Michael Mullally: Vocational School memories

Memories of Newbridge Vocational School circa 50 years ago.


Like many who left the Patricians back in 1958, gripping the famous Primary Schools Certificate, it was time to pretend that I was now grown up enough for the challenges of Second Level.

The solid and safe environment created under Brother  Lazerian, was to be replaced, in my case, with a whole new set of relationships with people like Mr Feeney,Mr. Rochford,Mr. Forde and Mr. Fenwick as I crossed the threshold of Newbridge Vocational School with an expectation of completing the Manual Group Trades Certificate over the next 2 years.

In this era, the Group, as it was known, was the basic requirement   in most places to be considered for an Apprenticeship. The subject choices reflected the speed that young boys like us were to witness as we rapidly came to grips with the essential understanding of Woodwork, Metalwork, Mechanical Drawing, and  Rural Science, as well as continuing with the tested trio of English,Irish and Maths.

The Girls who were also attending the Vocational School were not included in the Crafts related subjects back then. Instead, Typing, Shorthand, Domestic Science, Bookkeeping, etc. were among the core subjects on their programme.  Ms Cleary, Ms Malone, Ms Murphy were part of the Teaching staff primarily engaged on the female side of the institution.

It is tempting conclude the article by simply remembering the challenges and changes we experienced in these short few years of what was, back in that time, the final stages of the formal  education for many who attended the Vocational School system.    It was not for many years into the future that Vocational schools would one day mirror the conventional secondary school 6 year cycle. Not only that, but the decision to make second level schools free of fees was also many years away in the future back then, so those of us in the Vocational system embarked on our careers usually at 15 years of age.

 It’s hard to imagine such a truncated educational process today, but we had it back then, and amazingly, for many of us, it worked way beyond our wildest imaginations.

When I left there in 1960, I was fortunate to get the much anticipated apprenticeship, as did many of the lads who concluded the journey with me. However it wasn’t for many years, and indeed many unimagined career changes later, that I fully appreciated the foundations and the worldly   inputs that that vital 2 years in our local Vocational School were for me in helping me to develop the confidence and competence to try many new challenges.

As I met many of my fellow students in the intervening years, many had very much the same thing to report.

By the time I was capable of appreciating and articulating the value of my time in the local “Tech” sadly all of the teachers who helped frame my career and character had passed away.  So I never did get to give any feedback to my Headmaster Sean Feeney, but hopefully others did.

Crucially, it wasn’t just the adherence to the core subjects that helped equip us for the world of work. It was also the unscripted and extracurricular school-based activities that were so essential in that confidence building and maturing influence of that establishment.

For those of you who remember that old institution located on the site that is now the Riverbank complex, throughout the school there were small notices in prominent places all saying the same thing. “What you are going to be, you are now becoming “

I now know how true that statement was, and still is.

Newbridge is celebrating its 200 birthday this year.  In the past 200 years, it’s been lots of different things, from the initial purpose of being a strategically located cavalry barracks, to being a hub of many leading industries for decades, to the current definition of being the Commercial Heart of Kildare, and most critically of all, the home to over 25,000 people.

 Who knows what it will be known as when Newbridge 250 happens.

 Just like that sign in old Tech,”What Newbridge is going to be, it’s now becoming”

I look forward to reading the memories of others who also have experiences of our local secondary schools.    It would be great to see the ways in which they were also shaped by that special relationship at a time when too were on their journey to whom they too have now become.


Michael Mullally (C) 2012.