Friday 15 December 2017

Obituary: Sister Eileen Randles, education campaigner

Loreto nun and campaigner became a figurehead of 20th century education in Ireland, writes Aine Hyland

Advocate: Sr Eileen Randles Photo: Martin Nolan
Advocate: Sr Eileen Randles Photo: Martin Nolan

Aine Hyland

With the death of Sister Eileen Randles, Irish education has lost one of its most active and formidable advocates. Eileen was a native of Kenmare and a past pupil of Loreto Convent, Killarney. She entered the Loreto Order in September 1954 and was a committed member of the Loreto family for over 60 years. While still in her 20s, she was appointed principal of Loreto Secondary School Wexford and subsequently of Loreto College Beaufort. In the early 1970s she completed a Masters degree in Education in NUI Maynooth and her thesis 'Post-Primary Education in Ireland 1957 - 1970' was published by Veritas Publications in 1975.

She was appointed to the Dublin diocesan education secretariat in 1979 and was head of the secretariat from 1981 to 1985. She was general secretary of the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA) from 1992 to 2002. In subsequent years, she was president of Mater Dei Institute of Education; secretary to the Episcopal Education Committee; a member of the Education Commission of CORI (Conference of Religious of Ireland); vice-president of the Joint Managerial Body (JMB) and a member of the executive committee and trustee of the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools.

She had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Irish system of education and was an expert on Irish educational policy at all levels. When she was general secretary of the CPSMA, she compiled a compendium of departmental rules and circulars which was published as a regularly updated Handbook for Boards of Management of National schools and which became the definitive guide for boards of management of all persuasions.

She knew more about the legal and administrative basis of the Irish education system than any civil servant and at times during negotiations, she got a quiet satisfaction out of confounding the official side with her superior grasp of departmental rules. She didn't suffer fools gladly and but she respected the views of those who differed from her, providing they knew what they were talking about. During the many decades of her involvement in educational politics and negotiations, she played a major part in copper-fastening and strengthening Church control of education.

In the eighties, she was involved in the negotiation of the Deeds of Trust of Community Schools. The following decade she contributed to the development of the Deeds of Trust and Memoranda of Understanding of the so-called "designated Community Colleges" under the VECS (now ETBs). She played a major part in negotiating the Deeds of Variation for National Schools after the Education Act was passed in 1998.

Her sometimes forbidding demeanour belied a generosity and kindness - she was always willing to share her expertise and advice - even with those with whom she disagreed. She was an invaluable ally and a formidable adversary.

At her funeral Mass in Foxrock Church, her colleague and friend Father Dan O'Connor read out her final message to the world of education. Her illness had been short - but she found time to write out what she wanted him to say. Her message was concise and pithy - bullet point style as was her wont. (To use her own phrase, she had no time for people who "talked in paragraphs".)

She had a short list of those whom she asked to pray for her. The first on the list was the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO). It must have been the first time in history that a trade union was asked to pray for a dying nun!

She quoted her late father (who had a shop in Kenmare) who asked his family to put a black crepe on the door when he died saying: "Tom Randles died this morning. Business as usual". That's the way she wanted it too.

Eileen, who died on December 5, was one of the great figureheads of 20th century Irish education - an iconic female leader. Her indomitable spirit and irrepressible enthusiasm will be a great loss to Irish education.

She had considered writing her memoirs and her recollections of Irish education - what a pity she didn't live to do so.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílís. Ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís.

Aine Hyland is Emeritus Professor of Education in University College Cork

Sunday Independent

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