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Ursula prepares for retirement after 42 years at The Mercy

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Most of us will chose one or even two career paths in some shape or form throughout our lives, exploring different avenues and sometimes in opposite directions.

42 years of dedication to any one establishment, to any one community, requires a huge level of commitment, devotion and loyalty. My lens and I visited many of our national schools over the past week so I seized the opportunity to revisit Holy Cross Mercy National School to chat to principal Ursula Coffey ahead of her retirement.

“I attended Carysfort College in Dublin after graduating from Coláiste Íde in Dingle," Ursula explained.

"From Gneevguilla, Dublin was the most direct route to becoming a teacher. From Rathmore train station, direct to Dublin, it was the simplest route for my mother, who had just started to drive, shortly after my dad passed away when I was just 15. Past principal Sr Carmel (RIP) was a sister of my father's. She was principal at The Mercy from the early '80s until 1991 where Sr Regina took over until 2005. I was the eldest of four siblings and we all went to college in Dublin.

"There are no two days the same in many lines of work Marie but education is forever changing and evolving. Together with Catriona Behan and Catherine Mangan, who were hugely innovative with technology, we began an Erasmus project visiting Ylitornio, Finland, just half an hour away from the Arctic Circle, and frequented Birmingham regularly, where Apple devices changed our methods of teaching forever. Technology was used to differentiate for all needs and gave the ability to be creative making the way forward in communication so relevant. 2007/08 gave way for a massive change in reading and writing and thank God for it as it has seriously benefited every child. Literacy is enormously important for every subject but hugely for maths. Personally I felt there was too much emphasis on paperwork. The children are always and ever the centre of every decision we made at The Mercy NS. I spent 25 years as a teacher, dominantly Sixth Class girls, before becoming principal for a further 17 years,” she said.

PROUDEST MOMENT

“What has been your proudest moment at The Mercy Ursula?" I asked. I completely caught her on the hop. “There have been many Marie, but daily it brings me great joy to see happy children learning. It doesn’t matter what country you come from, we are inclusive and encourage creativity. We have a proud catholic heritage with the nuns since 1844 but here at The Mercy we welcome all religions and nationalities. I am grateful to have a superb team with over 50 staff, excluding the pre-school, which was originally set up by the nuns in the early '80s to facilitate children who could not attend private pre-schools. They were strong women who saw the need. We have also been blessed with excellent Board of Management teams along the way, who have offered immense support and guidance,” Ursula replied.

Ursula was being modest. She herself was a strong woman who saw the need. With prior knowledge, I began to poke a little more.

“A friend of mine works at your Autism Unit Ursula. I visited once with my lens - most impressive. That was built under your reign was it?” I asked.

“It was built in 2016 with four classes, with one purpose built room. Recently we were granted €4.2 million for a centre of excellence purpose built ASD Unit to up our expertise in that area. The nuns have gifted us the land at the back of the school and we are hopeful to put in an astro turf play area too but we will have to see how the build goes first. The department of education have done a lot in the upkeep of the school but if I won the Lotto in the morning we need a new hall!" Ursula joked. Indeed a strong woman who saw the need I thought, and what a legacy to leave behind.
 

RETIREMENT

“How do you feel about retirement Ursula,” I asked.

“I don’t like to talk about it much. My life has been The Mercy. My children went to school here and I taught my youngest, Jennifer, in Sixth Class. I remember taking a notion that she would ask me to be her sponsor for her confirmation to which she replied "mum, you will be too busy with all the other children". I had plans to retire a few years ago as my husband Kieran retired as principal from Fossa NS over 10 years ago but when COVID hit, how could I leave such mayhem? There was more work than ever to be done in setting up an education system that worked for the children at home. I had never been so thankful that we had always had the wheels of technology in motion here at The Mercy. The majority of the children were so resilient and bounced back in the gates of the school as if it never happened. This made me very happy."

“Have you any plans for your retirement,” I asked Ursula.

“My son Niall lives in Vancouver and is getting married to his fiancee Megan in July of next year, so we are really looking forward to that,” Ursula said.

“And where are your other children,” I asked. “Jennifer is married to Lee in Dublin and she works as a medical scientist in Temple Street. My son Fintan is a Garda in Macroom and is married to Laura and they have two girls, Sophie and Stella. My husband Kieran works two days per week still with the diocese and we look forward to celebrating our Ruby wedding anniversary next March, so there’s lots to look forward to Marie.”

It was soon photo time which Ursula considered the ‘worst part’. We made our way to vice principal Anne Lucey’s room, who has also served a lengthy time of 36 years at The Mercy. On the way she told me about how Ursula set up Accord in Killarney, Ireland's leading nationwide agency supporting marriages and relationships, which Ursula had forgotten to mention. This didn’t surprise me at all. I was also informed of her famous brownies, a must at Board of Management meetings, especially enjoyed by Fr Niall Howard.

