Over the October Bank Holiday Weekend the Leaving Certificate Classes of 1982 from Clonmel’s four secondary schools came together for a 30th anniversary reunion at the Clonmel Park Hotel. One hundred and forty former students from the High School CBS, Presentation Secondary School, Loreto Convent and the Central Technical Institute reunited to catch up and renew old friendships.
Alumni returned to Clonmel from far and near, from the UK, USA, Jamaica and throughout continental Europe, and others who never wanted to or had reason to leave their home town at all in the first instance.
Michael Wall, a past pupil of Clonmel High School, and one of the organising committee, suggested to us that perhaps it would be a nice idea to catch up with some of the students individually. Great similarities exist between the Ireland that these students graduated into and what the secondary school students of today face - a country in recession, high unemployment, little job prospects, mass emigration.
We thought it would be interesting to hear briefly what they might have to say about their alma maters, Clonmel back then, what they thought the future would hold for them in 1982, what transpired since, and what advice they might have for the boys and girls of their four former schools who now face a similar future three decades on.
Four volunteers came forward, one from each school, and this is what they each had to say....
Presentation Secondary School
“I have very happy memories of my schooldays and was one of the first pupils to drive to school. I passed my driving test at 17 and I remember the examiner saying to me ‘You should go on to drive bigger and better things.’
When I left shool I spent a few years working in Dunmore East, Co Waterford in the Candlelight Inn. Some people may remember the television adaption of Maeve Binchey book ‘Echoes’, which was filmed in Dunmore East during my time there. I had the pleasure of meeting the late Maeve Binchy then.
In October 1987 I moved to England. I arrived there on 19th October just two days after the famous hurricane. I got a job driving for a local bus company, thinking this will do until something better comes along, but managed to stay in this job for 12 really good years. It was then time to move on and in 2000 I took my HGV licence and got a job with NHS Supply Chain, delivering medical supplies to all the major hospitals in London and the south east of England. Within the last 18 months I am now a driving assessor for NHS Supply Chain and I am also a CPC instructor.
I try to come home as often as I can and am amazed by the way Clonmel has changed over the years. There are now houses on the places we all went as teenagers, including The Wilderness and the Hilly Field. Happy days! With regard to today’s pupils my advice would be that whatever path you take be happy about it because believe me 30 years goes very fast indeed.”
Central Technical Institute
“I sat the Leaving Certificate in Clonmel Technical School in 1982 and as the old cliché goes it seems like only yesterday. I was more fortunate than a lot of my class mates who had to emigrate that same year as jobs were as scarce then as they are now.
I secured employment with an old established Clonmel firm called Suttons which was a company that specialised in seeds, fertilisers, solid fuel and general hardware and it was a company that I enjoyed working with and indeed I went on to become manager of the Clonmel branch as the years rolled by. Over the years I have witnessed a lot of changes in Clonmel, lots of old stores such as Suttons and Boyds to name but two that are no longer with us. The town 30 years ago could hardly be recognised if someone had been away since 1982.
As a Clonmel native I think we have a wonderful town and I have been fortunate to have been involved over the years with a lot of the great organisations in the town such as Hillview Sports Club, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Pioneer Movement and Clonmel Credit Union and it’s in those organisations I have met many lifelong friends.
Later I went on to be elected Mayor of Clonmel, which was a great honour, and made me more appreciative than ever of what a great town Clonmel is and what wonderful people reside here.
One reflection I have is that if unemployment had not been so bad in the 1980s Clonmel as a town would not have been robbed of so many of its young people and our organisations in the town would surely have benefited. But it’s great over the years to see many of my old classmates returning with their new families and settling back once more despite the economic times we find ourselves in again.
My advice to the students sitting their Leaving Certificates this year is to remember no matter how bad times seem to be now, Ireland has seen worse and the economy will like the River Suir rise again. Also school friends are for life and it’s funny no matter how many years pass by, when you bump into an old school pal it’s like the same as you talked when you shared a classroom.
So my advice would be to always keep in touch with your school mates and now with the advent of social media such as Facebook it’s never been easier. Needless to say when I sat the Leaving Certificate we did not possess a landline at home in Irishtown, never mind mobiles, which we had never even heard of.
Another great invention since those days are the ATM machines, which were an amazing sight when we first saw them, but now it’s getting harder and harder to impress anyone but at the end of the day the school friend is the one person we all probably would trust above anyone .
