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St Joseph's NS Mardyke, Cork


St Joseph’s School Mardyke Cork:

Looking Towards the Centenary.

J Matthew Feheney fpm


In another article in a previous volume (Presentation Studies, 2006), I have discussed the contribution to education in Cork city of the Lancasterian School, which was the predecessor of St Joseph’s School, Mardyke. In this article, I would like to take a general look at the history of St Joseph’s school, pointing out areas which deserve more detailed consideration later, when, one hopes, a commemorative history of the school will be compiled to mark its centenary in 2013.

School Catchment Area

Like the ‘Lancs’ before it, St Joseph’s school was intended to serve the school-going population of the Middle Parish. The school catchment area extended from the North Gate bridge to the South Gate bridge and from Patrick’s bridge to end of the Mardyke. There were two other smaller schools in the parish also: St Peter and Paul’s and St Francis school. This area included the populous ‘Marsh’, extending from Washington Street to Bachelor’s Quay and comprising, among others, Anne St., James St., Hanover St., Broad St., Coach St., Henry St., Little Hanover St., Washington St., Hanover Place, Sheare’s Street, Grattan Street, Queen Place, Wandsfoot St., Cornmarket St., and other neighbouring streets.

It is difficult for us today to realise the size of the population in the area formerly known as the ‘Marsh’. We will give some figures to illustrate this point. In 1936 the number of people in Sheare’s Street (north side only) was 175, while the south side (nos. 1-23) had 230. The same year, Henry Street had 440, Coach St. 217, Little Hanover Street 80, Queen Place 135, Washington St. 362, Grattan Street 761, Bachelor’s Quay 516, Dyke Parade 194, Lancaster Quay 89, Mardyke Place (now site of UCC Granary theatre) 29 and Mardyke Street (location of Dr Con Murphy’s surgery) 48. In all, the area known as the ‘Marsh’ had a total population of 8,142 in the 1936 census. This was reduced to 6,493 by 1946. Today, even when augmented by the SHARE residential complex for elderly people, it is still only a fraction of this figure.

Slum Clearance

The Cork Town Planning Association was founded in 1922 and, with its foundation, came the first serious attempt to deal with the poor housing conditions in parts of the Middle parish, and specifically, the ‘Marsh’. In 1926 the Cork Town Planning Association produced a civic survey, which provided a template for Cork Corporation’s housing developments in Gurranabraher, Capwell and Turner’s Cross. Essentially, what happened then was that families, who had hitherto lived in the overcrowded housing conditions in places like the ‘Marsh’, got an option of moving to new corporation houses in places like Gurranabraher. Before this could get underway, however, there was a crisis in the Cork Corporation: it dissolved itself in 1924, after some unsavoury practices came to light following an investigation by the Cork Progressive Association in 1923. The late Philip Monahan, later Cork City Manager, was appointed to administer the city during the period of dissolution of the corporation.

In 1929, the Cork Corporation was reinstated, after the passing of the Cork City Management Act, which limited the number of councillors and entrusted executive powers to the Cork City Manager. To the then City Manager, Philip Monahan belongs the credit for initiating the housing schemes which eventually led to the clearing of Cork City’s slums. With this, however, also came a general exodus from the ‘Marsh’ area to the suburbs, which, eventually led to a significant change in the geographical area from which the pupils attending St Joseph’s school came. As time went by, these pupils came increasingly from the western suburbs and traveled to school by car with their parents.

Site of School

St Joseph’s school and ground now occupy part of what, in the 18th and 19th centuries were known as the ‘Rough Marshes’, lying along the southern bank of the northern channel of the river Lee. The first document to hand relating to this land is a copy of a conveyance dated 9 February, 1848, conveying the property from the (Church of Ireland) Ecclesiastical Commissioners of Ireland to William Horatio Crawford, one of the founders of the firm Beamish and Crawford. The property was conveyed to the firm Beamish and Crawford on 21 June, 1875, and to trustees of the Presentation Brothers on 11 December, 1912.  The building of the school began this year also.

The area of the present St Joseph’s school grounds far exceeds, however, the original site acquired from Beamish and Crawford in 1912. And the credit for this land creation must undoubtedly go to former Principal, Brother Angelus Fitzpatrick. During the latter’s second term as Principal, he began a scheme of dumping gravel, stones and earth from building sites around Cork city on the northern edge of the grounds along the river bank. Gradually, he straightened out the course of the river Lee, thereby adding hundreds of square feet, if not square yards, to the existing grounds. The area, thus reclaimed, now forms part of the nature reserve on the northern edge of the grounds of St Joseph’s.