Opting for accompaniment in her retirement portrait, Ursula is pictured with present teachers at The Mercy, Alice O’Donnell Davern and Frances Arthur, all who began their first day in Junior Infants at the school on September 1 1980, the same day Ursula began her lengthy teaching career in our community, educating all at Holy Cross Mercy NS for the past 42 years.

Thank you for having me Ursula, the pleasure was mine entirely.

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Budget 2023 is just plastering over the cracks

By Michael O’Connor The Irish Budget has never been something I have paid too much attention to. My day-to-day focus is predominantly on stock market moves, so it never bears […]

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By Michael O’Connor

The Irish Budget has never been something I have paid too much attention to.

My day-to-day focus is predominantly on stock market moves, so it never bears too much relevance, but Budget 2023 certainly caught my attention.

It was set against a backdrop of surging energy prices, inflationary pressures, and a red-hot housing crisis. As one of the few European countries with a budget surplus to dip into, expectations were high.

On the surface, the Budget didn’t disappoint. The €11 billion package had a little something for everyone. The massive package of once-off measures will go a long way toward supporting households and businesses this year.

But when you dig a little deeper, many of the measures are simply providing a short-term sugar rush, with little substance once the initial high wears off.

I get it; financial relief is crucial but adding more money into the economy so people can afford to function in a broken system is not a long-term solution.

Tax cuts have been proclaimed as ‘counter inflation’ measures but are more likely to fan the flames of inflation than eliminate the problem.

Inflation is created when too much money is chasing too few goods. With this in mind, inflation is tackled by reducing the amount of money in the economy or increasing the supply of goods within that economy. Tax cuts do the opposite.

By increasing the amount of money in the system through tax cuts, the government has seemed to double down on the viewpoint that money is both the cause and solution to all of life’s problems.

Fuel to the fire

Sure, these tax cuts will help to curry favour from a political perspective, but from an economic standpoint, you are simply adding fuel to the fire.

Instead of addressing the systemic problems causing the Cost of Living Crisis, they have simply freed up more money so you can tolerate the intolerable price hikes a little longer.

Take housing, for example.

Paschal Donohoe described housing as the “central issue facing the country”.

Undoubtedly there are some positives from a housing perspective in the Budget, but as the “central issue facing the country”, it falls short.

A band-aid solution

The ‘Rent Tax Credit’, in particular, highlights the band-aid solution being applied here.

Renters will be entitled to a rental credit of €500 per year from 2022 onwards. On the surface, this is much-needed relief for renters, but in reality, it simply exacerbates the problem.

Without getting too into the weeds, in economics, you have something called the paradox of aggregation. If everyone gets the benefit, then nobody gets to feel the effects of that benefit because nobody is better off from a relative standpoint.

If you won the lotto in the morning, you would be unquestionably better off. However, if we all won the lotto in the morning, we would all be richer on an absolute level, but you would no longer be better off relative to your peers. Prices would simply increase to account for the higher levels of wealth in the system.

The same logic applies to the ‘Rent Tax Credit’. Everyone gets it, so nobody benefits. It simply just provides another gear for landlords. You can now ‘afford’ to pay higher rents, allowing landlords to raise rents even further. This is not relief but a mechanism to support higher rental prices in the future masked as support for those caught in the rental crisis.

Rent control, short-term letting restrictions, widespread public housing initiatives, subsidies to incentive construction development, and removal of the endless planning regulations. These are solutions that alleviate the supply side of the problem over the long term.

Instead, the government continues to throw more money at the problem so we can ‘justify’ higher and higher prices.

Housing supply

In fact, in a bizarre move, they have now placed a 10% levy on concrete blocks. Environmental concerns aside, at a point where every possible step needs to be taken to incentivise construction development to increase the housing supply in the system, levies are being applied to increase the cost of building even further.

Maybe I’m being overly cynical here. Compared to the UK budget, the Irish offering is a heroic feat of financial prowess, but another short-term response to the newest crisis at our doorstep is not enough.

Long-term allocation of capital and resources to solve the complete supply/demand mismatch in the housing market, nationalisation of energy, and extensive healthcare reform are areas where the bulk of the budgetary surplus needs to be allocated.

Short-sighted

Constantly repeating or extending ‘temporary measures’ is far too short-sighted. We have already seen an economic contraction in Q1 2022. These contractions may continue as we stare down the barrel of a recession in Europe. The budget surplus won’t always be there.

When it is, we must prioritise long-term investments focused on solving systemic issues. Plastering over the cracks and hoping that the foundations stay intact until the next political party takes the wheel just isn’t enough.

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Chamber hosts post-budget briefing

Local accountancy firm OCKT Ltd hosted a post-budget briefing on Wednesday. Organised by the Killarney Chamber of Tourism and Commerce, the lunchtime briefing kept local business people up to date […]

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Local accountancy firm OCKT Ltd hosted a post-budget briefing on Wednesday.

Organised by the Killarney Chamber of Tourism and Commerce, the lunchtime briefing kept local business people up to date following Tuesday’s Budget.

The briefing explained the main points from Budget 2023, and suggested some tax planning initiatives.

The event took place at the Peregrine Suite at the Killarney Park Hotel.

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