STORY OF OUR COMMUNITY
OUR LADY’S, GREENHILLS, DROGHEDA
In his “Irish Sketch Book’ (1842), William Thackery gives a very depressing account of his visit to Drogheda, of the poverty and misery he witnessed. If he had sailed down the Boyne towards Mornington, he would have seen on his left, about a mile from the town a house very different from the cabins he described in his book. He would have seen a three-bay, two storey house set at right angles to the river, surrounded by trees and shrubs being witness to the gracious living of the inhabitants. The Smith family of the great milling firm who had extensive flourmills on the North Quay, Drogheda, probably built it around 1800. But firms and fortunes change and the Misses Smith who owned the house put it up for sale in 1923.
On the advice of the then Parish Priest of St. Peter’s, Drogheda, it was thought it would be an advantage to purchase this house as a holiday house for the Sisters then residing in Fair Street. A Mr. Thomas McAuley of Newtown carried out the transaction on their behalf for £3,000. The first sisters arrived in an enclosed carriage on the 19th June 1923 and so began “Our Lady’s, Greenhills“. Each year when school closed in town a number of Sisters came out and enjoyed all the amenities the place had to offer—walking in the fields and in the lovely secluded garden, sitting on the terrace overlooking the Boyne, sheltering from sun or rain under the large cedar on the lawn. The garden was beautifully landscaped and one entered it through an arch covered by wild roses.
There was much to be enjoyed when the tide raised the level of the river – cargo boats on their way to or from Drogheda harbour, fishing boats and pleasure boats sailing by and the greatest event, “The Drogheda Regatta”.
During 1925/26 “Our Lady’s” began to be used for week-end Retreats for pupils of the Presentation Secondary and Primary Schools. Later came retreats for various groups e.g. Past Pupils, Legion of Mary, Drogheda Girls club and many others. The Sisters travelled in and out from Fair Street on a horse drawn carriage. The curtains in the carriage were drawn closed so as not to “break enclosure”. During these early years benefactors crowded to the aid of the Sisters in fitting up the new residence. We are told that, by 1940 approximately, the Sisters had acquired a ‘motor car’ for £75.00 and a donkey and cart for £5.10.
By the late 1930’s the Parish Priest of St. Peter’s, Eugene O’ Callaghan suggested that the Sisters should start a boarding school for girls. The request caused an amount of soul searching for the sisters as they took very seriously the fact they were founded for the education of the poor. It was agreed to open a small boarding-school accommodating up to forty boarders. And so, Our Lady’s, Greenhills, opened as a boarding school on 8th September 1940. Sisters made sure that the girls got an all-round Christian formation. Standards were high and a strong sense of responsibility was inculcated. As the number of boarders was relatively small it was possible to preserve a home-like atmosphere. The school motto was “Pro Fide Et Moribus” and was incorporated into the school song, the first verse which ran as follows:
O home of Faith and Culture
We are thy children free,
Whatever the day may bring to our way
We e’er shall be true to thee.
The next step in our story was the amalgamation of the day pupils of St. Philomena’s Secondary school and the boarders of Greenhills and to locate one Presentation secondary school at Greenhills. As the building at Greenhills was not adequate for the number of pupils now attending, Army huts were purchased and served as classrooms from September 1951 to September 1963. The girls who attended Greenhills during that period look back with pride and gratitude for all the school gave them; not only on the academic side but the cultural and aesthetic as well. Students were quite satisfied with the classrooms but the Sisters were not happy; however, they could see no possibility of getting the required funds for building a new school.
There then came a providential meeting with the late Cardinal Gushing of Boston. On hearing of their plight, he showed a great interest in their situation and gave a magnificent sum of money to finance the building of a new College. The first sod was turned 1st May 1961, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. The new school opened its doors in September 1963. Building continued through 1964-65 as a Chapel, Assembly Hall, and Cafeteria were added. The boarding school was completely phased out by June 1978. A further new extension was completed in 1979. Prior to this extension the number of pupils had grown so much that the Sisters opened up part of the Convent to accommodate some of the classes. From 1979 the Sisters could once again call their house their own and carry out plans for making the old house more comfortable and home-tike.
A Board of Management was set up in 1986 and at this time the Presentation Order took a new direction — the appointment of Mr. Padraig Byrne as the first lay Principal was made in 1988.
The Apostolate of Education flowed over into much discussion about the relevance of school programmes; seminars were held, dealing with values in Presentation education facilitating the growth of all sections of the school community. A Pastoral Care System was organized followed later by a School Chaplaincy. Religious Knowledge got pride of place. Social awareness was developed through various projects. In these and in several other ways the students learned the meaning of St. James’ words that ‘faith without deeds’ is dead.
Today Greenhills is a modem student-centered school relevant to the times, with a talented team of teachers whose dedication goes far beyond the call of duty. A further extension to the College was opened in September 1998, so Greenhills can be said to be a magnificent school building with generous facilities for all areas of school life.
If the Misses Smith were to return to their “Big House” at Greenills they would experience surprise and perhaps dismay. The interior of the old house while modernised has retained much of the original; the College is linked up with the front of the old house, destroying part of the facade with its magnificent frontage and lush green lawn. The Old World garden has been replaced by an imposing Gymnasium. “The Big House” has continued to be the Convent, the only witness now in Drogheda to the Presentation Sisters since Fair Street closed in 1990. In Greenhills, the Sisters have ministered to the students and community of Drogheda through the years. We remember all those who struggled in the early days to lay the foundation of what we enjoy today.
Since we have entered into Union new Apostolates have been undertaken and many Sisters have passed through Greenhills and enriched it in many ways, while Greenhills Sisters too have gone their ways and used their gifts and talents elsewhere.
A special word of thanks to Sr. Therese O’ Malley, who generously allowed us to use material from her booklet which she had drawn up for the Golden Jubilee 1940-1990 of Our Lady’s Greenhills.