St Orans Celebrate 25 Year Anniversary
St Orans National School in Cockhill are celebrating their twenty-five year anniversary with a mass on Thursday 2nd April at Cockhill Chapel at 7.30 followed by a get together in the community hall. All are welcome, particularly past pupils and parents and it will be a great opportunity for a trip down memory lane. There will be a display of old memorabilia and photos as well as refreshments on offer and no doubt plenty of stories and craic.
St Orans National School opened its doors on the 4th April 1984 and Master Michael McNelis, who was the principal at the time, remembers the excitement of the big move from St Mary’s School (now the Youth Club).
“Jim Sheridan was down at the old school with a tractor and trailer, supervising getting all the old stuff out, while I was up at the new school, supervising everything in the new class rooms.” Master McNelis is in fine reminiscing form.
“The children were very excited about moving into this big new building, though some of the wee ones were a bit nervous. I remember a couple of days after the big move, I found some infants in the hall crying. When I asked them what was the matter, they just looked up at me with trembling bottom lips…’We’re lost’ they cried.”
Master McNelis, originally from Glencolmcille had come from St Orans School in Sleadrin to St Mary’s in Cockhill in 1971 bringing 28 children with him. It was a time when the Government policy was to amalgamate schools, closing down the smaller ones. It wasn’t long before St Mary’s was also too small and there was talk of building a new school, but the planning process was long and drawn out.
At this stage St Mary’s School was bursting at the seams. It was a 4-room school with 160 pupils, so they were using 3 pre-fabs and the upstairs room in the chapel for classrooms.
Meanwhile the school was fundraising like crazy and they bought land from one of the teacher’s, Mary McKinny’s, father. By October 1982, they finally had the go ahead from the government and in the end Mr Hanson, the contractor, put up the school, very quickly.
It was decided to call the new school St Orans’ after the school that had been closed at Sleadrin and to make a distinction from St Marys. (Saint Oran was from Donegal and a companion of St Columba).
One of the features of the new school was the community hall. “We decided to make the general purpose room bigger so it could be used as a community hall” Michael explains “and it was well used. There were great plays put on there in its day.”
Plays were not the only entertainment that centred around the school; sport particularly football and gaelic were popular, there was an annual sports day, cycle tours all over Inishowen and of course preparations for the St Patrick’s day parade.
The pupil numbers continued to expand, with probably the biggest influx being when 50 new children started with the new Crana View estate being built.
Margaret Keller, the acting vice principal, has been connected to the school for a long time. Originally a pupil at St Mary’s, she came back there as a teacher not long after finishing her college teacher training. She is one of the original teachers who moved to St Oran’s and is still happy to be teaching at the school.
“There was great excitement when we moved in,” she explains “It was a lovely bright building, the classrooms were big with running water and toilets and we had great space outside too with the new playground.”
Margaret, who is now teaching the children of parents she had taught in the past, really appreciates the wonderful community spirit that is part of the tradition of the school.
“There is a great feeling of warmth here. It really is lovely. Every-one helps out. There is great involvement from children, parents and grandparents too. They help out in all sorts of ways, from serving on the parents committee, to fundraising, making teas and baking for events such as the mass on Thursday and confirmations and attending school trips.”
One change that Margaret, who teaches senior infants, has seen over the years is the increase in different cultures attending the school. “We are seeing pupils from various countries coming here and it adds to the richness of our community. We have had pupils from Ghana, Poland and Romania and it is great to learn about each others traditions, for example at Christmas.”
St Oran’s National School is proud to have strong roots in educating the local youth and will no doubt continue to be a vibrant focus for the local community in years to come.