This year 2017 marks the 80th anniversary of the coming of the Christian Brothers to Roscommon and although the Brothers left the town in 2006 it is interesting to note that in a few months’ time a new religious Congregation of Religious Sisters will arrive in Roscommon this time coming from the north of Spain. Rotha mór an tSaoil is dócha.
The story of the arrival of the Brothers in town is in many ways unique in the annals of the Brothers and the history of Catholic laity at that time but we won’t go into that tonight but for anyone who wants to read that story it was covered very well by Dr Patrick Murray in an article The Roscommon schools question in one of the Roscommon Historical and Historical Society Journals. Thirtieth Anniversary Edition 2012 I think.
So 80 years of the CBS in Roscommon and what a change there has been in Irish society since those days but in the context of the changes in Europe maybe not so much change. The CBS opened here before WWII before the establishment of the EU. I suppose the greatest change is that the world now seems much a smaller place with continued advances in Communications in every sphere of life.
My own association with the CBS as a student from 1968-1973 and as a member of the teaching staff from 1977 to 2014 amounts to 41 years still I don’t feel responsible for half of everything that happened here since 1937.
I arrived in CBS just one year after the introduction of Free Second Level Education, undoubtlly the most courageous and inspired policy change in Irish education since the introduction of the National School system back in 1831. Much was made of the Education Act when it was enacted but did it make a single difference to the quality of or access to education in Ireland. I like many others arrived here on our new well not so new School Buses; some were actually retired double deckers from Dublin sent to live out their last days in rural Ireland. We received a warm welcome from the Brothers and lay teachers here at the school, of course it was culture shock to have so many students around and some of the senior pupils looked very challenging fellows to even pass by on the corridor, and some had their own unique way of making us feel welcome. When we think back on our school days it is how we got along with our class mates which is what lingers in our thoughts. Some we will meet often others we not have seen since that day they left here. When I started out in 1968 there were 64 in the year group but by 1973 there were only 32 of the original left that would be unheard of today where there is an almost 100 % completion rate a complement in no small manner to the teaching staff of the CBS.
This evening our focus is on how those who passed through the school over the decades continue to feel a very close link with the school. It is interesting to note that within 12 years of the setting up of the school a group of past pupils felt the desire to form an association or Union to keep in touch with the school and with each other in a spirit of support and appreciation for the education they got at the CBS.
Moves to form a PPU started in 1949 under the guiding hand of Br Creed who was the then Superior, even the word gives us an idea of how different times were, that word continued to be used for the Leader of the Brothers community for a number of decades later. The first meeting of the PPU were held on 9th October 1949 and elected a Committee of eleven with Mr Oliver Macklin (LC 39) as first President Eugene Kelly (LC 38) as Secretary Peter Curran as Treasurer and Bill Hourican (staff) as Auditor. Its aims were to assist in every way present and past pupils of the schools.(Primary and Secondary) Immediately the annual dinner and dance became an integral part of the social calendar of the town and surroundings districts and continued until the mid 1980’. The dinner was an all male affair as far as I can see from surviving photos but not the dance. It seems that in the early days of the PPU they had to think up ways of disposing of their funds. Each year they sponsored two scholarships to the Secondary school which eventually meant that ten boys had free education in CBS. They became involved in providing medals for best results in the State exams in 1950. To help reduce the debt on the schools Carnivals were organised, one of thee predated the PPU in 1945. These were very popular in the 1950s unfortunately one year one was organised during the season of Lent and it did not go down well with the local Parish priest, probably no profit that year. Undoubtedly the most innovative scheme of Br Creed was the provision of a school bus as far back as 1948 to ferry students from far flung rural areas to the school which continued in service up to the late1960s. This project was generously supported by past pupils through the PPU.
As an indication of the growing number of past pupils a Dublin branch of the Union was established in the Ormond Hotel on 7 Dec 1957, in the days before frequent revel.
The 1960s brought great change throughout the world and Ireland was no exception when for the first time a more outward looking approach was taken to economic development much of it the work of T K Whitiker who died recently at the age 100. In 1969 the PPU established a Union Golfing Society which provided an annual completion. In 1970 under the guidance of Br J C Kilkenny the Union started on one of its more ambitious campaigns to raise funds towards the provision of an indoor swimming pool in Roscommon (opened in 1974), a project which snows the close link of the CBS with the town which goes right back to the people of the town going to extraordinary lengths to get the Christian Brothers established in Roscommon.
The Silver Jubilee of the Union was marked with a number of events in 1974 the year wich marked the launch of the very successful Tops of the Town a talent show involving many community and work place groups. Mt Tony Kearney was a leading light in this event as well as Br Kilkenny. Bill Hourican died that year the last link to the 1937 teaching staff, he was one of my teachers here Inter Cert Commerce 1971. Many members of the PPU were involved in the Éigse de hÍde organised by Br M F Ó Conchúir in the late 1970s. Idea later taken over by Roscommon County Council and moved to Ballaghadreen.
The PPU were involved with Br John Hannon in organising the Golden Jubilee of the school in 1987 when a commemorative magazine was issued by the PPU. They had also supported financially the production of the School record in 1952. The school is so fortunate to have its own magazine Rosc Chomáin since 1967 which in latter years is produced every year and is an invaluable source of information for and about our past pupils. We must be ever grateful to school Principle and Staff who support and encourage the production of Rosc Chomáin by the students themselves.
Various factors have contributed to a decline in the activity of the PPU at a formal level over the last twenty plus years be it economic downturns leading to emigration or to an economic bubble where perhaps we lost sight of our true values for a small time. There has also been a general move away from communal activity to more individualistic approach to life. However we have only to look back at the recent sporting success of the CBS and I will just highlight a few: the 2011 All Ireland Colleges win, the 2015 Connacht Colleges A championship and all Ireland final, last years All Ireland Hurling final, all these at senior level; to see the enormous support there is for the school from its own past pupils and the area of Roscommon in general.
Some historians when trying to assess the importance of an event try to construct a model of how society would be if the event had not taken place. How would it be if the Christian Brothers had not come to Roscommon in 1937? Well no doubt some form of second level education would have evolved for boys most likely in the De la Salle tradition going on what had happened in 1933. But there can be no doubt in our minds that the heritage and identity of CBS Roscommon as known to its past pupils and staff would be very greatly missed. All of this takes its inspiration from the life of one man Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice who’s faith inspired him to bring the Good news of the Gospel to life while he and his companions sought to follow their own calling to holiness.
I hope this gathering this evening will lead to a rejuvenation of that spirit of Edmund Rice in the past pupils of CBS Roscommon. GuímRath Dé or an cuspóir atá lagtha amach na daoine a d’eagraigh an Ócáid seo anocht. Go raibh maith agaibh.
T S Ó Doláin
Michael C Brennan
Rev T,J, McGuinness