A Brief History of our School

st josephs bessbrookEducation on Maghernahely Hill extends back into the mists of Early Christian settlement in Ireland when a monastery was established there. This is remembered now in the name, “Hill of Prayer”, which the area earned for itself.

Today, education continues in a more tangible way in our school, St Joseph’s, which was established in 1973 following the amalgamation of St Malachy’s Primary School, Chapel Road and the Convent Primary School run by the Sisters of Mercy. Its first principal was Sr Finbarr O’Callaghan, who was assisted by Mr Aodh O’Luaois as Vice Principal.

By the following year a two class Nursery Unit was opened under the guidance of Mrs Mary Philpott. This was the first nursery in the locality and the trend of breaking new ground in the field of education continued in 1975 with the opening of the Special Unit which was the first one in the S.E.L.B area.

This catered for children with special needs and pupils came from as far away as Crossmaglen and Kilkeel.

The reputation of the school grew and the number of pupils increased, so that by 1976 Sr Finbarr was no longer a teaching principal. In 1980 Mr O’Luaois died suddenly and the vacancy of vice-principal was filled by Mr James Graham.

The curriculum of St Joseph’s was strengthened by the introduction of the National Curriculum at the end of the 1980’s, while the Catholic ethos was further developed and supported by the school chaplains, Fr Brendan McHugh, Fr Michael Seery, Fr Sean McCartan, Fr Paul Byrne and our present chaplain, Fr Phelim McKeown.

A major undertaking by the school was the construction of a football pitch, the financing of which was generously contributed to by the Sisters of Mercy. This facility opened in the academic year 1992/93.

September 1997 saw a new chapter in the history of St Joseph’s with the retirement of Sr Finbarr and the appointment of Mrs Kathleen Woods as its first lay principal. This was a changing time in education with the introduction of the Enriched Curriculum. St Joseph’s was chosen to be a Pilot school to try out this new approach to education with the main aim being to enrich the learning environment for each child and to empower them to achieve their potential and to make informed and responsible decisions throughout their lives.

This was an exciting time for staff and children and set the building blocks for what is now the Northern Ireland Curriculum. Mrs Woods set up a computer suite and all staff enroled in computer courses in order to make the best use of our new equipment and thus be better equipped to enhance Teaching and Learning. In 1999 Mr Graham retired and Mrs Sheila McArdle was appointed as vice principal. Mrs Woods retired in 2010. Mrs McArdle succeeded Mrs Woods as principal and Mr Breandan Lewis became vice principal. In 2014, Mrs Sheila McArdle retired and Mrs Frances Hannaway was appointed Principal.

The pace of new initiatives and advanced technology means that most of our classes are equipped with Interactive Whiteboards, computers and laptops which are used constantly to cater for all learning styles. At present we have 15 teachers supported by classroom assistants who contribute greatly to the education and well being of the 306 pupils in our care.

In as much as our children need to be nurtured, educated and protected, our school needs the commitment and support of Governors, staff, parents and the whole community.

St Joseph’s Coat Of Arms

crestThe wording around our school crest “Scoil Naomh Íosaif, Cloch Fhuaráin” means “St Joseph’s PS, Bessbrook”.

The wording through the centre of the crest, “Fás le Léann” means “Grow in Learning”. The open book with the school initials reminds us that we are an open school where all are welcome. The saw and hammer remind of us St Joseph the carpenter who, with Mary, took care of Jesus. In school we take care of each other.

The spinning wheel reminds us of our culture and traditions. It also represents the many creative activities we experience in school. The spinning wheel also recalls Bessbrook’s past as a major centre of linen trade. The wall and battlements through the centre of the crest were inspired by the Armagh county crest.

Our school colours, as depicted on the crest and which form our school uniform are sky blue and navy blue. These colours are the colours of Mary and are inspired from our founders, the Sisters of Mercy.

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