Ramelton > Festival/Events > Pantomime '11  

Ramelton school reunion says it with music and memories
By John McAteer, Editor Tirconaill Tribune

The Old St. Mary's National School Reunion in Ramelton has been hailed as a huge success with big crowds coming along to all the functions to take a trip down memory lane and back to their childhood in a building that served the town for eighty years.

St. Mary's Old School holds precious memories and despite being closed since 1980 it remains to that generation much more than a school: it's where they forged links that were to remain to this very day. The original school here was opened back in 1900 and over the weekend some of those who went there in the nineteen twenties were reunited the newer generations who'd sat in the same desks and they shared memories of an era in Ramelton that, despite the passage of time remains evergreen.

It was a weekend of nostalgia and proud memories and large crowds of the former pupils assembled to rekindle the old days (and nights) and for some it was a chance to talk football and music, two of the town's legendary attributes.

The weekend had been over a year in the planning process and all those who'd been pupils of the old school were contacted and invited to attend and contribute to the book, which was published on conjunction with the event. The book was launched on Friday evening by Monsignor Anthony McDaid who returned from Rome to officiate and to participate in the trip down memory lane. He was joined by Fr. Timothy McCarthy who travelled from Colorado.

The Monsignor, despite being away for so long is a Ramelton man, through and through and today he's one of the most senior churchmen in the Vatican. He met and mingled with everyone and shared in the fun and entertainment and although he was dressed like ‘A Christmas Tree' (his own words) he assured the crowds they were all equal and proud of their roots in their native town.

The master of ceremonies for the evening was Joe Birney and the speakers included Canon Tilson, Phil Friel, James Friel and Monsignor McDaid. Former teachers included Joachim Loughrey, Maureen Durkan and Isobel Murphy. Pride of place went to the two eldest pupils in attendance. Willie Diver is now 91 while Mary Boyce (nee McCarron) is in her ninetieth year. Willie recalled his schooldays back in the nineteen twenties when the master had a brown cane and when he was fourteen he got a job on night-shift loading lorries with sand. And he earned seven shillings for loading three lorry loads of sand destined for the construction of the chapel at St. Conal's hospital.

Mary Boyce has recollections about weeding the school garden and of the family names in Ramelton at that time. The teachers back then were Ward, Gilmartin and Hayes.

The old school is located behind St. Mary's church and it stands as a reminder to all its pupils that this place was their first tentative steps into life outside of the family home. And over the weekend it became very apparent to the newer generation how important it is to those who went to class there and their memories are not diminished by time. Obviously many of the pupils are now gone to their eternal reward and on Sunday a plaque was unveiled alongside the name plate on the wall in honour of all those, pupils and teachers who are no longer with us.

Willie Diver and Mary Boyce the two oldest pupils at the St. Mary's School Reunion

Monsignor McDaid wit his aunt Rose Diver
There are many great memories around Ramelton and people's recollections have been rekindled by the reunion.
There were other schools in the outlying areas in Killycreen and Croaghan and St. Mary's was the one for the town children.
Each one had their own history and identity and today the community is served by the newer St. Mary's, which is one of the main focal points of community life.

Reunion chairman James Friel speaking at the opening

The reunion book captures the spirit, the history and the names and faces of the earlier generations at school in the town. There are the anecdotes and the stirring old photographs when the Quay was full of activity and work as commercial boats plied delivered supplies here on the Lennonside.

Are we really that old? seems to be the reaction from former pupils of the old school
In charge of the finances and book sales at the Town Hall on Friday night

Crowds gather at the Town Hall for the first ever Old St.Mary's School Reunion

Monsignor McDaid, Maureen Durkan, Isobel Murphy, Phil Friel and Joachim Loughrey

Nobody makes music like Ramelton and their pantomime tradition is one of the aspects that gives them such zest and professionalism on the stage. And so it was on Friday night as the hall was full for the bill of fare that had many of the old faces singing and entertaining until midnight. The concert had many memorable moments and Mickey McHugh was MC. Thomas Harte was in his usual fine fettle and they recreated a night in ‘Kate Conway's Kitchen' with the best of Irish music, recitation and in the second half their version of ‘The School Around the Corner' was good slapstick fun and this group had the crowds rolling in the aisles.

