Tom Meaney’s speech on the History of Millstreet Community School

2013-10-09 Tom Meaney speaks at the Millstreet Community School 40th Anniversary CelebrationsChairman, Rev Fathers, Sisters, I’m very privileged to be with you here to celebrate the 40th anniversary of a successful Millstreet Community School. The years roll by and Ken (Brennan) has gone over all the problems and all the ups and downs which he went through and finally succeeded with the school as it established. But, I want to take you back further, and indeed it was a hard act to follow, and i’m trying to follow Ken. Prior to the 60s there was talk of change in education in Ireland. and it really took head in the middle of the 1960s, when there were many people in favour of changing the system, especially of secondary education. And, then they were talking about community schools, comprehensive schools, others were talking that they were a shame, that they’d be this and that as Ken explained. And, it finally came to a head in the late 60s when decisions had to be made. Attitudes were divided, politicians were divided, parishes were divided, and we had here in Millstreet at that stage, three excellent schools: Coláiste Padraig, which was belonging to the Hickie Family, who were excellent, we had the Vocational School, Dan Murray was the principal there, the former great Cork footballer in the 1950s, and we had the Presentation Sisters School right beside the church. They had given great service to us.

So we listened attentively in the time I was in political business as well, and you could hear the different views on all sides of all parties, on whether there should be a new idea or not. Anyway, it came to a head, the department officials they pressed on and on finally the government of the day decided that we should have Community Schools, and Comprehensive Schools, and they carried out various surveys through the country. That was grand but where were they going to be, there will be trouble or there may not be trouble, there will be objections, there may not be objections, and anyway when they made out the list of designated areas to get schools, Millstreet was down at number 43. That sounded bery much like we weren’t going to get a school for a long time. We pondered over it locally, those of us who were involved in the town at that time in various things, and they came to the conclusion that there was a lot of oposition, and now was our time to strike for road because our chance may not come again, and we might never get a school, if we could get every to agree who was involved in education. There were local people who came together, Donal O’Connor, Sarah Dineen, Vincent McSweeney, I think of them off my heart, and we all agreed that we would set out our stall. They made out why Millstreet should get it, and they went around here to the management of the three schools: County Vocational Board were in favour, the Presentation Nuns were in favour, and fair play to the Hickie family, and we should give them credit here, they were in favour as well, that meant no opposition in the Millstreet area, if we went for our comprehensive school – we were on on the road headlong. They canvassed, Donal O’Connor had great contacts all over, He contacted department officials, and I was told to do it on the political side, you’re in the government side do your business and get a school for it. I canvassed him as well, the minister of the day was Padraig Faulkner, a Tipperary man and I was bringing it across to him very hard. But there is one person who is never mentioned, who played a great part in getting a community school here and that was Sr. Assisi in the Presentation Convent, because it was her brother Seán McGearailt who was the secretary of the Department of Education, and she lobbied him too. Lobbying that time didn’t mean big money like you hear about now, it meant constantly seeing after these people. Finally it was put to the department and it took them some time to come back, and one morning i was asked to come into the ministers office, he wants to see you. Says I, i’m in some trouble, because I was always in some trouble, anyway I went in and Seán McGearailt and himself were sitting down inside, and he said “look, there are objections all over the place to Community and Comprehensive Schools, and in Millstreet everyone seems to agree 100%, we have moved you from 43rd to 6th position, that was a very big jump, that was a jump that a community working together forgetting their differences whatever they were, had fought a case and we were now in the top list. I reckon i meant at this stage “You know minister, you might as well sign it now as we’re  here” and i suppose he was willing enough and he there and then sanctioned the Community School for Millstreet. I announced it and conveyed the news and everybody locally was delighted.

History moved on, and land was acquired which went down a long ways, and the school was built, and i think now Ken, there was different talk about tou before you came to Millstreet. Interviews went on to see as to who would be the principal. And then there was a nice man seen around the town, he was seen three or four times around the town, never seen before in Millstreet. One lady said to me “Tom, there’s a new man and surely be to God he’ll be the principal”, says I “what is he like, is he tall”, yerragh “no” says she, “but he’s lovely looking”, and we were lucky enough that that man turned out to be Ken Brennan, and he was appointed the principal.

He set about as he explained to you, and was c???? with him to establish the school here. it was the first school in Ireland that three other schools closed down, three schools that had given valuable service to the area, and agreed to be closed down and be formed into one school, so we were on the road. The rest is history of the forty years. Millstreet Community School, I would go further than from the academic side. It has played a large part in the community here, the school is always available, and anyone that would go to king and later cat (??), that wanted it ofr a worthwhile business or whatever performance they would put on, it was available for them. The school helped in many ways on matters locally which went on the national airwaves, the television both nationally and internationally, thus it played its full part in the development of being a community school. Times were hard as Ken recalled in the 80s. They were so hard that the road here going up to the school which was not a public road at that time,  and the road below where the busses go was not a public road and we had to repair them, and I remember well at the parents committee, Timmy Connors of Dooneen bring up his tractor and trailer, and panning gravel and filling the potholes, but the community were willing to do it. We had a great parents organisation here down the years, and we had great caretakers as well, and they all contributed. We ran out of money if you remember Ken, for to pay a teacher that was about to be taken off the list in the 80s and we went around to the parents, and it was a lot of money that time – £25 a head and we could retain the teacher, and 100% paid up, that was a tribute for a community that was working together.  Now i will say that children from Millstreet School have gone all over the world, and no matter where they are, they can say that the years that they spent here, studying, learning, and being educated here has stood to them well, no matter where they are at the moment. Times will always move on but if communities don’t work together, they will get nothing. Remember how the school came, they were arguments, and it was often said while others dithered, Millstreet prospered. We can go on about all these things, but tonight is a very joyous night for everybody, there is no douby about that. And I would like as well to congratulate Pat and his staff, Derry and all, their students and their successes of this year. It was great and the community owe it to the school as well that it be at the very top. It just came into my head community again, we had a new act in 1979 when Noel C. was starting up the horse here and was going to have a big equestrian centre. Everybody was low. He was involved bery much in the school, they helping each other across. We remember 1979 when the great Eddie Macken came with Boomerang, that worldwide horse, and there was jumping in the local park. We turn the table around and here is Noel C’s empire here and this beautiful place he made available for tonights function. That is what is meant by working together for survival in rural Ireland. I thank the people that involved and organised this function tonight, and all I can say from everybody, success to Millstreet School and may the good Lord bless everybody that passes through its doors. Thank you.



photos by Seán Radley:

you can see the speech on LTV Programme 223 from a couple of weeks ago (from 16mins 15seconds):


3 thoughts on “Tom Meaney’s speech on the History of Millstreet Community School”

  1. I have just listened to Tom Meaney speaking at the 40th anniversary of the community school and found it powerful. All my best to former and present staff there and the wonderful years spent under Mr. Brennan. I am proud of where I come from and will always have fond memories of Millstreet where ever I may be.

    Wishing a happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year to family and friends.

    Thank you. Betty Cremin.

    P.s. can you let me know if Tom was or is he still a local counciller.

    1. No, he hasn’t been involved since his retirement from politics at the November 1982 general election, but remains active with the local Fianna Fáil cumann.

  2. Michael,

    Many thanks for the information with regards Tom Meaney. All the best to you and yours for Christmas and the New Year.


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