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150 years remembered at Coláiste open day

AN opportunity to witness 150 years of history in Ennis awaits visitors to Coláiste Muire’s open day next weekend.
The school was founded by the Sisters of Mercy back in September 1860 and over the years, the school has gone on to educate generations of girls from throughout the county. On Sunday, May 8, as part of their 150th anniversary celebrations, an exhibition of photographs documenting the school’s past, along with other displays relating to the school’s history, will feature as part of an open day from 2pm to 5pm.
Jean Pound school principal said, “This is a very special year for Coláiste Muire Ennis. It’s a huge landmark to think that the school is still here after all these years and while society may have changed from when the school first started, the basic ethos of the school and the importance of education is still the same. Several generations of families have been educated in the Coláiste.
“When you think back to the time when the school started, society was so different. It was a different time, a different Ireland; a very different landscape politically and economically. There was famine, hunger, disease and abject poverty. Yet against this backdrop, the Sisters of Mercy courageously acknowledging the importance of education, in particular the education of young girls, set up their new secondary school.”
According to Ms Pound, the school has seen much expansion over the years, with the last phase completed in 2004. To mark that event the Sisters of Mercy donated a stained glass panel by Mayer of Germany called ‘Feed the Hungry’ a corporal work of Mercy.
“Since 1860, staff members have met the hunger for learning, culture and spirituality in those they have welcomed to Coláiste Muire,” she said.
She explained that the school has been preparing anniversary celebrations, including the open day and a concert in Dánlann an Chláir, for much of the school year.
“We’ve been planning this for a long time and have a sub-committee in place. A lot of work has gone into the open day, with plans for the exhibition in place for months. We put out a call on our website and members of staff set up a facebook page to see if we could get some photographs of the school’s past and we were absolutely delighted with the response that we got. We have photographs going right back to the early ’30s and members of staff and students have been scanning literally thousands of photographs. We have students here whose mothers and grannies would have gone to the Coláiste and many photographs were dropped into us.”
The exhibition will showcase different decades in the life of the school, from the 1930s to the present day. “These photographs are a real social history as much as an educational history. When you look at these photographs and you see the different clothes for the different eras and the activities, for instance we have early photographs of students playing hockey wearing full, long skirts. What’s really amazing is that there are photographs where the students are doing the same activities in different eras and you really see the change in their hairstyles and clothes. And of course, the nuns in their full habit. It’s great to have these photographs collected as a future reference, not just for the open day so that there will be something for future generations to remember.”
Other items on display at the open day will be documents showing what girls had to bring to the convent, anecdotes from past pupils and school registers among other materials.
“In reading about the foundation in the annals, it is remarkable that among their first purchases were two pianos and a variety of scientific equipment, displaying the interest and insight into education in music, the arts and at the same time in the sciences. The school continues to promote the importance of all kinds of music, classical and traditional, while still excelling in the sciences.”
In the early 1900s, the school grew and expanded as the only school for girls in the area until the late 1990s. The boarding school took girls from the locality and throughout the country before it closed in 1984.
Many of those who attended the boarding school have contributed stories of their time in the school. The old boarding school, St Mary’s Hall, will be open for the day and there are plans to open a room in ClareCare, which was also part of the school at one time.
“We expect that a lot of past pupils will come back to the school on the day and that they would like to see where they were in class. There will be lots for people to see, and it will also be a chance to maybe catch up with some old school friends.”
As well as looking to the school’s past, the open day will also focus on the Coláiste’s present. Slide shows will showcase what the current students are achieving, while pupils will also be performing music on the day.
While the open day may be of particular interest to former pupils, according to Ms Pound, there is something for everyone on the day. “This really is a community day for everyone. People who went to school here might have a special interest but the school has always been a part of the wider community and anyone who would like to come along and see the school is welcome.”
Also as part of the anniversary celebrations, a special concert will take place on Saturday, May 7 in Dánlann an Chláir. The concert will feature the school choir and orchestra together with a number of past pupils as they perform Vivaldi’s Gloria. “The school is full of music of all types but this is a really celebratory piece so we thought it would be appropriate. Rehearsals have been going very well and everyone has been working really hard for this performance,” said Ms Pound.

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