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Ursula prepares for retirement after 42 years at The Mercy




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.


“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.


“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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Ireland’s oldest citizen has Killarney connections

Ireland’s oldest woman met with President Michael D. Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin this week. Máirín Hughes, who turned 109 on May 22 has strong Killarney connections. The previous record […]




Ireland’s oldest woman met with President Michael D. Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin this week.

Máirín Hughes, who turned 109 on May 22 has strong Killarney connections.

The previous record was held by 107-year-old Nancy Stewart who died on September 10 2021.

Although born in Belfast, Máirín went to school in the Mercy Convent. Her father was a customs and excise officer and the family moved around a lot eventually coming to Killarney after spells in County Down and Dublin.

Her mother came from the Rathmore area and her father was from Newmarket in County Cork.

She attended the Mercy Convent and has, in previous interviews, recalled growing up on the shores of Lough Lein.

“Neighbours who had three children were given the job of taking me to school,” she said. “They were annoyed because the children were going to school for two or three years but I was put in to the same class as them – my mother had taught me.”

In 2021 she featured in the book ‘Independence Memories: A People’s Portrait of the Early Days of the Irish Nation’, sharing stories of being kept in school in Killarney during an attack on the RIC barracks down the road.

In 1924 she started a degree in science and a diploma in education at University College Cork, before working in the pathology lab in University College Cork’s Department of Medicine for 16 years.

last year she recalled her story on the podcast: ‘Living History – Irish Life and Lore’.

During the broadcast she talked about her parents’ membership of the Gaelic League in 1910; the Spanish Flu in Ireland in 1918; The Black and Tans in Killarney in 1921; the early days of the new Free State; Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 1932, visiting the Basket Islands in 1929; and working in the UCC medical laboratory from 1932 until 1948.

This week President Michael D. Higgins hosted an afternoon tea event to celebrate the important role that a variety of people have and can play in different communities and Máirín was among the guests of honour.

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Philip is running over 100kms for Cancer charity

Local runner and charity fundraiser Philip Kissane is set for the biggest challenge of his career as he lines up for the Cork City Marathon on Sunday. Phillip has already […]




Local runner and charity fundraiser Philip Kissane is set for the biggest challenge of his career as he lines up for the Cork City Marathon on Sunday.

Phillip has already completed four half marathons at various locations around Killarney – all in aid of Kerry Cancer Support Group – or the Cancer Bus as it popularly called.

This is the second time that Phillip has run four half marathon and an official race for the charity.

Back in 2021 he finished with 5km Run Killarney event but his finishing race this time around is over eight times the distance at 42kms.

“We are delighted with Philip’s continued fundraising support but also with his awareness raising for the charity,” Breda Dyland, Service Manager Kerry Cancer Support Trust.

“We are getting busier all the time and still get no statutory funding so are dependent on fundraisers like Philip’s to keep us on the road. We have just put our new wheelchair accessible bus on the Cork route so Philip’s funding will be going towards the operation of this vehicle.”


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