Teachers, former pupils, parents and Board of Management paid tributes to Ballyneale National School Principal Michael McHale following his retirement after 31 years. The event took place in the community hall, the original former school, on Friday 4th March. It was a poignant gathering of generations linked to the school who all spoke with the highest respect of Michael in his dedicated role as teacher and principal over three decades in the rural Ballyneale school, close to Carrick-on-Suir.
Michael McHale was an exceptional teacher, talented and meticulous who worked tirelessly to educate the children, and manage the school whilst gently encouraging pupils to be respectful, courageous, confident and creative and to tap into their own unique talents and achieve their best in a happy school environment.
Chairman of the Board of Management Fr. Jimmy Browne said “You inspire confidence in the timid and guide the enthusiasm of the adventurous”. In a fitting tribute, Fr. Jimmy said, “To Michael McHale on the completion of thirty-one years of service as Principal of Ballyneale National School, because of your vision, your drive and tenacity, you have brought our school from strength to strength. In all this time, despite the struggle and effort involved, you have been a leader, a friend, a mentor and wise counselor to the Board of Management, staff, parents, and above all to the children past and present, who have had the good fortune to come under your influence. You have never stinted on the time or energy you have devoted to the school and the entire Parish is very well aware of the countless out of hours service you have given to this school. You have proved yourself time and time again a true friend and support for past pupils, all of whom speak your praises with affection. On behalf of the Board of Management, staff, parents, pupils past and present, and of the entire Parish, I would like to offer you our sincere appreciation and gratitude.”

Pictured from left: Sandra Sheehan, Secretary; Mary Walsh SNA; Claire Dempsey, Teacher; Gaye Fogarty, Acting Principal; Michael McHale, retiring Principal; Eleanor Lonergan and Sarah Whelan, Teachers; Mairead O’Dwyer and Fr. Jimmy Browne, Chairperson Board of Management. 

Board of Management
In his address Michael said he was extremely grateful and honoured for all the planning by so many to mark his retirement. “I thank the Boards of Management, past and present, for their sterling work on behalf of the school. These people give of their time and effort on a voluntary basis to enhance the educational provision of the parish.
“It is through their dedication and commitment to this school and this parish that we have this wonderful school in Ballyneale. I valued the work, support and advice of Board members throughout the years. When advice was sought, or help needed, it was given willingly and unselfishly. I am particularly grateful to the chairpersons of the various Boards – Fr. Matt Cunningham, Fr. Pat Gear, Fr. Richard Geoghan and Fr. Jimmy Browne whom it was my pleasure to work with”.

Leaving a great team behind
Michael praised and spoke highly of his staff during his years at Ballyneale, saying, “I am leaving a great team behind. I am privileged to have worked with such professional, dedicated and committed teachers in Ballyneale N.S. They go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure the education and development of the children in their care and I am particularly grateful to the two deputy principals of the school, Maria O’Meara and Gaye Fogarty, who were a source of strength and encouragement to me over the years.
“I also salute all the teachers who have made such a valuable contribution to the education of the children of this parish during my principalship: Eleanor Lonergan (15 years), Clare Dempsey (13 years), Sarah Whelan (12 years), Michelle Clarke (9 years), Mairead O’Dwyer (7 years), Gemma Denny (4 years), Bernie Jones and Leona Parsons (2 years) and Ellen Kirby and Mary Nagle (1 year). These are outstanding people contributed enormously to the education of generations of children in this parish
“I sincerely thank Special Needs Assistants Ciara Doyle, Maria Healy, Martina O’Donnell, Esther O’Dwyer and Mary Walsh who have been such a support not only to the pupils but indeed to me as principal.
“I express my gratitude to all the cleaning staff who have worked at Ballyneale N.S. during my tenure as principal and had the unenviable task of keeping my classroom tidy. Maureen Byrne, Anita Holloway, Ann Strappe, Ann McCarthy, Ann Cooke and Brenda Keane. Thanks to Michael Holloway, Eileen Holloway, J.J. Crowley and Carmel O’Meara who took
such interest in the upkeep of the school grounds.
“One of the greatest assets to the school during my principalship has been the opening of Jane’s Montessori Pre-School. I thank Jane and her team, Fiona and Margaret, for all they have contributed to the school and for their kindness and support to me as principal.
“Lastly, I want to thank two very special people whom I greatly admire and greatly relied upon as principal – the two secretaries of the school Bernie Keenan and Sandra Sheehan. These were exceptional people who kept the show on the road through their Trojan work and tremendous commitment to the school.”

Parent Associations, pupils and community
Michael also praised the parent,s past and present, and especially the various Parents Associations for their tremendous support for the school. “I could always rely on their co-operation and encouragement and I greatly value their respect and loyalty to me as principal. Without the help and support of the various Parents Associations throughout the years we simply would not have the facilities we have here today nor could we have offered the range of activities available at the school.”
Michael also thanked the community for their support over the years, adding, “I am indebted to those who organised fundraising events and provided catering on behalf of the school and remember with pride, those volunteers from the community who made such a valuable contribution to the school by sharing their gifts and talents with the children – from soccer, through GAA, music, quizzes, knitting, swimming, cycling, drama and craft activities.
“I thank all the volunteers from the community for their unwavering loyalty, commitment and support to the children of Ballyneale N.S. for the last thirty years. A special expression of gratitude to our super volunteer Mary O’Hanlon who enriched so many special occasions for the children through drama and music”.
In his praise of the children Michael said, “I thank the pupils of Ballyneale N.S., past and present for all that they are and aspire to be and for giving me such fulfillment and enjoyment over the years. I cherish the memories we shared. It was a pleasure working with you. I remember in a special way my past pupils who are no longer with us – P.J. St. John, Patrick, Marty, Tommy and James O Reilly.”
Michael also paid tribute to his own family who were always a marvelous support network for him “I want to sincerely thank my own family Patrick, Lena and Seamus without whom I could not have carried out the role of principal. You are my inspiration, my rock and I love you more than words can express. Without all your help and work tidying up and clearing out I simply would not have survived the last few weeks.
“I acknowledge my late mother and father, Mary and Jimmy, who made me the person I am. I sincerely wish you were here to share this occasion with me Mam and Dad.” And concluding his heartfelt speech Michael added that he was acutely aware of the huge responsibility given to him as principal “to fulfill the hopes, dreams and aspirations of an entire community who entrusted their children to me to educate, value, nurture and cherish. I have endeavoured to fulfill these aspirations” he said, “and I hope that I have at least partially succeeded.
“I am humbled and honoured to share this special occasion with you. I have spent thirty very rewarding years of my life working with people I highly value and respect. Help and support came from every quarter for which I am eternally grateful”.

Michael McHale is presented with a beautifully framed drawing of himself by Chairperson of the Board of Management Fr. Jimmy Browne.

Presentations of gifts were made to Michael during the evening by teachers, BOM and staff of Ballyneale NS, including a special commissioned portrait of him drawn by Artist Marie Claire McGrath. Siobhan O’Callaghan teacher at the Gaelscoil in Carrick-on-Suir had baked a beautifully themed cake for the occasion. Many families and past pupils also had cards and gifts to offer as they bade farewell to their wonderful teacher and principal Michael McHale, who was held in the highest respect by all who had the privilege to have met and worked alongside him. “He was an absolute gentleman who will never be forgotten,” said Gaye Fogarty Acting Principal. Michael will be remembered by all his pupils past and present who have gained a wealth of knowledge under his care and direction and who have been inspired throughout their formative early school years by his high values, gentle encouragement, kindness and empathy.