Some Principals at St Joseph’s

Brother Declan O’Sullivan was Principal of the ‘Lancs’ at the time of its transfer to St Joseph’s School, Mardyke. A ‘late’ vocation, he was not only a trained teacher when he entered the Presentation Brothers in 1901, but he had also been Principal of Lisgoole National School for some sixteen years. In 1914, he was succeeded by Brother Justinian O’Sullivan (1865-1945) who was a charismatic figure in his own right. Justinian, a native of Athea, Co. Limerick, was some six feet in height and wore a beard. He was revered in Kinsale, where he spent many years as Principal. Justinian, in turn, was succeeded by Brother Bernard Murphy, a native of Meelin, Co. Cork, a great schoolman, who was Principal for sixteen years, 1916-1932. During part of this time, Bernard lived at Mount St Joseph, where he also held the post of Assistant to the Superior General. From 1932 to 1935 and 1937 to 1944 Brother Alphonso Mitchell was Principal. The latter was subsequently Principal of Presentation College (1945-51) and also Superior General of the Presentation Brothers (1951-57). Alphonso was a man of great administrative talent, with a gift for friendship. He was well-known in Cork city.

Brother Eugenius Dower, a native of Duagh, Co. Kerry, was Principal, 1935-36, and Brother Gilbert Boyle from 1936 to 1937. In retrospect, it is clear that during these years there was little stability in the leadership of St Joseph’s School. This is not to say that the individual Principals were not, in themselves, men of intellectual and administrative ability. Clearly, this was not so, for they went on from St Joseph’s to perform at a high level in other schools. Rather, the true reason was that these Principals were not left long enough, as was, for instance, Brother Bernard Murphy, to leave their mark on the school. Moreover, the fact that St Joseph’s (as we shall see below) was a ‘capitation’ school probably meant that, in practice, Principals showing administrative and managerial ability were soon transferred from there to other schools. It must also be remembered that the general practice, at the time, was to move religious teachers from one school to another approximately every six years. Today, Principals view this as both a healthy and a growth-promoting experience for the individual. It can lead to wider experience, provide new challenges and can prevent a teacher or Principal from resting on his/ her ‘laurels’. Today, however, opportunities for (lay) Principals to move from one school to another, while retaining their ‘post’ allowance, are less frequent, and, moreover, the matter of allowances for posts of responsibility is more complicated.

From 1945 to 1950 Brother Albertus O’Sullivan was Principal of St Joseph’s. After him came Brother Cronan Loughrey (1951-55), still happily with us. A full list of Principals at St Joseph’s School will be found at the end of this article.

Capitation status of St Joseph’s School

From the time of its opening in the Mardyke, St Joseph’s school was technically termed a ‘capitation’ school. This meant that the Presentation Brothers teaching there did not receive a salary from the Department of Education (as did the lay teachers), but, rather, the manager received a lump sum, based on the average attendance, out of which the Brothers received honoraria. The advantage of this classification to the Presentation Brothers was that the school could be used as a training school for young Brothers and there was no limit on the number of these that could be employed as teachers. Of course, to ensure that educational standards were maintained and that the requirements of Departmental inspectors were satisfied, there was always a number of highly efficient teachers in key classes in St Joseph’s. Officially, the untrained Brothers were classified as Junior Assistant Masters (popularly known as JAMs). They could teach in a primary school provided they had Leaving Certificate with honours in Irish. This arrangement continued until 1966, when the grade of JAM was abolished. Henceforth, all teachers had to hold a Teacher Training qualification to qualify for a salary.

The JAM was a relic of the British colonial period. When the Irish Free State was established in 1922, the department of education made a distinction between the JAMs, who qualified before 1921, and those who qualified after 1921, the former, for some strange reason, receiving £100 more per annum than the latter (Dail Debates, Vol. 131, 07 May, 1952, Vote 39). That there remained a significant number of JAMs up to a short period before the post was abolished is evident from figures provided by the minister of Education in 1964:

Numbers of Untrained Teachers (Dail Debates, Vol.207, 05 Feb., 1964, Questions).

