‘A Journey through the Muckross Archives.’
“ I went to Muckross when I was five years old and I can still remember sitting outside Sr. Polycarp’s room with my father tying the laces of my ‘indoor’ shoes……..”
This striking memory of the first day at school could be the opening of a short story. In this case, the child waiting outside the nun’s office was Siobhan Connaughtan, who left Muckross in 1970. She was one of a group of pupils commissioned by Sr. Barnabas to write an account of their ‘Muckross Memories’. These are now stored in the School Archives along with other material that is a record of the life of the school since its foundation. The Archive bears witness to the legacy of the pioneering Dominican sisters and their staff, who have always promoted a broad, liberal education that prepared pupils to play a positive and, most importantly, an active role in society. The story of Muckross takes us to the heart of the Irish education system for girls, championed by Mary Hayden – a past pupil who became the first female professor of History in Europe – at the beginning of the 20th century. Remarkably, an insight in to the curriculum provided by the school can be found in the Census return for 1911. It records the names of the Dominican nuns and their staff and the subjects they taught. They were Irish, English, German, Music, Science and Mathematics. Over the years the range of subjects has broadened but the role a Dominican education plays in preparing pupils for life has remained unchanged over a century!
A quick glance at the names of some past pupils shows how central the school has been to the Irish experience: Plunkett, Dillon, MacNeill, de Valera, Pakenham, Kettle, Shackleton, Lemass, Cruise-O’Brien, Whitaker…… all of these families played major role in the political, cultural and economic development of this country. In the light of their common experience as pupils of Muckross Park, it could be argued that the school’s contribution to their personal development played no small part in the decisive role they played themselves in the early years of this State.
The tradition of high academic achievement is still evident in the amount of scholarships, exhibitions and fellowships that are awarded to pupils each year. Past success include Catherine Conlon-Young Scientist; Eithne de Valera- National Art Competition; Caitriona Ní Dhuill –Irish Debates; Elizabeth Ahern-Flynn- Irish Times Debate; Sorcha Mullen-Thomas Mc Donagh Memorial Prize; Music, Drama, Chess……. the list goes on and evidence of the talent and skills that are fostered within the school. Sporting achievements are a particular source of pride in the school and past pupils like Sandra Gorman, Maria Lynch and Eimear Sloan have provided excellent role models for all. Other past pupils who have excelled in their fields are Francis Ruane (TCD, and now director of the ESRI), Emma Stokes (TCD), Paula Slattery (Ambassador to Argentina), Mary O’Dowd (historian), Rachel Kavanagh and Janet Moran (Drama/Theatre) and Emma Donoghue (internationally acclaimed novelist).
The School Archive is a place where the collective memory of Muckross Park is being preserved and fed. The school played host to Patrick Pearse in the early 1900s, Nobel Laurate Seamus Heaney in the 1900s and President Mac Aleese in the 2000s; all of these visits are recorded in the archive.
Archives keep things alive and, in the words of Eimear O’Sullivan (who left in 1964) , to her Muckross was:
“A home of learning and friendship”
Long may that continue.
Déirdre Mac Mathúna
History teacher and school Archivist.