County Museum celebrates Presentation School’s 200 years

Pictured at the launch of the Presenation Secondary School exhibition and Book "Let the Lantern Shine" in the County Museum Clonmel,  Carol Creighton, Jane O'Dwyer, Ursula Duggan and Marie McMahon.
The celebrations to commemorate 200 years of the Presentation Sisters in Clonmel are continuing very visibly at the County Museum.

The celebrations to commemorate 200 years of the Presentation Sisters in Clonmel are continuing very visibly at the County Museum.

The museum at Mick Delahunty Square, Clonmel is currently hosting a photo and visual exhibition dedicated to the community of nuns, as well as the primary and secondary schools that have educated thousands of children in the past two centuries.

The exhibition includes 1,500 images, including photos and images displayed on screens, covering school trips, sports days, musicals and all other aspects of life at the Presentation from the early 1900s to the present day.

The exhibition has proved a labour of love for museum curator Marie McMahon, a past pupil of the Presentation. Marie’s photo is included in the display, as are those of her late mother Helen; aunts Marie, Catherine, Paula and Carolyn and sisters Claire and Joan.

“When Anne Breen asked for a little help with the exhibition, I thought what a fantastic opportunity to give back to the Presentation school, which nurtured my creativity and encouraged teamwork”, says Marie. “My grandmothers Kitty Larkin and Peggy Casey went to the school along with many of my friends and family.”

The curation and digitisation of the exhibition started last April and took the best part of a year to complete.

“The late Sr. Clare kept a record of and collected pictures and that was a great help”, says Marie.

“The exhibition will continue until December, because there’s so much in there, and we’ll be adding to it as we go along”.

Other events will give it an extra dimension. Famous musician, Clonmelman Micheal O’Suilleabhain will give a special performance at the museum later this month when he’ll be joined by the primary and secondary school choirs and the TY students, who will perform their chart-topping song My Hero, composed in memory of their late teacher Alice Strain.

Talks will also be held on distinguuished past pupils including architect Margaret Quinlan (who oversaw the restoration of the Main Guard), Chernobyl Children’s Project founder Adi Roche, singer Kelley Lonergan and Mary Cahill from the National Museum. And the gallery is also open to past pupils who want to hold reunions there.

Awareness of the marvellous array of images has been spreading through word of mouth and on social media, with past pupils popping in and spotting themselves and then getting in touch with their former classmates.

The school started on a site beside St. Mary’s Church in Irishtown. One of Charles Bianconi’s coaches brought the sisters to the present convent at Grenane, where the Cistercian monks from Mount Mellarey designed the gardens, all developments that are recorded in the exhibition.

Also included are old books that give a fascinating insight into life at the Presentation stretching back almost 160 years. They include inspectors’ observation books from 1857; roll books from 1906 and a book of expenditute from 1876-77, detailing the nuns’ expenditure on a host of items including meat, fish, postage, taxes, coal, potatoes, food for cattle and, would you believe, wine and beer.

The exhibition opened last month along with the launch of former principal Anne Breen’s book Let The Lantern Shine, a paperback version of the exhibition. The book was launched by historian Dr. Michael Ahern, whose wife Deirdre is a past pupil and teacher, and whose old school blazer is on display in the gallery.

It’s an exhibition that appeals not just to past pupils but the wider community. “Even if you didn’t go to school at the Presentation you’ll recognise the faces of friends and girls you would have met in a club or organisation”, says Marie McMahon.