THIRTY years after he walked through the doors of St Finnachta’s National School for the very first time, Dick O’Connell will see out his years in the teaching profession as the Sixmilebridge school principal.
Vice-principal for the past few years, Dick O’Connell was elevated to the top post after his predecessor, Ray McInerney accepted a similar position at Ennis National School.
While both his parents came from Skibereen in West Cork, Dick was born in Wexford. His first teaching post was in Youghal CBS where he taught for four and a half years before being appointed in February, 1979 by the late Jim Bradley as the eighth assistant teacher in Sixmilebridge.
Interestingly, he is the only one left in the school of the nine, three of whom are deceased – Jim Bradley, Mary Bailey and Ita Hassett. The other five have since retired from teaching.
After spending 35 years teaching in a classroom, he feels it is time for a new challenge.
“The challenge will be considerable over the next few years with the population explosion in the parish. But with the continued support of the staff, pupils, parents, board of management and the wider community of Sixmilebridge, I have no doubt that the challenge will be met.
“The prospect of our completely new school building, which is stalled at the moment, will be the spur for all of us to rise to the challenge,” he admits.
Currently, there are 375 pupils, 20 teachers and five ancillary staff in St Finnachta’s National School. At the moment, there are more children in pre-fabricated buildings than in the main building.
“Eight of the 15 classes are accommodated in pre-fabricated classrooms. This poses all sorts of problems but we are coping as best we can due to the co-operation of staff, parents and pupils,” he acknowledges.
Dick has seen many changes physically in the school and the village over the last 30 years. However, it is the many wonderful people he worked with in the school and the people of Sixmilebridge and the pupils who have come through the school, which provides him with his fondest memories.
“I feel energised and inspired by the enthusiasm and dedication of all the present staff in the school. I hope to repay the trust put in me by the board of management and continue with the great work in the school by my predecessors and, most recently, Ray McInerney,” he adds.
Dick O’Connell lives in Ennis with his wife, Noreen and family.