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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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30 years of Innisfallen Island MassThe annual special concelebrated Mass on Innisfallen Island takes place next week.

Next Friday (June 21), members of the public are invited to attend the Mass taking place at 6.30pm. Now in its 30th year, the Mass was originally an idea by […]

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Next Friday (June 21), members of the public are invited to attend the Mass taking place at 6.30pm.

Now in its 30th year, the Mass was originally an idea by Geoffrey O’Donoghue who sadly died four years after it began.

“There was an Augustinian Monastery on Innisfallen Island and the people, including priests and monks and they say Brian Boro, went out there to study. The lake, Lough Lein is called ‘The Lake of Learning’,” said his wife Mary who carries on the tradition in his memory.

“My husband Geoffrey was a descendent of the O’Donoghues and he wanted to have Mass on the island. The O’Donoghues built Ross Castle and owned the lands and the lake surrounding it which was later donated by John McShane to the people of Killarney. He [Geoffrey] asked one of the friars and one day he got a call from the OPW that there would be a plaque unveiled to John McShane and they asked if the Mass could coincide with it. It was attended by Sr Pauline, John McShane’s daughter.”

She added that all the public are welcome to attend. Boats, which will have a nominal fee to cover their costs, will be carrying passengers out from 4pm onwards.

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Photo of “hidden gem” wins Camera Club’s latest competition

A photograph of one of Killarney’s hidden beauty spots was deemed the winner of Killarney Camera Club’s most recent competition. Th standard was high throughout all categories but in the […]

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A photograph of one of Killarney’s hidden beauty spots was deemed the winner of Killarney Camera Club’s most recent competition.

Th standard was high throughout all categories but in the Novice category, Iryna Halaieva’s photograph of O’Sullivan’s Cascade was deemed the winner.

“A waterfall is my favourite waterbody and long exposure is my favourite photographic technique,” she said. “I do my best to have as many waterfalls as possible in my photo collection. I heard a lot about O’Sullivan’s Cascade and wanted to visit that hidden gem of Kerry. So, shortly before our club competition I went with a friend to Tomies Wood to photograph it. It was a dream come true for me.”

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