St. Louis Secondary School, Dundalk, which celebrates its Golden Jubilee this year, is set in a part of County Louth rich in history and legend. The school itself incorporates a medieval castle, built in 1475 by Richard Bellew who received a grant from Parliament for doing so. It served to protect this section of The Pale from the raids of the ONeills, and tradition has it that Cromwell spent some time here before The Battle of The Boyne.
The castle had fallen into disuse when the sisters arrived here 50 years ago, but is was renovated and adapted to serve as classrooms and dormitories for the increasing numbers of boarders. Today, the renovated, centrally-heated building forms an integral part of Dún Lughaidh School, providing rooms for music and computer studies.
On one side, the school looks out on Cuchulainn’s Mound, the supposed birthplace of the Ulster hero, and on the other there are wonderful views of the Cooley mountains.
In the sunken lawn in front of the school is an old and rare cedar tree.
On her arrival at the school to open a new gymnasium in 1992, the then President Mary Robinson’s first words were in admiration of the whole scene.
Fifty years ago this now thriving girls’ school had its small brave beginnings with a staff of four St. Louis sisters and 16 pupils.
The inauguration ceremony for the opening of the main building was performed in 1953 by Cardinal D’Alton, and the Bishop of Clogher, Most Rev Dr O’Callaghan and a large number of clergy and dignitaries were present. The school was aptly named Dún Lughaidh, indicating the order’s French connections and its new link with Dún Dealgan. The four sisters who opened Dún Lughaidh in 1950 were Sr Dympna (principal), Sr Jeanne D’Arc, Sr Hildegard and Sr Therése.
The first St. Louis sisters came to Ireland in 1859 when there was a total lack of educational facilities for Catholic girls. In the widespread poverty of post-Famine Ireland, they set out to open schools in many parts of Ireland.
It was perceived that there was a need for a boarding school to cater for the N. Louth area when Cardinal D’Alton invited them to come to Dundalk. The beautiful scenic site was secured in 1949.
In a short time, the sisters had completed the building of a school that was equipped with all the facilities available at that time and some special features such as Irish oak woodblock and terrazzo floors and a copper roof. The architect was Mr. W H Byrne and the builders Messrs. J and B Duffy and Sons, Dundalk.
Since then, of course, it has been greatly expanded down the years to incorporate extra classrooms, a gymnasium, several laboratories, technology and computer rooms.
With the arrival of free education in 1967, the pupil intake greatly increased and boarders were gradually phased out. To cater for its present 700 plus students, an on-going programme of building and refurbishment continues under the board of management, set up in 1991.
In this Jubilee Year, Dún Lughaidh has much to celebrate apart from its fine buildings.
It is a vibrant school with a long history of academic excellence and a wide and rich extra-curricular focus.
Following in the great tradition of its mother house in Monaghan, it has always encouraged all forms of music and today boasts a unique Cross Border Orchestra which has performed in many venues across Europe and has been chosen by both Departments of Education in Northern Ireland and the Republic as an example of excellence in education.
The school has a great choral tradition still maintained and there are also traditional music groups.
Dún Lughaidh was always well known for its annual “Opera” productions involving most of the students in a popular musical or operetta.
Currently, the school organises an annual talent competition, “Search for a Star” which is a very popular event on the school calendar. This event involves practically the entire student body with categories such as “Best Class Act’, “Best Variety Performance”, “Best Classical Performance” and “Best Original Song”.There has always been a wealth of musical and performing talent among the girls attending were (Colette McGahon and Sharon, Caroline and Andrea Corr are all past-pupils).
The school is also well known for its high standard in local and national public speaking and debating competitions in both Irish and English, reaching All-Ireland semi-finals and finals on numerous occasions.
Dún Lughaidh has always had a very comprehensive involvement in sports such as basketball, badminton, tennis, football (both Gaelic and soccer), camogie, and swimming. The school participates actively in local and national leagues and competitions in all these sports.
The school has a proud record of achievement in the Young Scientists’ Exhibition and many students participate in this event annually. The school was one of the first schools in the country to put Technology (i.e. design technology) on its curriculum. This has been very successful in the school and it is hoped to build a new wing onto the school which will have a custom-built technology room and a second computer room.