Patsy comes back to her teaching roots at St. Mary's

Denis Daly profiles Ballina woman Patsy Sweeney who has returned to the place where it all began for her - St Mary's Secondary School in her native town.

A teacher at St Mary’s Secondary School in Ballina, who has been involved at national level with the Department of Education in Transition Year developments and curriculum changes, has been appointed the first lay Principal of the school.

Mrs Patsy Sweeney started her teaching career in St Mary’s in 1972 and remained there until 1994 when she was seconded from her post to become a full time member of the Transition Year Support Team, serving as Regional Development Officer and later as National Co-ordinator with Transition Year.

Born Patsy Kilgallon in the eastern end of the diocese in picturesque Skreen, youngest daughter of John Francis (RIP) and Mary Kilgallon of Derk. Her mother still lives as does her brother Jimmy Kilgallon, former Sligo footballer and now MD of the very successful Kilgallon Stairs, while her sister Maureen, an officer with the Department of Social Welfare, lives in Sligo.

Educated at High Park NS and St Mary’s College Ballisodare, Patsy proceeded to university College Galway where she graduated with a BA in English, History and Geography, followed by a Higher Diploma in Education. That same year, 1972, she began her long and successful association with St Mary’s Secondary School Ballina, where she secured her first and only teaching position under the Principal Mother Benedict RIP.

Patsy quickly endeared herself to the students and parents of St Mary’s, establishing herself a reputation of excellence in everything she did and expecting the same from all her pupils.The seventies were a time of great innovation and expansion in Ballina, and while the population grew rapidly with he development of Asahi, Hollister, Mayco and Shamrock Forge & Tool, so too did St Mary’s Secondary School under the leadership of Sister Genevieve.

Patsy was a central player in facilitating the education of that diverse and expanding student population, and was already committed to curriculum development when she was nominated as a member of the Department of Education’s North Mayo Pilot Project in Education in 1976. Thus began a long and very successful relationship with the Department of Education in general and curriculum and professional development in particular.

However it was in the eighties that St Mary’s entered its most exciting phase, with the appointment in 1981 of Sister Attracta Tighe as Principal.

Despite the economic downturn caused by the oil crisis and the resultant budgetary restraints, education at St Mary’s continues apace and the school by now had gained a national reputation of excellence - reflected in the growing competition for student places at the school, the building of the new school and the selection of the school to participate in the Transition Year Project. Patsy was deeply involved in all those developments as well as being a founder member of the Ballina branch of the Geography Teachers Association, a member of the North Connacht History Teachers Association, serving as branch organiser and Geography Convenor for the ASTI, and becoming a member of the Royal Irish Academy’s commission on the teaching of geography.

By now both Patsy and St Mary’s had gained a reputation at national level, leading to their selection in 1988 as one of four select schools in Ireland to pilot the prestigious European Studies Project - a project which took Patsy, her colleague Christine Togher and successive groups of St Mary’s girls all over Ireland, Northern Ireland and Europe as ambassadors of innovative education.

Having been selected as a member of the Department of Education’s National Geography In-service Team in 1989, Patsy continued to expand her expertise in the area of curriculum innovation and teacher professional development leading inevitably to her nomination as a member of the first ever Transition Year Support Group in 1993.

Following the mainstreaming of Transition Year in 1994 Patsy was seconded from her teaching post in St Mary’s to become a full time member of the Transition Year Support Team, serving as Regional Development Officer for the North West Region from 1995 to 2000, and as National Co-ordinator she has also supported the Transition Year programme in over 520 Secondary Schools and has represented the Department of Education at conferences as far away as Olso.

In returning to St Mary’s as Principal, Patsy now brings a wealth of experience and expertise back to Ballina, and having been involved in most of the major developments in Irish education in the past decade should prove an inspirational leader to the 700 young ladies and over 50 staff members who now populate this academy of learning. Patsy looks forward to the future with optimism, enthused particularly by the exciting new developments in Senior Cycle Education and the major building project about to commence at St Mary’s.

In her spare time Patsy in an avid sports fan, particularly of Gaelic football and is actively involved in Ballina Stephenites Supporters Club.

Patsy is married to Sean, who works in R&D department in Hollister in Ballina, and they have three children - Shane a trainee solicitor in Dublin, Sharlene an optometrist in Longford, and Julianne a physiotherapy student at Trinity College Dublin