From the bare necessities to the best facilities


Minister Heather Humphreys, Minister Norma Foley and Principal Rachel Moynagh at the unveiling of a plaque marking the official opening of Holy Family School today. Pictured: Alex Coleman.

Holy Family School hosts concert and celebrations for the official opening of new premises

“We have the best facilities, the best facilities. Our school has really prepared us for life,” the older students sang enthusiastically as the Holy Family celebrated the official opening of their impressive new school building.

The accuracy of the pupils’ proud assertion was clear to the hundreds of people gathered in the hall of Cootehill School on Wednesday morning, including Education Minister Norma Foley and Minister Heather Humphreys, as well as a host of other dignitaries. Although it has been in full-time use since September, the building retains the luster of an unwrapped gift. That’s wonderful.

The 13 million euro prize bought 26 classrooms spread over three blocks, a home economics room, a crafts room, a physiotherapy room, a library and a spacious meeting room which hosted the celebrations of Wednesday. Outside there are wonderful all-weather sports and play facilities for students to enjoy.

The fact that the lyrics to Best Facilities were sung by the students to the tune of The Jungle Book’s Bare Necessities was also fitting.

The school was founded in the 1960s by a small group of pioneering volunteers in Carrickmacross, but did not stay there for long. Quickly designated by the Department of Education as a hub for both counties Monaghan and Cavan, it was moved to the center of Cootehill nearly 50 years ago.

Catherine Moynagh was one of three teachers employed by Holy Family, along with first headmistress Mary McMahon when it opened in Cootehill on September 10, 1973. She recalls that educating children with learning disabilities was then a relatively new. For the parents, entrusting the school to their children was an important decision – yet 23 did so this first year.

“I remember a parent said to me, when she put her child in the minibus to come to school, they got in the car and followed the bus and came straight to school and looked out the classroom window to see how their child was being treated, and that the child was happy. You can understand the anxiety,” Catherine says.

While the school premises in 1973 were new construction, over the decades a combination of lack of government investment in maintenance and continued growth in demand for classroom places meant that during decades, it was well below what is strictly necessary.

Catherine eventually succeeded in becoming the headmistress of Holy Family, and while the commitment to the highest quality of teaching was upheld, she remembers the struggles they endured.

“The number increased and we had to use every space we had, for example there was a storage room for physical education, which ended up being a classroom, there were classrooms in the corridors. It was our motto that you don’t say no to anyone, you made room as much as you could until it was gone And then we took the White Star to town and took it rented for several years.

Rachel, who will have taught at the school for 20 years next September and who succeeded Catherine as director eight years ago, shares these terrible memories. She remembers a paramedical room converted into a classroom.

“I remember welcoming kids in September to a very small room and parents crying seeing where their kids were going to be. But once the kids got in and settled in, they realized it wasn’t the place. building – that was all that was going on in the But it was very difficult for parents at the time.

Richard Stafford was one of the parents who considered enrolling his daughter Rachel in school ten years ago.

“It was a bit of a shock when we got to school. I walked through the door and it wasn’t quite what I expected. You have dreams for your kids, you want make sure they get the best, to give a great foundation for life. We walked into the school which looked a bit flimsy, to say the least,” he recalls .

Shaky was a tactful way to describe him. That Richard nevertheless decided to enroll his daughter in the Holy Family speaks volumes about the passion with which the staff approaches his vocation.

“Very quickly we realized once we started talking to the staff, while the physical building might not be in great shape, the soul was amazing.”

In the background, Catherine, staff, board and parents had already begun their campaign, working with the department, advocating for a new purpose-built school. Richard noted that there was a time around 2013 when parents decided it was imperative to make arrangements for a new school.

“It was a challenge to go through each winter, to see if the school would still be standing in January, things were so bad,” Richard said of the state of disrepair.

They lobbied all TDs, the Department, anyone they could and as Dr Rory O’Hanlon – a driving force behind the original school – said everyone started “rowing in the same direction”. In 2015 there was a commitment for a new building.

All of the speakers were impressed with the work done by Rachel in managing the new construction project and moving into temporary accommodation during construction. She wanted to point out that many people made this ambitious project a reality.

“When Catherine talked about retiring and leaving, I wanted to make sure that Catherine’s vision continued. I have been a director for eight years now, and even before that Catherine and Isabel (Lord) had fought for get the building,” Rachel said. .

It seems like all the hard times were worth it.

“Never in our wildest dreams could we have envisioned the facilities we find ourselves with today,” Rachel said. “The building is now a focal point of our community, a place of learning, an excellent facility that no other school can compare to.”

Catherine’s joy also when she addresses the Celtic was obvious.

“I was moved when I walked through the door today, it was just wonderful,” she marvels.

With performances and children’s interaction, bringing guests for tours of the school, Wednesday’s official opening was an amazing testimony to how the Holy Family empowers its students and helps them realize their potential.

Richard now reflects on “what a great decision we made” in enrolling his daughter Rachel in the Holy Family.


“Unless you’re a parent, staff member, or student, you don’t really understand the difference and the impact this school has on people’s lives,” Richard said as he tried to find his blood- cold. “It’s quite extraordinary.”

And now they have the facilities to match. The best facilities.

“The skills they learn are not always measurable,” said Holy Family Pupils Principal Rachel Moynagh. “Students learn to cope with and adapt to their own circumstances, they learn to deal with the challenges that life throws their way, and most importantly, they learn to seize the opportunities life presents to play a full and active role in society. they are the heart of our school, they are what makes us unique.”


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