St Conleth’s College Celebrates 75 years

Ms Shepard and Mr Kelliher cut the cake. Photo by Maria Shields O’Kelly.

Ms Shepard and Mr Kelliher cut the cake. Photo by Maria Shields O’Kelly.

St. Conleth’s College, Ballsbridge celebrated its 75th anniversary in style this September. The diamond celebration took in several events that stretched over the entire month.

The school initially opened in 1939, on the day that Germany declared war on Poland, leading to the outbreak of World War Two. It was founded by Bernard Sheppard at number 17, Clyde Road, but was moved to its current address of number 28 in 1940.

NewsFour was present at the school’s anniversary assembly on September 4th, which featured speeches by current staff and past pupils alike.

Principal Donal O’Dulaing welcomed the pupils back from their summer holidays and elaborated on the history of the school and its founder, who he believes would be proud of the school’s development and commitment to tradition. “The school and its values have remained constant throughout,” O’Dulaing told the assembly.

A special school tie was also presented to Kevin D. Kelleher, in honour of his many decades of service to the school. Kelleher had been headmaster of St. Conleth’s for more than 40 of his 66 years with the school.

Pat Murphy, principal of the junior school, spoke of his pride in the achievements of the school’s pupils over the years and reminisced about how far the school has come from its humble beginnings.

“St. Conleth’s has come a long, long way,” Murphy said. “We are all incredibly proud of you; we can’t sing your praises highly enough. You are writing yourselves into the history book that is St Conleth’s.” Prayers were also said for all of the former staff of St. Conleth’s who are now deceased, and to wish success for another 75 years.

A speech was also presented by Pembroke – South Dock councillor Frank Kennedy, a past pupil of the school. A day of speeches, cake and balloons was then finished off by a visit from the ice cream van!

St. Conleth’s College truly has come a long way since that historically significant date in September 1939, a day that actually saw the sons of both the German and Polish ambassadors attend the unveiling of the school. The current roll call of 380 students is a far cry from the school’s embryonic stage when St. Conleth’s opened with a total of 10 pupils.

The property was originally purchased for a modest fee of around £3,000, a comparative bargain, even in those days. The sleek cars of today would probably seem worlds away to the students of the school in its early years, with the outbreak of war meaning a lot less cars on the road and more students travelling to the school on foot.

The school was comprised of only boys until the introduction of girls in fifth and sixth year in 1975, a structural change that has persisted to this day. The school has a strong tradition of rugby and fencing, a fact exemplified by the success of Irish fencer John Bouchier-Hayes, a former Irish fencer and Conleth’s pupil who represented Ireland at the 1964, 1968 and 1972 Summer Olympics.

St. Conleth’s also has an illustrious debating tradition, with recent successes including a victory in the 2008 Denny’s All Ireland Schools Debating Championship. Three Conlethians also represented Team Ireland at the World Schools Debating Championship in Bangkok, Thailand.

It is also one of only 20 lay Catholic schools still operating and thriving in the country, with similar local schools such as Sandymount High School and Pembroke School shutting their doors in recent years. Other events in the anniversary calendar for St. Conleth’s included a gala dinner held in the school on September 27th, with a Mass conducted by Father Michael Drumm in St. Mary’s Church on Haddington Road.

NewsFour sat down to chat to Kevin D. Kelleher and Ann Sheppard, Director of Development for the school, and daughter of founder Bernard Sheppard, about the anniversary itinerary and the involvement of parents and pupils, past and present.

“The parents will be at the gala dinner,” Sheppard told NewsFour. “We have a very active parents’ association. They’ll be involved with the planning for the year. We’re proud of all of our pupils.”

Kelleher spoke at length about St. Conleth’s history of economic self-preservation, surviving and thriving despite the school never being the recipient of any capital grants from the state. The school has also had a small quota of teachers on increments during this time. Looking to the next 75 years, he told NewsFour what was necessary for the school’s continued success.

“We have a real cross-section here, and our focus is on getting students into third-level education. What we want is to survive as we are; we don’t want to get any bigger. It’s very important that we remain viable.”

By Craig Kinsella