Teaching nun with a rare mastery of educational policy

Eileen Randles: April 26th, 1937 - December 5th, 2015


Sr Eileen Randles, who has died aged 78, was one of the most active and formidable advocates in Irish education.

Born in Kenmare, Co Kerry in April 1937 – the third daughter of Tom and Nora Randles (née Healy), she attended secondary school at Loreto Convent, Killarney from 1949 to 1954.

She entered the Loreto Order in September 1954 and was a committed member of the Loreto family for over 60 years.

While still in her 20s, she was appointed principal of Loreto Secondary School, Wexford and subsequently of Loreto High School, Beaufort, Rathfarnham.

In the early 1970s she completed a master’s degree at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth and her thesis “Post-Primary Education in Ireland 1957- 1970” was published by Veritas in 1975.

She was appointed to the Dublin diocesan education secretariat in 1979 and was head of the secretariat from 1981 to 1985. She was general secretary of the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA) from 1992 to 2002.

In subsequent years, she was president of Mater Dei Institute of Education; secretary to the Episcopal Education Committee; a member of the education commission of CORI (the Conference of Religious of Ireland); vice-president of the joint managerial body and a member of the executive committee and trustee of the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools.

Educational governance

She had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Irish system of education and was an expert on Irish educational policy. When she was general secretary of the CPSMA, she compiled a compendium of departmental rules and circulars which was published as a regularly updated handbook for boards of management of national schools and which has become the definitive guide for boards of management of all persuasions.

She knew more about the legal and administrative basis of the Irish education system than any civil servant, and at times, during negotiations with the Department of Education, she got a quiet satisfaction out of confounding the official side with her superior grasp of departmental rules.

She didn’t suffer fools gladly and but she respected those who differed from her provided that they knew what they were talking about.

Church control

In the 1980s, she was involved in the negotiation of the deeds of trust of community schools. In the following decade she contributed to the development of the deeds of trust and the model agreements of the so-called “designated Community Colleges” under the Vocational Educational Committees (now Education and Training Boards). She played a major part in negotiating the deeds of variation for national schools after the Education Act was passed in 1998.

Her sometimes forbidding demeanour belied her generosity and kindness: she was always willing to advise on matters of educational policy and to share her expertise, even with those with whom she disagreed.

She was an invaluable ally and a formidable adversary and was one of the great figureheads of 20th century Irish education – an outstanding female role model and leader.

At her funeral Mass in Foxrock church, her colleague and friend Msgr Dan O’Connor read out her final message to the world of education. Her illness had been short – but she found time to write out what she wanted him to say.

Her message was concise and pithy - in bullet point style as was her wont; to use her own phrase, she had no time for people who “talked in paragraphs”.

She had a short list of those whom she asked to pray for her. The first on the list was the Irish National Teachers Organisation. It may well have been the first time in history that a trade union was asked to pray for a dying nun!

Sr Eileen Randles will be greatly missed by her Loreto family, sisters Kay and Peggie, brother-in-law Michael, nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews, relatives and friends.