Year                        Lay                                         Religious

1954                        2082                                        977

1960                        1823                                        825

1961                        1687                                        836

1962                        1618                                        836

1963                        1531                                        744

Before Universal Secondary Education

It will be remembered that before the introduction of universal free secondary education in Ireland by Donagh O’Malley in 1967, many of the pupils at St Joseph’s did not proceed to second level schooling. To meet the educational requirements of pupils who had completed sixth class and who wished to continue attending St Joseph’s, a seventh class was maintained in the school. The educational programme covered in this class would approximate to the level reached in second year in secondary school in the subjects English, Irish, history, geography and mathematics. As a rule, however, no foreign languages were taught. Some of the students in this class sat for and won Cork Corporation and Cork County Council scholarships and others prepared for Post Office places, apprenticeships and other similar positions. It is difficult for us today to realise the significance of these scholarships for students of that period. The scholarship opened up not only an education in a secondary school, but, sometimes, led to another scholarship to University or an attractive career in a profession of choice. No doubt, both students and teachers had to work hard for these scholarships: they were awarded on the results of a public examination and ‘perspiration’ was as necessary for success as was ‘inspiration’. As free secondary education became fully operational, however, the seventh class in primary schools was phased out and there was no longer a need for scholarships from primary to secondary schools.

Women in St Joseph’s School

Like other boys’ schools in Cork City, for many years, there were no lady teachers in St Joseph’s school. Women, of course, were always there, taking care of the cleaning and general ‘housekeeping’. In this connection, special mention must be made of Mrs O’Dwyer, who was caretaker for many years in the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s. Every morning, she walked from Blackpool to work at St Joseph’s. In the winter, when the weather was frosty and the streets slippery, she put stocking over her shoes to prevent her slipping, but she never missed a day. She was succeeded by Mrs McCarthy and then by Mrs Herlihy. Mrs Kelly came after these before the ageless Mrs Mary Blake took up the post. Mary Blake was there for 21 years (1958-79) and acted as surrogate mother for a whole generation of teachers and pupils.  Happily, she is still with us.

The first female teacher at St Joseph’s school seems to have been Mrs Angela Durkin, who taught there from 1958 to 1961. After here came Mrs Ita Floyd, who took over the infants class from Brother Vianney in September, 1965. Mrs Kathleen Lowry also taught there with Mrs Floyd. After two years, however, both Mrs Floyd and Mrs Lowry transferred to other schools nearer to their homes. Their replacement, in June, 1966, was Mrs Bríd Desmond. The latter then assumed responsibility for the Infants Class and remained in that capacity until her retirement in July, 1985. She was soon joined on the staff in October, 1966, by Mrs Betty O’Driscoll, who also continued on the staff until her retirement in July, 1994. As the years went by, more female teachers joined the staff until now, as is the case in most primary schools in Ireland, they outnumber the male members.

I fear that few people of today remember that a rule was introduced by the Department of Education in 1934 forcing women to retire when they got married. The proposal was first introduced in a Memorandum circulated by the Office of National Education to members of the Executive Council (now called the Cabinet), on 18 March, 1932. The question of introducing this new rule, the memorandum stated, had been under discussion for a number of years in the Department of Education. The Department considered that the absence of a female teacher for two months surrounding childbirth was ‘a considerable upset’, something which was made worse by the fact that there was then ‘no margin of unemployed women teachers sufficient to supply an adequate number of suitable substitutes’. The Memorandum went on to state that it was often impossible to get substitutes to go to remote rural areas for the short time of 2 months (the duration of maternity leave at the time). Fortunately, this rule was changed in 1958, and married women were able to obtain longer paid maternity leave and, thereby, continue their teaching career (Cabinet Paper S6231A, 18 March, 1932, Women National Teachers)

Musical Tradition at St Joseph’s

One of the features of St Joseph’s school in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s was its strong music tradition. In 1945 St Joseph’s School won the premier trophy for primary school one-part choirs at Feis Maitiu. The late Brother Macartan Sheehy was the conductor of this choir. Subsequently, the school became well known for accordion and flageolet bands, especially under Brothers Paschal Glynn and Vianney O’Mahony. This great tradition of vocal and instrumental music is continued to this day and, if you pass by the school in the afternoon, you may hear the ‘band’ practising. Nowadays, however, in place of flageolets and accordions, you will hear violins, concert flutes, bodhráns, clarinets, guitars and an occasional brass instrument. Recently, the St Joseph’s ‘Bodhrán Bookills’ led the 2007 St Patrick’s Day Parade in Cork City.

