Taoiseach signals bright future at St Michael's
Talented students at St Michael's put on a great show for the Taoiseach as he arrived to turn the sod on new extension
Secondary students can no longer look forward to having a 'job for life', making the need for an even broader model of education more essential than ever, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told St Michael's College on his visit on Friday.
Among the many reasons he was delighted to make the visit was the fact he was present to turn the sod on a new technology and science-focused extension set to prepare students for the vastly-changed modern workplace, he said.
The Taoiseach was afforded a second-to-none red-carpet welcome by the famous school on Friday evening, with students waiting for well over an hour beyond the final bell of the first week back to welcome the Fine Gael leader to Listowel. In the hall he was welcomed by Con Dillon and Board of Management member Brendan Pierse and promptly entertained by the cream of North Kerry talent.
This included the school's traditional music group, its world champion Irish dancer Sean Slemon - who danced and sang for the Irish premierl; head boy Daniel Sheehan who delivered a wonderful piece called St Michael's College, An Exploration and Leaving Cert student Jack Finnerty who recited late College alumni John B Keane's deeply moving poem, The Street.
Former student Jimmy Deenihan (for whose retirement bash the Taoiseach was in the county), Deputy Liam Hassett and Principal John Mulvihill all extended the welcome further. The Taoiseach meanwhile presented Leaving Cert student Daragh McAuliffee with a special award in recognition of the fact that he scored the top mark of 625 points in his Leaving in June.
And there was a very special presentation too for one of the College's longest-serving educators - Mary Donovan. Taoiseach Varadkar made the presentation in recognition of her retirement after over 40 years' service to the College.
"Today we mark the beginning of a new chapter in the life of St Michael's College, Listowel," the Taoiseach said in his address.
"One thing that has been a hallmark of the educational experience here over the years has been the quality of the teaching staff, whether it was Seamus Wilmot who taught a young Bryan MacMahon or Mary Donovan who as we know has retired today after 42 years of service in this institution."
One of the first graduates he name-checked was not a name immediately associated with Listowel: "Páidí Ó Sé came here after he was expelled from [another] school...and he went on to a footballing defeat at the expense of the school that expelled him. That must have been a wonderful feeling for him. Whether it's true or not, it's a great story."
"John B Keane claimed he was expelled himself several times from this very school for various offences ranging from smoking to speech making and ballad writing. Fortunately before it was too late, the teachers recognised his genius and carefully nurtured it.
"It's been argued by scholars that Listowel gave Keane continuity, strength and assurance and he drew affection and inspiration from this town and the people who lived here. For me Keane's works beautifully capture the idea of a culture that's in transition. I think today our society is very much in transition as well."
And inculcating dynamism in the young will be key to ensuring students' future success, he suggested:
"The jobs, types of jobs that people are going to have in the future are very hard to imagine given the pace of change in the workforce.
"I think it's very unlikely that students here today are going to have jobs for life. Most will have several jobs, in several careers, throughout their adulthood. It requires a very particular form of broad education to ensure that they are prepared for exactly that," the Taoiseach said.
"So today, more than ever we need the imagination of John B Keane, Bryan MacMahon and Páidí Ó Sé ...we need to have vision to imagine the world of the future and try to prepare the next generation for it. In many ways this is what the extension is all about..we will see the opening of a for a group ...science and technology I know is a good priority for the Department of Education and Skills.
"In the 20th Century schools like St Michael's encouraged and inspired students with a love of literature and arts. There was always excellent teaching in maths and science as well and I think this new extension will help encourage a deeper engagement with the fundamentals of scientific concepts." And he made some job of turning the sod on it, slicing and flipping the turf in a slick move belying his urban origins.