John Joseph Campbell has been at the centre of Bundoran life for over three decades. After a lifetime of dedication as Principal of St. Macartan’s National School in Bundoran, he has handed over the rolls books, hung up the GAA whistle and passed over the school bell to a new custodian of education in south Donegal, who will take up their new post in September.
Master Campbell as he has often been affectionately and respectfully addressed, even by his own peers, is one of those people, that are the very cornerstone of a local community. He has been pivitol in overseeing at least two generations of young Bundoran children in their formative educational years. His contribution to the GAA and St Vincent dePaul are all well documented, but it will be his legacy as one of the northwest’s most popular and hard working National School Principals, that he will be most fondly remembered.
A consumate diplomat, he often reminds himself, not to mention a name, for fear that he has omitted someone else. It is one of many subtle touches that have endeared him to so many down the years.
A Bundoran man through and through, both his parents and his four grandparents were all from Bundoran.
“Teaching was always something I wanted to do. But if you go back to my great Grand Uncle, he was the well known Master Edward Daly. On the other side there was Meehan and there was a great grand Uncle Travers, another teacher based in Askill, so there was a tradition there.
Another interesting family fact, is that both his grandfather’s were engine drivers on the old Great Northern Railway.
The Campbells were from Drumacrin, which saw the young John ensconsed at the early age of three at the old Ardfarna NS. He came into Bundoran for 4th, 5th and 6th class, before heading off for a secondary education at St. Macartan’s in Monaghan as a boarder, as Bundoran at that time had no second level school.
Qualified in both codes
Too young to go to St Pat’s he ended up with a Science Degree from UCD majoring in Psychology and computers before later completing his primary education teaching. He points with pride to another certificate on the office wall, which recognises that he is also qualified as a Seconday school teacher.
John taught for two years in a school in Templeogue in Dublin before returning home to Donegal in 1978.
“I enjoyed my school experience very good and got the chance to meet people from many different parts of the country. I would not say that study came easy, but I could happily absorb and retain information, as I enjoyed school and university life. Dublin was an exciting place to be. Looking at it now, it was a very safe city. You could walk from one end to the other at ant time of day.”
Regarding education today and then, he says: “It was a different time, Not everyone got the chance to go to secondary school. It was the late sixties and Donagh O’Malley who introduced free education, so things are so different now.”
John qualified in 1976 and began teaching at Bishop Galvin School in Templeogue. His father passed in 1978 and around the same time an opportunity came up locally in Donegal. John then began his teaching career at Homefield, opposite the national school, as a new school was under construction at the time.
“It was Bundoran Lodge at the time and I began teaching first and second class.”
John later became Principal of the new St Macartan’s ‘central’ school on Master Joe Roarty’s retirement and he has been at the helm ever since.
A special day - Everyday
Reflecting on those many years, he says; “I could say that many days and each in their own way, was a special day. I am still, thankfully, excited about coming to school every day, even though I am leaving now at this stage. I would hate to get to the stage where I would have lost that enthusiasm.
“Only last week, we won two county GAA titles on the same day. That was a very proud day to be Principal of this school. There was the All Ireland back in 1992 with the local connection. Back in 2000, we won the All Ireland Credit Union quiz. We had visits from GAA Presidents and Celtic Manager Neil Lennon. The Lory Meagher Cup was with us recently as well, so there was always something new and exciting happening, it was great to see the enthusiasm and excitement of the children. Maybe a visit that might inspire them later down the road to do something special.
“I also remember the days when children themselves achieved to ‘their’ potential. They can be very proud days as well. Maybe getting up on a stage and doing something. I thankfully had the support of a great teaching staff, which also made a huge difference.”
If he were to sum up his philosophy, he explains: “I always tried to be fair with people and children. Children appreciate that. There are very few, if any, who I would meet today, that would not talk to me. Some days you are going hammer and tongs, other days, are quieter. Those are the days sometimes that you worry about, as you know there might be something around the corner. It is a busy and concentrated job. I don’t insist on appointments and things like that. I am fairly calm, so that has helped in this job.
“While there have been high days in this job, there have also been very low days, as you can imagine in a lifetime of teaching and al that can bring on a particular day.”
John now hopes to spend more time with wife Mary, who hails from Tipperary. They met while she worked as a civil servant in Dublin. Blessed with four children who are now young adults, he wants to take his foot off the peddle a little. He certainly wants a break, but no doubt, with a pedigree such as his, it will not be long before we hear of the exploits of the affable Bunodran man, in another guise.
For generations of Bundoran people, who know him, he will always be summed up, in two simple words of poetic achievement, summing up both his position and huge respect he has generated over the past three and a half decades: Master Campbell!