THE story of the development of Ardscoil Rís on Limerick’s northside is “a story of people”.
As introductions go, this is a good one, the opening line of a new brochure compiled by the secondary school’s parents council to commemorate the role played by previous councils in establishing it on Limerick’s northside in 1963.
This Sunday over 170 past members of the parents association will gather to tour the new school, as part of the 50th year celebrations since Ardscoil started life with just 53 students in three classrooms, a cloakroom and toilet, erected at a cost of £3,000.
The parents will walk the halls of the new school, which today boasts 740 students, 60 staff and has just completed an €11m refurbishment and extension programme, adding “the very best of educational and sporting facilities”, according to principal Brid de Brun.
The halls will be lined with archive material marking 50 years of fundraising by parents councils, whom Ms de Brun says “played a significant role in the development of the school”.
“The Parents Council has written the history and involvement of parents from 1963 to the current day and all former parent council members are invited to the school on Sunday afternoon next for a trip down memory lane,” explained Ms de Brun.
“They will enjoy a visual presentation of the work of the parents over the years and a booklet detailing the history. The contribution of all parents will be acknowledged.”
Established in 1963 as a Catholic voluntary boys’ secondary school, Ardscoil is now run under the management of a board on behalf of the Edmund Rice Schools’ Trust.
Founding principal Brother McGinnity welcomed the first raft of students to the school on September 10, 1963, and Ardscoil Rís has since established a strong academic reputation, with past pupils including Pat Cox, rugby star Paul O’Connell, rower Sam Lynch and former TD Peter Power.
Helen Casey, current chairperson of the parents council, explained further that as part of the 50th year celebrations “we are trying to get as many people together that took part in Ardscoil Rís as a parents association going back 50 years”.
“We had a session with the school were we invited people to come along and bring any memorabilia that they might have, so we could compile a document,” she explains.
“We have loads of stuff and we are putting together a commemorative booklet using a lot of the material from over the 50 years. Pictures, programmes, original posters, things like that.”
A key mover in assembling this material was Siobhan Fenton, who also delved through a trove of archive material in the Limerick Leader’s office, some of which is presented on these pages for the first time since their original publication.
“When I started I didn’t realise the significance of it, because the parents of the northside of the city in the late 50s and early 60s were key agitators for the provision of an all boys secondary school in that part of the city,” she explains.
“They were the complete fundraisers, with the Christian Brothers. It was pre-board of management days, and they were active in establishing the school and getting it off the ground. It is an incredible community story.”
Located among the treasure trove donated to the council is the original handmade sign seeking “20,000 pennies” for the Rice Memorial High School building fund.
“Your generosity is helping Limerick boys and is building a memorial to a good and generous man,” reads the sign, which pre-dates the school’s foundation.
“I discovered they had a series of incredible fundraising efforts,” explains Siobhan.
“Over time they had success with draws, 45 drives, garden fetes which started in the late 60s and went on until the mid-80s. They were huge, huge events and what I have gathered from it is that it was a major social outlet as well for a lot of the people. It became a way of life, fundraising for the school.
“Every house was canvassed in the area for a regular shilling a week or whatever it was. What is very interesting is you see the names of the people who were involved at the very beginning, and families are still in the area and their sons and grandsons have gone through the school since.”
The Parents Council event takes place this Sunday from 3pm-4.30pm in Ardscoil Rís.
Upcoming events in the 50th year celebrations include a mass for students with Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy, followed by the official opening of the new school by Minister Michael Noonan on March 3. A history of the school, written by Brother Donal Blake, will also be launched. Past pupils and local residents will be invited to view the school on March 22.