Candles lit following death of popular Limerick principal, aged just 54

Donal O'Regan


Donal O'Regan


 Candles lit in following death of popular Limerick principal, aged just 54

Proud Kerry woman who made Limerick her home: Fionnuala Allen

CANDLES were lit in Annacotty and outside Caherelly National School in the days after the passing of Fionnuala Allen.

The flickering flames in the dark symbolised the life of a wife, mum and a principal that was taken far too soon.

Fionnuala died peacefully at University Hospital Limerick on October 22. The beloved wife of Tom and dearest mother of Conor and Diarmuid was only 54.

Fionnuala had her own spot, on the side, in Milford church, where she attended every weekend. She should have been sitting there for decades to come. Instead, her funeral took place on October 24 in Milford church in front of just 25 of her nearest and dearest.

In a beautiful eulogy, her brother and fellow principal, Joe Lyons quoted the American poet Maya Angelou, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.

A native of Castleisland, Fionnuala came from a family steeped in education. Four of her five siblings are primary teachers while her father was principal of St Patrick’s Boys Secondary School in the town. Her maternal grandmother was a primary school teacher in Brosna from 1912 to 1960.

After qualifying, Fionnuala taught in Kildare, Limerick and Kerry. 22 years ago she was appointed deputy principal in Caherelly NS.

“Kind, caring, professional and dedicated, Fionnuala left an indelible mark on the children under her care. And not just the children, she was loved by her colleagues. She would often bring scones or cakes for the staff as she knew that a happy staff room is a vital element in any school. She would never miss the school walk or Christmas fair. She never watched the clock or valued the hours she worked behind the scenes at weekends and during the holidays to give the Caherelly community the best service she possibly could,” said Joe.

Fionnuala was appointed principal in 2012 and put her heart and soul into her new role. Tributes have poured in from former pupils who remember her interest in them, her patience and, above all, her kindness.

“Candles were lighting at the school for several nights when the news broke of her passing. Many pupils in their school uniform on the first day of mid-term break lined the road to Milford church to pay tribute to their beloved principal. Parents paid tribute to Fionnuala in the days since her death, speaking of her kindness, warmth and determination to ensure that every child in her area was given the best opportunities possible,” said Joe.

The outpouring of emotion by the school community is matched only by the reaction of her neighbours in Salmon Weir, Annacotty, who lit candles throughout the estate.

“Throughout her life, she drew people to her with her warm, open personality. On her wedding day, her father said that ‘Fionnuala could always find the silver lining in every cloud’.

“The words ‘warm’ and ‘kind’ kept cropping up in messages I received. Without realising it, she left an enduring impression on so many people,” said Joe.

However, it is as a wife, a mother, an aunt and a sister that those nearest to her will remember Fionnuala.

“Conor and Diarmuid will say that she was always there for them, supporting them, encouraging, advising. She had an open door to all their friends. On the very day Fionnuala was born, Tom Allen was born, also in Tralee. They have been together since they were both 18 and have supported each other and shared so much happiness together.

“Tom’s dedication to ensuring that Fionnuala got the very best chance she could of beating her illness was awe-inspiring. Nothing was too much trouble, no obstacle insurmountable and no excuse was ever entertained. They were a partnership and a couple in the deepest sense of those words,” said Joe.

Away from the classroom,  Fionnuala loved the simple pleasures in life - a trip around the shops, coffee with friends, supporting her beloved Kerry in Croke Park, although she learned to love the small ball from living in Limerick. She had a lovely voice and used her musical gifts to train choirs in Caherelly for Confirmation and Holy Communion. It also came in handy at birthdays and other celebrations over the decades.

Fr James Walton knew Fionnuala well as he is parish priest of Ballybricken & Bohermore and chairperson of the board of management.

“She always had a smile on her face. She was a great friend and a great support to me. She will definitely be missed by myself personally and all the members of the board. We never had an argument or a cross word,” said Fr Walton, who added that Fionnuala always ensured religion was a big part of life in Caherelly NS.

When Fionnuala came to Caherelly, Fr Walton said it was a three teacher school

“Now, including learning support and SNAs there is a staff of 10. Two extensions were completed during her time as teacher and principal,” said Fr Walton.

Also on the board of management is Cllr Brigid Teefy.

“Fionnuala was a much-loved principal by everybody - children, parents, management, teachers. She was highly respected and such a lovely person. The success of the school today is a testament to her wonderful work over the years,” said Cllr Teefy.

Joe concluded his eulogy with words that will resonate with everybody who knew the proud Kerry woman who made Limerick her home.

“We will never forget Fionnuala but we will miss her at every hand’s turn.”