr Kenny received a rousing welcome and in his address to the school body he spoke of the long history of dedication to the educational and holistic development of generations of girls provided in the Ursuline.
“It is now 225 years since Sr. Anastasia Tobin first brought the light of learning to local Catholic girls here in Thurles. With a backdrop of penal laws, social turbulence and poverty, this took enormous courage, vision and faith on her part. But she succeeded. Amongst your many activities here are public speaking and the performing arts, with a particular focus on music. The St. Angela’s Academy is a shining example of commitment to the performing arts with its dedication to the promotion of musical accomplishment. Your participation and successes in public speaking competitions is also noteworthy and commendab le.
“In the modern world of high speed communication and social networking, there is the capacity to reach and engage more people than ever before. Yet, public speaking remains as much an art form as it was in the days when Edmund Burke, Daniel O’Connell or Charles Stewart Parnell were captivating their audiences with the passion and eloquence of their oratory. In today’s world, participation in public speaking still offers tremendous benefits for young people – not least in terms both of building confidence and imparting knowledge. And because you will ultimately shape our future, it is important that you can communicate effectively on issues that concern not just yourselves but the wider community as well as your country. Public speaking is also important to many careers and professions these days from business to the public service, HR, PR and not least to politics,” he said.
Mr Kenny said that the performing arts and public speaking have much in common. For one – there’s a lot of preparation, he said, and he added that there is also a lot of practice involved. They each require creativity, flair and focus. “You get just one chance to perform – if you hit the wrong key or chord in your RIAM exams for example – you cannot simply start your piece again,” he said.
He continued, “But public speakers aren’t born! They are made. It is a skill that, like so many others, has to be nurtured and encouraged. And you certainly get plenty of that here. The development of those skills, along with your other activities and academic work will help you each to realise your full potential, and ultimately empower you to become active participants in our democratic society. So, I commend all of you assembled here who have worked so hard, preparing, participating and training. But the environment here has also been ideal thanks to the very talented and committed team of teachers which is at the core of the success of the Ursuline Secondary School. Working together as a team, they have equipped you with the skills, confidence and qualities to help you to be your best and to ultimately build a better Ireland. I have no doubt the teaching team here will continue to respond to our continually changing world in a similarly innovative manner,” he said.
Mr Kenny had a very special message for Sr Berchmans who earlier had been given a very touching send-off by the students. Indeed, it was quite an emotional occasion for the Principal of the last three decades, almost, and it was a fitting tribute to have the leader of the country to see her off.
“Sr. Berchmans has been a leading light in this school and I would like to thank her for enriching it with her vigour, energy and remarkable commitment to each of the girls who have studied under her stewardship over the past three decades. She has been unwavering in her loyalty to the vision of St. Angela Merici - the foundress of the Ursuline Order and is a credit to the Order. I am sure you will all join with me in wishing Sr. Berchmans a long and happy retirement,” Mr Kenny said.
Eve Molony described the day as being a “truly wonderful” one. She was overwhelmed by the Taoiseach’s generosity of spirit in attending the event despite his hectic and punishing schedule. She recalled her first days in Thurles as a ‘city slicker’ having married David Molony and said that she came to love the town. “Ask my boys and they will you that I am at my happiest in Thurles,” she said, adding that the people of the town and the fabulous schools are second to none.
Mr Kenny, noted the new school extenstion, as he visited the staffroom and mingled with students and staff alike. He posed for photos, waved and acknowledged the wonderful achievements of the Ursulines during his visit. He was accompanied by Aide de Camp, Comdt. Micheal Treacy - a Thurles man, born and living.
The brilliant sunshine had put a smile on everyones face, but the effervescence of An Taoiseach and his ease with all present, had left a very warm glow on what was a memorable day for the Uruslines in Thurles.