Following a family tradition of teaching and lifelong learning

I look upon my grandmother’s teaching certificate with gratitude

My grandmother, Mary Katherine Duffy, qualified as a teacher in 1915 . . . Her certificate has been a constant in my home.

My grandmother, Mary Katherine Duffy, qualified as a teacher in 1915 . . . Her certificate has been a constant in my home.

 

My grandmother, Mary Katherine Duffy of Drumalish, Co Monaghan, qualified as a teacher in 1915. Evidently she was a good student as she was awarded a king’s scholarship upon finishing her studies. Her certificate has been a constant in my home. Teaching was in her DNA, her two sisters were teaching nuns in Mount Lourdes convent in Enniskillen. I inherited my Christian name from one of them, Mother Enda. In my middle-age angst I cringe as I remember singing, as a four year old, How much is that doggie in the window? to a class of bemused pupils in the convent when visiting my great aunts.

Grandmother became principal of a primary school in Co Tyrone where she met my grandfather. The marriage bar meant that she had to give up teaching to raise five daughters and three sons. Even when the bar was rescinded and she returned to teaching, she was unable to live above her husband’s public house and she resorted to renting a house for her family. As a teenager I remember her, in her 60s, spending her summers on courses on how children learn and special needs. For me she embodied the concept of lifelong learning.

Vocation

One of her daughters, aunt Jane, entered the Mercy nuns at 15 years of age and became the founder and first principal of St Fanchea’s high school in Fermanagh. My mother flirted with teaching and it was only, during a temporary post, when she had to teach her challenging younger sister, that she realised she didn’t have the vocation.

Despite her personal aversion to teaching, my mother always told us to become teachers, as it was a steady job with good holidays. Of five children, four took her advice. None of us took her supplementary advice to marry teachers. I had the privilege of being principal of two secondary schools, St Brigid’s high school, Armagh and St Joseph’s grammar school, Donaghmore in Co Tyrone. I set up and developed an Irish medium stream in St Joseph’s. About 250 children are receiving an excellent education as Gaeilge in the school and recently, thanks to the expertise of my successors, it was recognised for the second year, in a row, as the best Irish medium education school in Northern Ireland. It is only now that I have the confidence to admit that the only examination that I ever failed was O-Level Irish.

I now look upon my grandmother’s certificate with gratitude.

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