'The Gaelcholáiste wouldn't exist but for his dedication'

Great sadness on death of Gaelcholáiste Chiarraí founding teacher, Éamonn Fitzmaurice Snr

Dónal Nolan

Former Principal of Gaelcholáiste Chiarraí Pádraig Ó Dálaigh has led tributes to a colleague whose dedication to the all-Irish secondary was crucial to its success - Lixnaw native Éamonn Fitzmaurice Senior, who died on Monday.

"Without Éamonn the Gaelcholáiste wouldn't have existed. The sheer work and effort he put into it over the years was immense.

He was simply outstanding as a teacher and a colleague and put his heart and soul into the Gaelcholáiste...I would regard him as having been its backbone," Mr Ó Dálaigh said of his late colleague.

They were both among the six founding teachers of the 'Aonad', the all-Irish unit set-up in 1984 at the Tralee Community College and the precursor to the Gaelcholáiste they established in Moyderwell in 1989 after achieving separate school status.

Mr Fitzmaurice was deputy principal and principal of the college (in 1991/92), teaching history, Irish and geography, and delivering career guidance up until his retirement at Christmas 2007.

The school community as well as wider Kerry GAA circles are united in expressing their condolences with Mr Fitzmaurice's family this week: his wife, Celine; sons, Éamonn Jnr (former senior Kerry footballer and manager), Ciarán and Conor; and daughter, Clíona.

Mr Fitzmaurice was revered for his dedication to the Irish language, mastering the tongue at an early age and inculcating a deep love of it among generations of students.

"His command of the Irish language was better than that of many from the Gaeltacht, and you would have to have been told he wasn't from the Gaeltacht to have believed it," Mr Ó Dálaigh said.

Current principal of the school Ruairí Ó Cinnéide described him as a 'trailblazer' at the forefront of Irish-language education.

"He was a great colleague, the type of person who always remained calm and steady and was fiercely committed to the welfare of his students. He worked tirelessly for their benefit, and this was reflected in the esteem and affection in which they held him," he said.

Former chair of the Listowel Municipal District Aoife Thornton was a close relative; a niece of Éamonn's wife, Celine; and a former student of his.

"Eamonn was a truly gifted educator. As a student of his, you would get a second wind as you crossed the threshold of his classroom," Ms Thornton said.

"Eamonn always prepared meticulously for his classes and delivered them with vigour. He worked tirelessly as a teacher to provide the best chance to every student. He gave students courage and strength to lead their own lives, and he taught them how to work hard to achieve."

Former Gaelcholáiste principal Austin Ó Seachnasaigh said: "He was a great leader, a great planner and school administrator. The school simply wouldn't be where it is today but for him." Lixnaw Parish Priest Fr Mossy Brick said the community was united in sadness at the loss of a man quietly involved in so many aspects of local life, not least the GAA.

Mr Fitzmaurice's removal will take place between 4pm and 8pm from his home in Ballinclogher, Lixnaw, on Thursday, to St Michael's Church,  Lixnaw, where Requiem Mass will be held at 11.30am on Friday.