Principal Rachel Moynagh graciously reacting to the news that the pupils are calling for the cake to be rolled out for her birthday.

Golden jubilee for Holy Family School

There was a wonderful atmosphere in the Holy Family School in Cootehill last Thursday morning as the entire school community celebrated the 50th year of the foundation of the school for students with special needs in counties Cavan and Monaghan.

Parents packed into the audience to witness their son or daughter showcase their musical and acting talents on stage. It was a double celebration as principal, Rachel Moynagh, was presented with her birthday cake and happily blew out the candles.

The Holy Family School was founded in the 1960s by a small group of trailblazing volunteers in Carrickmacross but didn’t remain there for long. Quickly earmarked by the Department of Education as a hub for counties Monaghan and Cavan, it was relocated to more a central Cootehill in 1973.

Over the last 50 years, the school has undergone many changes including two extensions and the development of the brand new school complex that exists today. It currently caters for over 182 pupils and has support staff including 32 teachers, three nurses, 61 special needs assistants, housekeepers, a secretary, caretaker and 39 bus escorts.

The first principal was Mary McMahon and she was followed by Catherine Farrell; while Rachel Moynagh is the current principal.

One of the original instigators of the Holy Family concept, Dr Rory O’Hanlon said to reach the landmark birthday of half a century was a magnificent achievement.

A former Government Minister, Dr O’Hanlon recalled how, prior to the arrival of the school, the children just stayed at home all day.

“To watch the school grow over those years, to the magnificent new complex that exists today, with increased staff and a huge number of pupils is special and this, allied to the facilities and opportunities on offer for the young people, is very self-satisfying, even with the small role I played.

It was great to work with people who were totally dedicated to what was in the best interests of the children,” he said.

Thinking back to the decisions taken in the early 1970s in respect of the school, Dr O’Hanlon said: “Our mission statement was, to the effect, that whatever was in the interest of the child, was all that mattered.”

He added: “My wish for the school is that it will continue to thrive and make progress long into the future.”

The principal, Rachel Moynagh, said it has been some time since they were able to invite a large crowd to a performance, due to Covid constraints and, prior to that, the space did not exist in the old school.

“It was brilliant to have the facilities for the 50-year celebrations, which afforded all the children an opportunity to participate – whether that was in the fashion show at the start or any of the other parts including music and drama – everybody was involved. Every parent could see their own child on stage, which is really important,” said Ms Moynagh.

“When you work in a school like the Holy Family, you realise the huge potential and all the abilities that the pupils have.

“We work to make them as independent as they can be and it is just a joy to work with them – they give so much back to us,” she enthused.

Ms Moynagh revealed that the school is pushing the Department of Education to introduce a senior cycle for pupils in special schools like the Holy Family.

The school current offers Junior Cycle up to level two and a number of other programmes such as Creative Schools.

“We are also exploring what is on offer for the young people that will be leaving our school in the near future,” said Ms Moynagh.

“All the young people leaving here will have a HSE funded placement but we are also looking at alternatives, which would afford them an opportunity to go onto third level education or into employment,” she outlined.