I was also fortunate to get the opportunity to travel abroad at a much later stage of my life than a lot of my class mates and indeed it was on those travels that I met my beautiful wife Sangeeta, who is from India, and we are well settled in Clonmel with two children Ria and Oishin.
High School CBS
“Looking back, there was never a career or life plan. I did not know what I wanted to do when I left the High School and indeed Clonmel 30 years ago but you know, that’s okay.
Consequently I suppose my approach has always been one of taking opportunities. Michael Smurfit once said that ‘opportunities come to pass, not pause’ and this has been more or less my life philosophy.
Needless to say, things don’t work out all the time but having a belief and confidence in yourself helps to get through any difficult times.
Since leaving Clonmel the road has taken me to the US, UK, France, the Netherlands, Italy and finally the land of the Sound of Music, Austria, where I live today. Like all countries, Austria has its good and not so good points (in particular, the long and deeply cold winters...snow is fun for a week, not months!) but for the moment, life is quite good there. Austria is however unlikely to be the final destination .... I have the feeling somewhere further south and warmer!
From a work point-of-view, the last years can be split in two phases...life in a multi-national and life afterwards. While the former had its benefits, being independent, even if earning less money, is a great feeling. It is never too early to try something on your own and this is something I encourage students I teach in Austria.
Clonmel has changed a lot in the last 30 years but in many ways, remains the same. Now that my son is a little older, I enjoy sharing with him the things I did when I was growing up in Clonmel...a hike to Carey’s Castle or up Slievenamon, a cycle down the Suir to Two-Mile-Bridge, a visit to St. Patrick’s Well and Marlfield Lake, and even to watch Commercials if there is a game on when I’m home. This is Clonmel for me and not the empty shops, ghost estates and legacies of the ‘mad’ years!”
“My fondest memories are strongly linked to school sports, representing the school in hockey and basketball at local, county and regional level. Distinctive in our green tunic and red cardigan, while it didn’t do much for the fashionistas among us, it marked us out as the girls from Loreto. It was our badge of inclusion and community.
My school days were also built around the class spirit, camaraderie and shared experiences that made school life a fun learning experience – I recall many lively discussions in English, spirited engagements in history and religion, the shared struggle to wrap our heads around Pythagoras’ Theorem, the challenge for us modern girls to engage with an old Irish lady called Peig or Maupassant in French.
In 2011 the last of the Loreto Sisters retired. Names such as Mother Agnes, Sr. Margaret, Sr. Elizabeth, Sr. Dolores, Sr. and Mother Agnes were part of the fabric of the school at that time. It was to their credit that we were instilled with the ethos of learning, mutual respect, community, social and creativity.
There were always strong connections and sometimes rivalries between the local schools – friendships forged from primary school or in the early years of secondary school continued outside, inter-school debates, quiz nights, musicals and sporting occasions. In particular the Loreto-High School basketball challenge was a highlight both for my year and for the school as a whole. The rare sight of boys on campus might have counted for the eager crowds that gathered to cheer on their school. Many friendships and the seeds of future unions benefited from the sideline conversations and rivalries.
My links were further strengthened through family and neighbourhood friends, and connections made on the tennis courts at Hillview and through my family’s involvement in Clonmel Commercials.
My daily route to school also took me by the High School every day – and yes in those days we walked to/from school at least three times a day (morning, lunch and end of day) in rain, hail and sunshine.
Career choice seemed very limited back in the 80s. Our aspirations were directed towards professions such as teaching, nursing or secretarial/admin work. Many, including myself, broke out of this mould either by design or opportunity, as we headed firstly to college and then to seek opportunities overseas. As a business graduate, with a preference for the continental languages (Spanish and French) I found my niche in Brussels working for global corporations, meeting with and travelling across different continents and cultures. Yet, throughout my 15 years abroad, I kept in touch and travelled back to Clonmel to catch up with family and friends.
Learning is a lifelong experience and it is goes well beyond the school books. Apart from the academic achievements and the race to secure points for college, what matters most are the friendships and connections that you make along the way. The world is out there waiting to be explored and if you have confidence and focus you can achieve anything, in any walk of life. Most of all cherish the friendships and classmates that you make in school – these bonds of friendship always will be like coming home. ‘Carpe diem and enjoy!’. School days are really some of the best ones that you’ll ever experience”.