First female principal in St. Colman's 155 year history
Two things have helped Veronica O'Donoghue settle into her new role as the first female principal of St Colman's College in Fermoy - the fact that she's been a teacher at the school for the past 22 years and deputy principal since 2006 and that she is herself the mother of three boys.
Besides, Veronica says, her students take little notice, getting so engaged in their activities both in and outside the classroom at times that they often call her 'sir' - followed up by a quick 'sorry Miss!'
Originally from College Road in Cork city, Veronica now lives near Blarney with her husband Tim and sons. She qualified as a teacher in 1982 following her BA and H.dip in UCC. She first worked as a youth officer in Ogra Chorcai in Cork with teenagers ranging in age from 12 to 19. She says the seven years she spent working there gave her great insight into the issues and concerns of young people and that the experience prompted her to return to UCC and study for the higher diploma in guidance and counselling.
She then took up an appointment in St Colman's in 1991, working as a geography teacher and guidance counsellor. In 2004 she graduated with a first class honours Masters in Education in UCC. The appointment as deputy principal followed two years later.
Veronica has worked with four principals during her time in St Colman's. Each were exemplary mentors, she says. They were Canon Sean Cotter (PP Charleville), the Very Rev Denis Kelleher (PP Aghada), the college's first lay principal John Hickson and most recently Dermot Coakley who retired from the post in July. The first principal of the college was Dr William Croke. He was also, of course, a founding member of the GAA and the world famous Croke Park is named after him.
Veronica's relatives are from north Cork - Vaughans from Castletownroche - so she had often heard mention of the strong academic and sporting achievements of St Colman's. Little did she know at the time that one day she would be entrusted with the education of the boys in the college.
Veronica hopes to continue the very strong academic and sporting traditions of the school which boasts of past pupils such as rugby player Mike Ross, GAA players Stephen Molumphy and Brian Murphy, the Olympic rower Gearoid Towey, champion long distance swimmer Eoin O'Keefe and many others.
The strong academic tradition continues and has seen St Colman's placed in the Top 20 boys schools in Ireland in June of this year. The college was placed 7th among the non fee paying school, testament, Veronica says to the very committed staff and hardworking students. She is keen to continue the strong emphasis on academic excellence which has resulted in two scholarships in Trinity college, one in UCD, two in UL and one in UCC in the last academic year while a further student achieved the highest result in Ireland in DCG.
Veronica welcomes the fact that the boys are constantly encouraged to challenge themselves and 'raise the bar' with each effort. 43% of students are taking Higher Level Maths for Leaving Cert to gain the extra points, far exceeding the national average, she points out proudly.
"The students are very ambitious to achieve the best their skills and talents allow them to. They are also very discerning about their career options and are encouraged to explore all avenues," she explains.
Veronica is also very proud of the strong affinity the boys feel with St Colman's. "This is achieved through good teaching, good relationships throughout the college and a sense of involvement in college life," she explains. She says that, with 450 students, she can, realistically, get to know them and their parents well. It allows her to take time and interest in their studies and their career choices when they are preparing to finish their education at St Colman's.
She is very proud of her staff and is quick to point to their interest and dedication. Garvan Queeney, who was appointed vice principal, is a great support, she says.
As any principal will tell you, the position is a challenging one with many demands on time, particularly on the administrative side of things. The part of the day Veronica enjoys most, she says, is when she can take time to chat to the boys, many of whom have had brothers and cousins that she worked with as a guidance counsellor. She loves working with the boys and it shows. She enjoys their sense of humour and the camaraderie they have.
Away from the job, the self-confessed cat lover (she owns two) enjoys Bikram Yoga. "Though enjoy is probably the wrong word," she laughs, as Bikram is a particularly strenuous and challenging type of yoga. She also goes to the gym, but time constraints means she doesn't make it there as often as she'd like. She loves sport of all kinds which is just as well, given the college's sporting tradition.
Veronica hopes the present Colmanites emulate those that have gone ahead as well-rounded young men who respect the differences of others, have a true sense of self worth and of justice and who can speak for themselves and 'for purposes greater than themselves'.
Veronica has heard students say, on their final day in the college: "I wish I was starting again in St Colman's." For any principal, she points out, 'that says it all'!
Friday 1st November 2:59pm