The model pupils behaving impeccably during the School Around the Corner sketch

An evening in Kate Conway's kitchen featured strongly in the variety concert

Part of the Ramelton legacy is entertainment and they know no bounds and on Friday night those bounds hit the roof during the three hours of variety, comedy and dance. A huge line-up of local artists and groups gave of their finest and it was one of those great old style variety shows that were part and parcel of life in Donegal before the coming of television.
In Ramelton the name of Molly Young is revered for her contribution to music. She was a teacher in the old school and despite the long years since her departure hers is one of the names most mentioned.

A big attendance was present in the Milford Inn Hotel on Saturday for the Reunion Dinner Dance but for many the big highlight of the event was the Mass in St. Mary's Church on Sunday morning when Monsignor McDaid was the chief celebrant and he was assisted by Fr. Desmond Sweeney PP and Fr. McCarthy. An overflowing congregation was thrilled with the choir and the many fine old hymns. Later the congregation prayed at the graveside and plaque was unveiled in memory of those now deceased who'd attended the school.

The scene during the graveyard blessing on Sunday

Former pupils pictured at the Old St.Mary's National School

Sunday afternoon saw a large crowd return to the Town Hall for a photographic exhibition. There were over one hundred pictures on view and they are a proud relic and reminder of Ramelton's rich history and heritage. The curtain finally came down on the reunion with the farewell dance in the hall on Sunday night and again the house was full to capacity. It was a magnificent weekend of celebration, of music and song, meeting old friends, renewing former acquaintances and returning to that golden era of the old schoolhouse and the games that the children played.

It was the kind of event that Ramelton can do so well: they have that canny knack and confidence in their own ability to entertain and they certainly know how to put on a show that can captivate and capture the mood of the occasion. In that respect this was a most memorable weekend for all concerned. It is a town steeped in history and legend stretching back beyond the arrival of the O'Donnells and it once was the commercial hub of the north west with the Quayside the catalyst for trade and commerce. But times changed and the emigration trail was to beckon for many of the population. In fact some of the most renowned sports heroes of their era hailed from Ramelton and only in more recent years is such facts coming to light, especially in the Dave Gallaher legend.

In the introduction to the book the committee says: ‘St. Mary's National School is one of the cradles of community life in Ramelton and its pupils, past and present, are its towering success. The spirit endures.'

The book is a treasure trove of information, knowledge and history and perhaps, was not for the reunion much of the precious data collected might have been lost forever. In that respect the weekend had a very important purpose and as the crowds read the first copies on Friday night they immediately came to realise that here was information and photographs they hardly knew existed.

The Reunion Committee is to be congratulated for their dedication and painstaking research and the group included James Friel, Joe Duffy, Mary Duffy, Mary Fisher, Jean Winston, Sinead Bolton, Kathleen McDaid, Eileen McGarvey, Patricia Roche, Maria Coyle, Paula Irwin, Anne Doherty, Eileen Boyce, Joe Birney, Dickie Duffy, Tony Boyce, Natasha Roche, Irene McAllister, Susan Harte, Marian McLaughlin and Deirdre Egan.

One of the most interesting aspects of this community is the poets and how they recorded their observations. The late Johnny Friel is well known but there are many others. Hugh Friel's poem in the book is of a different hue: “There's eight pubs in Ramelton, there used to be nine, Each one in itself is a place to define:

Their flexible hours are a thing of delight, They don't put you out at the end of the night. You can drink to the morning, so long as you buy and stay reasonably quiet as the sergeant goes by; Then a look at the clock, oh! Its nearly half four, It's time to go home, sneaking out the back door.”

Possibly Ramelton has more historic pictures than most other towns and there is a very varied selection in the book. The early days and Lake of Shadows Steamboat at the Quay: the Eucharistic Congress shrine in 1932; those early school classes captured for posterity; the pantomime, the soccer and Swilly Rovers all competing for your interest.

McFadden's shop was a smoker's delight with adverts for Wills Sea King Bar: Bulwark Cut Plug and Player's Navy Cut and on an adjoining page we're reminded of the boats tied up delivering coal. The Edith from Liverpool was one of the regular cargo boats to berth in the town and there are the haunting landscapes.

The reunion is now a memory but in the creation of this wonderful weekend the committee has left many with a million snapshots to last another lifetime.

‘Adieu! Adieu! To those not yet in their last sleep lay down Farewell! Farewell!
Once more farewell, oh sweet Ramelton Town.'

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