President takes trip down memory lane


When Paddy Leneghan went back to school after 70 years yesterday, his daughter Mary predictably stole the show.

When Paddy Leneghan went back to school after 70 years yesterday, his daughter Mary predictably stole the show.

Paddy is a past pupil of Woodbrook National School, built in the shadow of the Arigna and Sliabh an Iarainn mountains on the Roscommon/Leitrim border 150 years ago.

As pupils, teachers and past pupils celebrated the 150th anniversary in glorious sunshine yesterday, Mr Leneghan surveyed the fuss being made of the guest of honour, his daughter President Mary McAleese, and remarked: "You never know what is ahead of you."

He lived a stone's throw from the school in the parish of Croghan and recalled happily that unusually for a pupil of the 1930s, "I never got slapped". The school, which was built in 1857 by Major James Kirkwood of nearby Woodbrook House for his tenants' children, now has just 31 pupils .

"You are a small school but you do big things," remarked the President, as she listed off the awards the school has won.

She told the children that their future was somewhat different to the bleak outlook many faced when the school was built towards the end of the Famine.

It was hard to believe that someone had started to build a school at this dreadful time, when bodies would have been left lying dead on the road close to the nearby graveyard at Ardcarne, she said.

She pointed out that over the generations many of those who had left the parish for California, London or Australia had dreamed of their children and grandchildren going to school in this beautiful setting.

"Maybe in another life I might have gone to school here," said the President, as she recalled the many times she had sneaked into the schoolyard to play while on holidays with her father's family.

Local man Séamus Butler recalled the President as a little girl when, during holiday visits to the area, "her greatest ambition was to get on Connie McGreevy's horse and cart".

The President dropped into Cootehall to unveil a memorial to her late friend Canon Henry Tonra, a much-loved local historian who was parish priest of Ardcarne. She recalled, much to the amusement of Bishop Christy Jones of Elphin, that her friend used to give her "gardening rather than ecclesiastical advice" and that he had once urged her to steal slips from the neighbours' Bramley trees.

She didn't do it, apparently on the basis that if she was caught stealing, it would not look any better if she said the parish priest had put her up to it.