Sporting Tradition

St Joseph’s school has a great sporting tradition. Near the top, if not at the top of St Joseph’s past student sporting ‘greats’, must come Noel Cantwell (1932-05), who was captain of Manchester United when they won the FA Cup in 1973 and who was capped 36 times for Ireland. Noel joined West Ham (from Cork Celtic) in 1952 and was chosen to represent Ireland in 1953. He transferred to Manchester United in 1960, captaining a team that included Sir Bobby Charlton and Denis Law. When he retired as a player, Noel became manager of Peterborough United before taking up an appointment as talent scout for the English national team.

Noel was also one of the few dual internationals for Ireland: he was also a fine cricketer and was capped seven times for Ireland in cricket. Many people feel that he would have won more cricket caps only for the demands of his career as a professional footballer. Another St Joseph past pupil who became a prominent soccer player is Colin O’Brien (Cork City).

Other former St Joseph boys who have become prominent in sport include Ronan O’Gara (Irish and Munster Rugby out-half), Frankie Sheehan (Irish and Munster Rugby hooker); Ronan Curran (All Star and All-Ireland winning Cork hurler); John O’Mahony (International Irish Gymnastics); John Kerrins (Double All-Ireland winning Cork goalkeeper); Martin Moloney (Irish Sailing team); Niall Turner (MVP winner and US Colleges Champion amateur Golfer).

In the 1950s the Presentation Brothers schools held a combined schools annual athletic sports meeting, usually in the UCC grounds, Mardyke. There was keen competition for trophies between St Joseph’s, South Monastery, Greenmount and Scoil Chriost Ri. It was in this era that athletes like Gene Burke brought many trophies to St Joseph’s.

Public and Business Life

The late Michael O’Leary, former Labour TD and one-time Tánaiste (1971-72), was also a past student of St Joseph’s school. Born 8 May, 1936, he went on to attend PBC, UCC and Columbia University, New York. Subsequently, he enrolled in King’s Inn and qualified as a barrister. He was on the staff of IGTU before entering the Dáil and taking office as a Labour minister of labour 1973-77. He became leader of the Labour party in 1981. In 1982, he joined Fine Gael, winning a seat in South-West Dublin. He died 12 May 2006, while on vacation in Spain and was buried in that country.

Pat Dineer, a well-known Cork business man and formerly CEO of Irish Steele, is also a past pupil of St Joseph’s school.  In the field of journalism several former St Joseph pupils are prominent, including Matt Cooper, former editor of The Sunday Tribune and now a radio presenter, and Fachtna Kelly, editor of The Daily Star. In the arts, we have John Spillane, well-known guitarist and song writer and Kieran Moore, an artist of international standing.

Only an Overview

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, this article is intended merely as a general introduction to the history of St Joseph’s school, the anniversary of which is coming up in 2013. One hundred years is a long time in the history of a school. There are many people who made an outstanding contribution at different times, who are not mentioned in this article, but who deserve to have their contribution acknowledged elsewhere. There have also been important developments in Irish education and in Irish society which have impacted significantly on the school. We look, therefore, to a future publication for their story. Meantime, we say to the present principal, Mr Damien Keane, and his staff, ‘gura fada buan Scoil Naomh Iosef’!

Principals of  St Joseph’s School

1913-14: Declan O’Sullivan fpm (1913: Change from ‘Lancs’ to Mardyke)

1914-16: Justinian O’Sullivan fpm

1916-32: Bernard Murphy fpm

1932-35: Alphonso Mitchell fpm

1935-36: Eugenius Dower fpm

1936-37: Gilbert Boyle fpm

1937-44: Alphonso Mitchell fpm

1944-Dec 50: Albertus O’Sullivan fpm

1951-55: Cronan Loughrey fpm

1955-56: Paschal Glynn fpm

1956-60: Nilus O’Regan fpm

1960-62: Cyprian Dunlea fpm

1962-65: Angelus Fitzpatrick fpm

1965-66: Neri O’Sullivan fpm

1966-69: Cathal Lynch fpm

1969-76: Fabian O’Donoghue fpm

1976-77: Celsus O’Mahony fpm

1977-79: Benildus Fenton fpm

1979-89: Angelus Fitzpatrick fpm

1989-04: Ciarán Black

2004- 2014  : Damien Keane

2015 – 2016: Kieran Kelly

2017 – : Roseanne Neville