Finn Valley College/Stranorlar Vocational School/Stranorlar Technical School will celebrate its Diamond Anniversary this October. A Diamond Anniversary celebrating 75 years is a noteworthy milestone and one that deserves to be marked. The school has already launched a commemorative calendar and the vintage themed float won first prize in the St Patrick’s Day parade. A similarly themed parade taking in the journey from the old school to the new school is planned for September along with an Ecumenical Ceremony, 1940’s Sports Day and Open Evening in the new school with an exhibition of old photos, articles and artefacts. A charity football match is also on the cards with the celebrations concluding with a Gala Ball in the Villa Rose on the 27th of December.
In a recent Whole School Evaluation carried out by the Department of Education and Skills Inspectorate, Finn Valley College was praised for the quality of the Teaching and Learning offered to its students and also for the way in which every student is valued in what is widely recognised as being a very student-centred school. The more things change, it seems, the more they stay the same, as this year sees the school celebrating its 75th anniversary. It is nice to see that the qualities the school has been lauded for recently are the same qualities that have traditionally always been associated with the school.
Finn Valley College, formerly known as Stranorlar Vocational School and Stranorlar Technical School first opened its doors to students in the year 1940. Times were very different then and second level education was in its infancy in the country. That year there were 24 boys and 30 girls enrolled and this has gradually risen to between 300-350 in recent years.
One of the students from the first years intake was Mr Cathal Hannigan (RIP). Speaking in an interview from 2005 Cathal recalled the school being built. The Second World War was raging on the continent and times were tough in the young Free State of the Republic of Ireland.
“As luck would have it, nearby Drumboe Castle was to be demolished and the stone from its walls served to build the first story of the school. The luck didn’t stop there as when the site was being cleared a substantial gravel pit was discovered! Therefore the prohibitive cost of quarrying was avoided. Taking full advantage of these local resources the school was completed ready for the first flock of eager young minds”
The photo of the group of young girls on the front step of the school is one of the earliest photographs that we have in our collection. Some of the names are known but many are not. There were no uniforms in those days and the subjects taken by the students were very much along the gender stereotype lines- Domestic Science and Secretarial for the girls, Woodwork and Science for the boys.
Cathal was a very proud man in June 2010 when he was given the honour of turning the sod for the new school. The Gravel Bed mentioned by Cathal has also served to be the inspiration behind the piece of public art that adorns the middle of the roundabout in the new school.
Moving into the 1950’s and the picture shown was taken in 1954. Again any help with names would be greatly appreciated. No uniforms for the lads here either, yet the common attire of the time included jackets, waistcoats and ties. The sign at the front reads ‘Tech School, Stranorlar, 1954’. The name refers to the technical nature of the subjects offered and gave rise to the well known term ‘The Tech’ which still endures to this day even after a number of name changes since!
Moving on and into the 1960’s, the school had continued to grow. One of the teachers from that time was a Mr John Ward who taught commerce. Mr Ward contacted the school to talk about his time there, which he remembers with great fondness. He spoke of some of his teaching colleagues- Mr Eddie Mc Devitt (Principal, taught Science & Maths), Ms Mc Gettigan (General subjects), Mr Stuart (Woodwork), Ms Mc Geehan (Domestic Science) and the caretaker of the time Mr Joe Mc Hugh.
Mr Ward said that his memories were of a “very tight knit school” where students came from many parts of the county to attend and that “Discipline issues never raised their heads at all”. He can also remember the last train leaving Ballybofey to Donegal Town from the station just across the road.
Looking at the photo in which he is pictured with the caretaker Mr Mc Hugh, Mr Stuart and two students Seamus Given and Annie Gillespie, Mr Ward recalled that on that particular day the whole school embarked on a school tour to Bundoran- another example of the value placed on the holistic side of school life that Finn Valley College has long been noted for.
Skipping forward into the early 1990’s we can see from the photo another aspect of the school that continues to go from strength to strength today- the Post Leaving Certificate course. There are many more recognisable faces on show here, not least Ms Kathleen Boland who continues to coordinate the PLC courses today. This year sees the addition of a second course, Sports and Leisure, to run alongside the Business Administration.
A 75th anniversary Facebook page has been set up and has already been posting some interesting pictures from days gone by that have already been setting tongues wagging and faces cringing. Anyone with any photos, stories or anything else that may be of interest are invited to drop them in to the school, or email or through Facebook. Everything is appreciated and will be treated with care and returned.