THIRTY-NINE years after sitting their Leaving Certificate at the Convent of Mercy in Kilrush, the class of 1974 will reunite on Saturday night in Tubridy’s, Doonbeg.
Fifty-three girls were in the class that entered the secondary school system in 1969. At the time, Kilrush had three secondary schools, with the CBS and vocational school operating until the early 1990s.
Ailish Lorigan (née Lillis), originally from Cooraclare and Mary Kelly (née Culligan), originally from Killimer, have been working the phones recently, putting the reunion event together. They have a bit of experience in this regard, as this will be the class’ third reunion. They decided that the year of The Gathering was opportune for their latest get-together.
Ailish travelled to secondary school from Cooraclare and remembers bus transport made education more accessible at the time.
“Believe it or not, people in our class came from Lissycasey to Loop Head. They came from Kildysart, Kilmihil, Cooraclare, Coolmeen, Killimer and Kilmurry McMahon. There was also quite a few boarders from back the west,” Ailish, who has taught at Burrane National School for 35 years, recalled.
Mary retired last year after a 33-year stint teaching geography and Irish at St Michael’s Community College in Kilmihil.
“All our education was through Irish up to fifth year. Including Latin and Spanish,” Mary said of her secondary-school years in Kilrush.
“Thirteen of the class went on to teaching. Ten went to UCG, as it was then and nine went nursing. Forty percent of the class went teaching or nursing. We had one or two guards. The other option then was the Civil Service and one went into the bank,” Mary added, before noting there were a fair few Marys and Máires in the class.
“I think I counted 22 Marys, including two Mary Murphys,” she said.
About six of the class currently live abroad, while Ailish and Mary said just one of their classmates, Maireád Keating, emigrated after the 1974 Leaving Certificate.
“We were talking to Mairéad last week. She emigrated the morning after the Leaving Cert. She stayed for 20 years in New York and raised her family there. She now has children aged 37 and 38. She came home 10 years ago and opened up a restaurant in Dingle. Now she’s retired to Clarecastle,” Ailish said.
It doesn’t sound thrill-a-minute these days but Ailish and Mary couldn’t wait for the annual retreat while at school.
“It was the highlight of the year. We used to go down two or three times a day to the church in Kilrush praying. Can you imagine that now? That was the highlight of the year for us every October because we got out of the class,” Mary laughed.
“You’d be so looking forward to it. If you tried to explain that to the likes of my Diarmuid [her son], he’d be looking at you. He wouldn’t have a clue. Times have changed,” Ailish reflected.
Both feel the nuns had good qualities but say educational methods have since altered radically. “The nuns did instil a strong work ethic in us,” Mary said.
“As regards education, all of this learning off, when I think of the futility of it now. I’d love to know if I went back again, how would I do now?” Ailish queried.
“We wouldn’t survive. It was a narrow education. We were crammed with information. We regurgitated it in exams. We had no idea of what a Leaving Cert exam paper looked like compared to now. We had mocks but we could have been handed anything. Now they know every question and how much time to spend on it. We didn’t even know how long the exam was,” Mary said.
“Some of us held the information until the day of the exam or maybe the day after. The 20% who didn’t do well in exams, forgot it the day before the exams. That was the only difference,” Ailish believes.
Going down town in Kilrush broke the monotony for Mary and Ailish at lunchtime.
“We’d congregate around the corner shop and then we’d walk aimlessly around the town,” Ailish laughed.
“We used to go to Lynch’s café,” is Mary’s recollection. The now-closed café was located in Kilrush town square.
“It was six pence for a cup of tea,” Ailish recalled.
Basketball was the only sport available at the convent. “That was the main sport. It was the only game we had,” Mary said.
“I really regret we never got an opportunity to play ladies’ football. We got very few opportunities as regards sport,” Ailish noted.
Both reluctantly acknowledge they are racking up the years at an alarming rate. “Time is flying. We’re all heading towards our 60th birthdays,” Ailish lamented.
“The day of the reunion, the beauticians and hairdressers of West Clare will be run off their feet,” she predicted.
“Enough of that Ailish. Don’t put down any numbers or dates. Keep it all very vague,” Mary advised.
For more details on this weekend’s reunion, contact 086 1624664 or 087 7646885.