This week Mr Henry Collins, the Headmaster at Newtown School for the past 21 years steps down after a distinguished career at the helm of Waterford’s oldest Secondary School. He leaves behind a proud legacy of achievement as an educator who has commanded the respect of his peers in education both locally and nationally.

He is by any measure a remarkable man, teacher and friend to his colleagues – very much saw his role as ‘primus inter partes’. Henry Collins was appointed to the post of History teacher in 1970 in succession to Eileen Webster who in turn was a truly remarkable teacher – a woman who had enriched the lives of so many of her pupils and had contributed hugely to the academic life of Newtown for over forty years. And so in turn did her successor, Henry Collins, with distinction and scholarship.

From the very beginning of his career at Newtown as a teacher he stood out for his sheer professionalism, his impeccable manners and dress. But he was also blessed with a great sense of humour and thus was always good company. He was much respected by his pupils and I dare say even loved. He maintained a manner I might describe as charming professionalism throughout his career at Newtown. His commitment to the educational and social welfare of the pupils under his care, be it as teacher or headmaster, that they each in turn are given the opportunity, support and encouragement to achieve their metier or potential was paramount.

As he always aspired to develop his own metier as a teacher and educationalist he took a study sabbatical in the late seventies to study for a Masters in Education which was achieved with distinction. Henry Collins stepped outside the confines of the school walls and became involved in the teachers’ union, the ASTI, initially as school steward, then Branch Chairman and then at national level where he made an outstanding contribution, reaching the pinnacle of that organization by becoming President in 1984. This was in deserved recognition of his enormous work in the affairs of the Association especially in his promotion of professionalism of teaching and in the area of curriculum development.

Following his return to Newtown after his term of presidency of the ASTI he was soon offered a role in the newly established Curriculum Education Development Board – the formation of such a body he had so vigorously promoted. He was so committed to the essential and pioneering work of this work he took up the challenge. And so Henry Collins embarked on his new career. 

New Headmaster


In 1988 the then Headmaster, Tim Macey announced his departure to take a position as headmaster at St Columba’ (his alma mater). Eileen Webster who had maintained a caring and interested eye in the welfare of the school and encouraged him to apply for the position, though now 83 she was as perceptive as ever and again proved her worth to the school. We have all been the beneficiaries of Eileen Webster’s wise words as during the early summer of that year of 1988 Henry Collins was appointed Headmaster of Newtown School. From day one it became abundantly clear to – It was evident that they had a man who knew his way around education, had a passion and commitment to curriculum development. He was a headmaster who commanded the respect and complete support of his staff, indeed all staff in school in their various capacities. He in turn gave wonderful support and encouragement to his staff in their work with the pupils – ever willing to listen and take on board new ideas and challenges. But above all Henry Collins never lost sight of the raison d’etre of school, ie to be pupil- centred in the work of education. The ambition at all times is to create a challenging but supportive learning and living environment to enable each pupil to search out and realise their potential yet for school to be a happy place, to play sport, make music and friends and generally having fun growing up as well. It is not surprising then the great affection and respect in which he is held by this and generations of pupils.

Over the past twenty-one years of Henry Collin’s stewardship, he has achieved this and more besides. The reputation of Newtown School has grown enormously over the past twenty years and by dint of his hard work, commitment and sheer professionalism, the school and what it represents is respected nationally and beyond. This is indeed some legacy of achievement for any man. He has indeed, done his school, education and Waterford some service. 

Christchurch – Part of Our Heritage


It was with sadness that we awoke on Monday to discover that Christ Church Cathedral had been broken into and serious damage done to parts of the old roof as built by John Roberts but also to the invaluable Elliot organ restored a few years with great dedication and cost. Indeed, was to feature this weekend in the old version of the 1925 version of the Phantom of the Opera to be played by Eric Sweeney.

As this building is an important part of our heritage I think that at this juncture it should be of interest to have a quick review of the history of the Cathedral and the decision to build a new one designed by Roberts.

The Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity, Christ Church was built on a site of Christian worship which dates back to 1050 and probably before.

The Vikings


The first church on this site was built in the 11th Century, probably around the time the previously pagan Vikings had become Christian and had affiliated themselves to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

He appointed the first Bishop of Waterford, Malchus, in 1096.

The Mediaeval Cathedral was the setting for the famous wedding of English knight, Strongbow and Irish Princess, Aoife in 1170. This political union was to change the course of Irish History forever.

The Normans


By 1210 the Normans had taken over Waterford and they built a new Gothic Cathedral in 1210. There is a model of this structure in the Cathedral today. This expanded over the years to include side chapels dedicated to people such as James Rice who was a leading figure in Waterford at the time.

The base of one of the Norman pillars of the Norman Cathedral is still remaining and has been opened up for viewing.

During the demolition of the Gothic Cathedral the famous Waterford Vestments were discovered. Dating from late medieval times they are the only complete set of either British or Irish High Mass vestments to survive the Reformation. Part of the set has been restored and is on display at Waterford Museum of Treasures.

18th Century


However by the 18th Century, the progressive City Corporation of the time regarded this Gothic Cathedral as being very old fashioned and recommended to the Bishop that a new one should be constructed.

It is said that Bishop Chenevix was none too happy with the idea so a little ruse had to be used to ‘help’ him change his mind. Some potential builders had arranged for rubble to fall in the Bishops path as he walked through the Church, sufficiently close to give him a shock or two!

After a couple of narrow escapes Chenevix decided that a new Cathedral was a must.

In 1773 the Norman Gothic Cathedral came down, but so strongly was it built that gunpowder had to be used in its demolition. The present Cathedral was begun in 1773 and was completed in 1779 at a total cost of £5,397.

At times it has been deigned a tragedy that the magnificent Gothic Cathedral was demolished, but the present building has been described the finest 18th Century ecclesiastical building in Ireland (by Mark Girouard, a noted architectural historian).

I’m glad to report that the Gothic Phantom film will go on, not only Friday but Saturday too. No doubt it will prove a haunting experience.