Tribute to John Walsh - School Principal, Friend and GAA enthusiast

Aodan Wrenn

Aodan Wrenn

JOHN WALSH, Principal of St. Michael’s N.S Clerihan, passed away on Monday, January 21. The news of John’s unexpected passing left everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him in a state of deep shock and sorrow.

John became Principal of Clerihan N.S in 1996. Clerihan was a two-teacher school at this stage, but over time John expertly oversaw an expansion, enrolment policy and building programme which saw the school grow and grow. Now Clerihan N.S is a 10 teacher school, with 8-classroom single class teachers, an administrative Principal, a full time Resource teacher, a full time Secretary and two full time SNAs. There are also three part-time resource and learning support teachers, and a part time SNA.

The expansion which took place in just 16 and a half years is a testament to all the hard work which John put into the school. He was an excellent Principal. He gave everything he had to his role and dedicated himself fully to it, everyday. He was very competent as a leader and as an administrator. He had the respect of all his staff, and all his pupils. His greatest concern at all times was how the pupils of Clerihan N.S were doing. He took great pride in seeing the pupils of the school progress and develop. He cared so much for the school, and for his pupils, and would do everything possible to ensure that the school was running smoothly. He was a strong leader who would always give total backing to his staff and he would do anything for them. The staff, in turn, would do anything for him as the esteem they held him in, and the respect they had for him, was so high. The school in Clerihan was, and is, so well run and he had a massive part to play in all of this.

He was so proud of how well behaved the children in Clerihan N.S were. Shortly before Christmas, on December 19 last the entire school from Junior Infants to 6th class went to U.L. in Limerick for the Cinderella Pantomine. The behaviour of all 188 pupils on the day was exemplary, and he was so proud that ALL the children had represented the school so well and had behaved so impeccably. He spoke to me about this after we arrived back that evening and I could see how proud he was of the school and of all the children.

The first priority for him always was that the good name of Clerihan N.S would be upheld on any outings where the school would be represented. He always told the pupils before playing Cumann na mBunscol matches to remember their best behaviour at the matches was the number one priority, and that winning would be number two priority. Any referee who would referee our matches always knew that they would be treated with the upmost respect by all the Clerihan players, and coaches. It was something John engrained in the pupils – never to question a referee’s decision, never to give cheek to a referee or official, never to back answer a referee, official or coach and always accept the decision of the referee. I don’t think in all of my eight years in the school we ever had a problem with a pupil breaking those golden rules. John always led by example and he always showed upmost respect for referees, officials, opposition coaches and opposition players. More than that he always showed respect for his own players and coaches. Willie Barrett, the esteemed referee who referees a lot of Clerihan N.S, matches said that he always loved refereeing our matches because he knew he would never get any hassle from Clerihan players or mentors.

John was a great friend of Cumann na mBunscol. He loved preparing for games and participating in them. He always showed great enthusiasm on the sideline. He would kick every ball and puck every sliothar with the players during the match! Winning was important to him but more important was that the children would enjoy playing and participating. He was adamant that the players would enjoy training, and would be constantly learning and improving. He always was quick to praise the players during training and matches, and would never be critical or negative towards them. The players in turn would give everything they had because they knew he was giving them everything he had. His motivation could move mountains! He enjoyed great success in Cumann na mBunscol with his Clerihan N.S teams. He was involved in 7 County Championship winning football and ladies football teams. He was so proud of each of these victories and had the winning team photos on the wall outside his office on display. He loved both football and hurling equally. The one ambition he had that he never realised was Clerihan N.S winning a Cumann na mBunscol Hurling County Championship in Semple Stadium. It was something he really wanted to achieve. He came so close on two occasions, but lost Hurling Finals in Semple Stadium in 2004 and 2010. We will continue to strive with energy and purpose to win in the Stadium on County Final day, and fulfil that particular dream that he had. He served as Tipperary Primary Game Football selector with me in 2005, 2010, 2011 and 2012. It was a role he thoroughly enjoyed, as he loved working with the cream of Primary Schools footballers in Tipperary. Just last June we defeated Kerry in Semple Stadium, and he was very proud of that achievement. He was a good footballer and hurler himself in his day. He played football for the Ardfinnan and hurling for Ballybacon Grange. He got great enjoyment out of playing Gaelic Games and loved passing on his knowledge of the games to his pupils. He got involved in the Ladies Football club in Clerihan last year. He took over as Manager of the Under 14 Ladies Football team. I worked with him for the year as Selector and we had a very enjoyable year working with the Girl’s Club. He gave great commitment to this position, just as he had done with all positions he took up. The girls responded very well to him and they loved working with him.

He also was an accomplished cross country athlete when he was younger. Up to his death he was an avid hill walker and hiker. He loved to hike in the Galtee Mountains, and elsewhere.

While the GAA was a major part of John’s life, Education always came before it. He was an enthusiastic educator and loved teaching. He became an Administrative Principal in June 2011 and afterwards he missed teaching a class. But he adapted to his new role very well, and grew to love it.

He wanted Clerihan to have a school to be proud of, and that ambition was certainly realised. He was respected by everyone in the Clerihan community. The parents had so much time for him because they knew their children were in such safe hands in St. Michael’s N.S. He was warm, friendly, kind, gentle, efficient, competent and strong when he needed to be. In truth he was a model Principal and a shining example of accomplished leadership.

By far the most important thing in John’s life was his family. He loved his wife Mary, and his daughters Lisa and Aisling, so much. He often spoke to me about how much he loved them. He was immensely proud of how well his daughters were doing at school, in sport, in dancing and playing music. I pray that God will be with his family at this dark, sorrowful, painful time, and give them the strength to cope with such an unbearable loss. In closing, on a personal note, John was a great friend of mine. I worked with him closely every school day for nearly 8 years, and we never had a row or argument. We worked closely with each other on school teams and club teams. We got on very well as we shared the same interests – education, sport, history, current affairs and the Irish Language. We would make it our business to converse with each other, for a period, every day in Irish. He loved speaking the language and loved to use it around the school. As a Principal, colleague and very close friend I am going to miss John Walsh so much. He was a friend who influenced my life and career greatly. All the staff at Clerihan N.S will miss him immensely as well. He was a friend to all staff members. I know he is now watching over us now, and that he’s helping and supporting us just like he always did during his life. John Walsh was a man of honour, a man of integrity, a man of strength and an honest man. What’s more he was a gentleman.

Ní bheidh a leitheid arís ann.

To his wife, daughters, sister, nephews, nieces and other relatives and friends I offer my deepest, sincerest, heart-felt sympathies.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

John, mo chara, slán abhaile agus Beannacht De ort.