AT the end of the summer of 1965, more than 200 children and their parents – many more than was was expected – queued up in a yard, waiting for the inaugural enrolment at the new JFK Memorial School on the Ennis Road in the city.
Following the first ever roll call of 48 third-class pupils, each child had to learn and recite the first three lines of the Proclamation. Major General Kevin Cotter was one of those pupils. And last Friday morning, 50 years later, Maj Gen Cotter, now 58, was back on JFK turf to deliver a copy of the same document and the Irish tricolour to some-200 pupils and staff, as part of the Government’s nationwide Flags for Schools initiative.
The Limerickman, who also attended Crescent College Comprehensive, was recently appointed one of the highest positions within the Defence Forces — the deputy chief of staff, support — and is second in command of all 9,200 members of the Irish army.
His role involves developing and implementing plans with the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service.
At 11am, Maj Gen Cotter walked into a hall full of attentive boys, and was greeted by hundreds of clapping hands before he stepped up to the rostrum to teach the eager listeners about his duties, the nation’s army and the Easter Rising.
At the end of his speech, arms shot up into the air, so the pupils — aged five to 11 — could ask the seasoned soldier testing questions.
“Have you ever shot a gun?”
“Why did you join the army?”
“Why were the 1916 Rising leaders executed, even though they surrendered?”
After the recitation of the Proclamation by well-spoken Sixth Class pupil Nuno Da Fonseca, members of the Defence Forces presented the document and the flag to principal Dálach Carey.
And then came the united, chant of Amhrán na bhFiann, with a musical performance by some of the school’s rising talent.
Maj Gen Cotter, who gave a military salute throughout the national anthem, said that the school “contributed to what I was. It brought the values that my parents gave me. It brought me a sense of community. It emphasised the importance of education to me. It gave me my foundation in life, which I was able to build on through other schools, and through my cadetship in the Defence Forces,” he told the Limerick Leader.
He said at the school that Limerick “made me what I am” and that he is “absolutely thrilled” to have been successful in his career.
“I was absolutely proud to be appointed the position. It was a great honour. It’s a great recognition, not only for myself, but my wife Marie, my family, my parents and – importantly – for my school,” he added.
Maj Gen Cotter, who served the army in Lebanon, Liberia, Bosnia and Kosovo, and was a member of the European Union military staff in Brussels, said that his main motto in the Defence Forces is: “Be ready. We must be ready.
“The world is a very complex place. Not only in Ireland, but you have seen in the recent events in Europe and the recent events that are happening in Mali. We have to be ready, we have to be prepared.”
Also at the historical ceremony were his proud wife Marie, and his parents Michael and Helena. The couple said that his achievements in the army have proven that they “reared him well”. Like Maj Gen Cotter’s parents, there is another man who remembers the soldier’s first day of school – former principal Frank Davis, who signed off on that first roll call, in 1965. “I can remember him very clearly,” Frank said. “It’s after that we got to know each other better. He was a bright young fellow, and he was very clever.”
Principal Dálach Carey said that it was “an honour” to have the Maj Gen at the ceremony. “We are delighted to claim him as one of our own. Our chairman of the board of management is the retired Colonel Colm Doyle, and he initiated this, and we are delighted to have him. We are going to rejoice in this celebratory day.”