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Ardfinnan National School, Commons, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary

'The Last Word' From Mr O Sullivan.

27th Jun 2022

A Chairde, friends,

                         As you hopefully will understand, there are so many things that I want to say, that should be said at this very personal and important time for me and for my family. I chose to write this so as to make it more likely that I would succeed in expressing my thoughts and feelings and most importantly my very great gratitude for the many blessings throughout my career.

                                            In preparation for this  I Googled ‘How to start a speech’. One of the top 7 suggestions was to pose a ‘What if?’ So here it goes:

What if I had come first instead of second in that job interview in May of 1986? Would I now be retiring from Knockanore National School, 9 miles from Youghal, 9 miles from Tallow and 9 miles from Cappoquin? How blessed I was to start that September on a 1 year contract in Ardfinnan N.S…..though I didn’t realise it then! After all my little brother Gerard was in my class that year, with about  40 more! And most here know who the Principal was then! It wasn’t an easy start.

 I want to take this opportunity to say a heartfelt thanks to my parents for their influence and support since childhood. I got my interest in and my love of the natural world primarily through my Dad and the faith that sustained me over my career from my Mam. They passed on their strong work ethic to all of their children and we grew to have strong moral compasses. Giving back now will be more possible for me and I look forward to it.

Over the years in places far and near I’ve been asked the question ‘Where are you from?’ I answer ‘Well I’m from Ardfinnan…but I live in Ballyporeen.’ It’s the truth! Though I moved to Bally in 1992,  by working in this beautiful village down the years, being amongst it’s people daily, I’ve never felt I left it.

‘It takes a village to raise a child’ the saying goes. Ardfinnan  raised me and many of ye. Thanks to the village! What a privilege it was to be involved subsequently in educating…that crucial part of  ‘raising’  the children of the area.

To the clubs and community groups who do such valuable work here thanks is the minimum ye deserve. I wish ye great support and success on every level. A huge thank you to the Ballybacon Grange Hurling and Camogie Club and to the Ardfinnan  G.AA. club for their ever-present support of the school and to me on a personal level. Past and present coaches have been top drawer in their dedication. Tidy Towns, the Community Council, Kitty Burke and her team, the are amazing year after year, Paddy Noonan decade after decade!  To all who have been and are there for us in the school I extend sincere thanks.

I’ve travelled the road from Ballyporeen to the school for over 30 years. In many ways the journey is a metaphor for my teaching career. There were many twists and turns….sometimes it was hard to stay in control! I enjoyed being on the straight and narrow most. Often there were uphill struggles but downhills followed, which allowed me to enjoy the view! Like this speech  there were occasional diversions. On the journey I met people coming and going. There were times when I didn’t know which I was doing!

When I was young I wanted to go ‘the road less travelled’… mentioned in that wonderful poem. Going home by Goatenbridge (always a pleasure) was the closest I got. There were sometimes dark clouds on my journey to school, a few times flash floods … of tears …on the way back and lately quite a bit of brain fog.

‘Old teachers never die. They simply lose their class!’ is a smart one I read somewhere once. Well whatever about me losing whatever counts as class the school is certainly losing a classy class when the pupils of 6th  depart on Monday. I very much enjoyed working with them and their class(y) teacher, magnificent Mrs Mee. I wish them happiness and many adventures as they move to the next step and stage of their lives.

For the parents and pupils of our school I have huge gratitude. They have enriched my years so much. We have come a long way from ‘chalk and talk’, from the days of corporal punishment and classes of 40 plus, of voiceless parents and pupils, with little or no support for children with additional needs. Schools have thankfully come a long way from the days when ‘The playground was a hellish place, of no grandeur and lesser grace’ ….. when ‘Teachers ignored despairing cries, or put them down to senseless noise…..or so I read from ice cold eyes.’ Parental involvement in our school has so greatly helped us achieve this fine school, with it’s atmosphere and culture of  caring for all and for each other.

A very warm thanks to the Parents Association for their lovely event and presentations recently. Most importantly thank you for your great work for the children of the school and the courtesy and support you’ve always shown me.

The commitment of successive Boards of Management and Finance Committees, volunteers all, have likewise helped to make out school a great school to teach in and to attend. At the times when I needed support most, knowing that I had it strengthened me to keep going and come through.

Our Principals have always led from the front, showing commendable vision and allowing staff the flexibilities to get the best out of themselves. This was very important to me. All those environmental projects, the sporting events, etc kept me going, kept me motivated and happy and I saw the effect they had on pupils. Thanks to all the ‘jobbers’ who have been a great help to me!

My move to being a special education teacher 7 years ago had a profound effect on me, enriching my teaching and indeed my life.  I learned more from pupils at times than I taught them. The circle has almost turned fully from when in my very early years teaching the late Fr John McNamara, R.I.P., a neighbour of ours, a man who knew much more than I, strongly declared to me ‘Never underestimate the effect you can have on a child’s life.’ He was right. Now, after my years teaching I can add to it ‘Never underestimate the effect a child can have on your life.’ 

To my colleagues…past and present, many of who go back a long way, I want to sincerely thank you for your many individual and collective kindnesses. Being there for each other is so necessary. It’s a tough job a lot of the time and patience with ourselves and support of each other is one of the keys to ‘survival’. At least it was for me. Remember that ‘Small things are big things’! Ye are stars. Continue to shine brightly.

A special blessing on former colleagues Geraldine Purcell and Mary O Donnell who are also retiring this year. Where have the years gone!?

I also want to remember those staff and past pupils who have sadly gone before us. May they rest in peace.

I asked a ‘What if?’ at the start. Here’s another:

What if I hadn’t met and later married that wonderful woman, that wonderfully patient, beautiful person, Susan Mackin, in August 1988? Easy answer…. I would have left to take ‘the road less travelled.’ I wouldn’t have spent these fulfilled, joyful years teaching in Ardfinnan N.S. Look at what I would have missed!  How blessed I was. How blessed I am. How proud I am, that with Susan we have raised our fine sons, Páidí and Fionán in yet another great South Tipperary village, close enough for me to live a little distant from work. I look forward to spending less time down in my home office, more time with Susan, being wary of course of the saying ‘A husband’s retirement is a wife’s full time job!’

 Thank you Susan.

In conclusion:

People have been great. Thanks everyone from the bottom of my heart. Everyone has done so much to make my send off so special. Thanks to Ms Quinlivan, Mrs Ryan, Ms Mee, Flora and all who were involved in organising for my send off.

 People have been so kind in their words and in their actions. ‘Kindness counts’.     I tell the kids that it’s maybe even as powerful as love….because you can’t love everyone but you can be kind to everyone.

 In the beautiful story ‘The Selfish Giant’, by Oscar Wilde there’s a special  line that has guided me.

‘There are many flowers in my garden but the most precious of these are the children.’

May that thought continue to guide.

Go raibh maith agaibh.

 Liam Ó Súilleabháin.