History of St. Vincent's Primary School

Mary Aikenhead and the Religious Sisters of Charity

The Religious Sisters of Charity is an order of nuns founded by Mary Aikenhead. These sisters were situated in St.Vincent's Convent in Cork City. In 1857, they opened an Infant school in two small cabins adjoining the St. Vincent’s Convent garden wall. The room, which was partitioned, was also used as an instructional room for the poor women of the neighbourhood, who came for catechetical instruction. In May 1858, the building of a new Infant school commenced. On the 8th December, 1858, the children were transferred from the cabin to the well-lit, ventilated, spacious schoolroom. On the 8th May, 1860, Fr. Neil McCabe laid the foundation stone of a school for older children. In 1862, the first of the new schools, St. Anne’s, was opened for children over seven years. On 1st February, 1864, St Joseph’s school was opened for the oldest children. In 1874, a new Infant school was built.

Many classes for adults were held in the Upper School, including cookery, and catechism. People of all religious denominations were admitted to the classes. French and Music were taught to those children whose parents wished it and there was a piano in each classroom, as well as a harmonium and an organ in St Anne’s.

In 1886, the schools were affiliated to Kensington to enable the Sisters and teachers to obtain lacework qualifications, and they duly set up a lacemaking class. In 1887, a Night School was opened for street children and for factory workers who could not attend day school. There were approximately 140 pupils. Reading, writing, arithmetic and needlework were taught, as well as preparation for the Sacraments.

In 1888, the schools were registered under the National Board. This meant the Sisters were able to give good salaries to the teachers, and feed and clothe some of the poorer pupils and keep the schools in good repair. The average attendance was between 700 and 800.

In 1892, three large classrooms were added. This was advantageous, as more advanced subjects could be taught, and the girls who were finished to National School could continue their studies. The attendance rose to 900, with some children travelling long distances to attend.

St. Vincent's in the 20th Century

By 1914, the attendance in the six separate schools had risen to 1200. Three new classrooms were added to the existing buildings. The introduction of electric lights was a welcome improvement at the time. The school took pupils from a range of backgrounds, including 30 Belgian war refugees.

The school had an excellent choir and orchestra, and a long tradition of participation in Feis Maitiú, dating from 1931. They also travelled to Wales regularly to participate in music festivals there.

By the mid 1960’s, the existing school accommodation was inadequate, and the Department of Education provided a partial grant for the erection of four prefabricated rooms. In the late 1960’s, discussions began regarding the construction of a new primary school, with 24 classrooms and accommodation for 45 children per room. The existing building would be used as a secondary top, where children had the option of staying in the school to complete their Intermediate and Leaving Certificate. The secondary top was converted to a secondary school in 1974.

The current primary school building was constructed and opened in 1974. It originally consisted of 24 classrooms and a P.E. hall. It was built in the orchard of the Convent garden. The cost of the building was £190,000, and the Department of Education paid seven-eighths of this. Sr. Benedicta set about raising the rest of the money with great energy and zeal. The Building Fund grew as Sr. Benedicta made and sold hairbands, calendars, St. Patrick’s Day badges and Christmas cribs, as well as her legendary weekly draws. The children brought in a few pence each week, and in each class, one lucky child took home a price each week.  In a short few years, the building was fully paid for. Sr. Benedicta’s Building Fund tradition continues to this day, and the children benefit hugely by the opportunities made possible through the “Building Fund” draw.

The new school was bright and airy. The building has been steadfastly maintained by successive Boards of Management, and its excellent condition has been frequently remarked upon by visitors. Although the surroundings of the school have changed very little in the last thirty years, the physical arrangement of the rooms within the building has been adapted according to the changing needs of the school.

Moving into the 21st Century

In 1999, the school was 25 years old, and a ceremony and party were held to commemorate the silver jubilee. The then principal Sr. Joanna Flannery, went on career break, and Mrs E. Clifford took on the role of Principal. In 2000, the Sisters of Charity announced that from then on, a Sister would not be Principal of St. Vincent’s. Following Mrs Clifford’s retirement in 2000, Ms. M. Healy became Principal. The Religious Sisters of Charity continue as Trustees of the school, and are a constant presence in the life of the school.

2004 saw the addition of New Horizons Preschool, a state of the art preschool which caters for 15 children in twice daily sessions.

President Mary McAleese and her husband Dr. Martin McAleese visited the school in November 2005 to launch a Bridging the Gap publication entitled Connections: Anthology of work by Cork pupils. (Deane, 2005) published to celebrate Cork’s year as European Capital of Culture in 2005.

In January, 2008, University College Cork moved into St. Vincent’s when they formally opened a professional practice room and a resource room in the school for the students of the B.A. in Early Childhood Studies. This marked the start of the professional collaboration between the school and the University in the area of early childhood education.

As we go forward into the 21st century, we continue to be inspired by the vision of Mary Aikenhead and we know that, from heaven, she is smiling on us and guiding our path. The seed she has planted has blossomed as beautifully as the cherry blossom in our school yard and has grown as strong as the sheltering trees in the playground.

                                                   (From A History of St. Vincent’s Primary School, 1857-2008)