On the wall of the gymnasium at Glenswilly National School, the work of some of the young pupils depicts a series of drawings of their popular Principal who yesterday chalked up his final day at the school after 28 years in the role.
Liam McGowan has himself drawn on all his years of service - he was Principal for five years at St. Joseph’s National School in Rathmullan prior to taking up the appointment in Glenswilly - to help put the establishment on a sound footing, a legacy that will be added to when construction work commences on the planned new extension.
“When I went out the gate of St. Joseph’s for the last time they were starting building work there and it looks like the same is going to be happening here after I walk out the door,” he laughed.
His career as Principal in Glenswilly started in January 1984 when the pupil enrolment stood at 190 and the teacher capacity at eight. In September next, the numbers will have risen to 250 and a total of 13 teaching staff.
Yesterday, the staff got together to organise a special lunchtime reception and presentation for their departing Principal who previously to taking up any of his Donegal appointments - he’s a native of Kinlough, County Leitrim - had taught for five years at Belgrove in Clontarf.
While the education of the young has been paramount in that 40 year career, the facilities haven’t always matched the ambitions. “We used to have to light the fire in the morning before we started the teaching day in St. Joseph’s,” he recalls.
“I suppose I’ve worked in sub-standard accommodation all my career. The prefabs here in Glenswilly were too cold and too damp and had mould on the wall during the winter months so the teachers and the pupils had to move back into the main building.”
But with plans for the extension at the design stage it’s going to be all change - and definitely not before time. Five additional classrooms, three Special Needs rooms and a general purposes space will ensure more comfortable surroundings for all concerned - even if their outgoing Principal won’t be there to savour it.
He cites the “huge strides” made in the requirements of those with Special Needs - “badly needed” - as key objectives fulfilled thanks to the determination of parents who didn’t relent in their approaches to the Department.
As he leaves his final Principal posting, Liam reflects back with some measure of regret but with, in his view, realism attached. “I’ll miss the cut and thrust of the whole thing but I realised that now was the time to take my leave, time to get in new blood.”
That new blood comes in the form of Joseph Gallinagh, formerly of Lurgybrack National School, who takes up the position of Principal of Glenswilly National School this morning.
For Liam, who made his decision to leave six months ago on the back of the public sector exodus, it’s time for the garden and the golf and extra time with his wife, Ann - “she has a D.I.Y. list done up for me!” - and offspring, David, Lisa and Mark. And a holiday, though not until September.
“After 40 years of being unable to go on holidays then, I’ll finally be able to go away in the month of September.”
With the commendations of fellow staff members, including Noreen McCafferty from Fanad who has spent 35 years teaching in Glenswilly, ringing in his ears, it was time to hear the views of some of the pupils including Kelly Block, Katie Lapsley, Mhairi-Clare McDaid, Katherine Kelly and Derbhaile Boyle.
“Good craic....very kind...a nice Principal....we’ll really miss him,” were some of the tributes from the school playground.
Commented Liam: “I’ve been very happy here - it has been a privilege to have taught in Glenswilly for the 28 years. I was in the playground recently and one young lad came up to me and said: ‘you must be a wean of years here because my daddy was taught here when you were here!,’” Liam smiles.