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Tuesday 3 October 2023 Dublin: 11°C
Aileen O'Toole
Column My old school photo...
Are you pictured here?

THIS MORNING I took to the national airwaves to tell the nation, via RTÉ’s Miriam O’Callaghan, the story about my old school photograph.

Our school year produced some exceptional women – national and international figures in their chosen professions and “quieter heroes”, women who chose different paths but yet achieved so much.

First some background. We attended Manor House in Raheny in Dublin. We were middle-class girls drawn from Raheny, Clontarf and other northside suburbs like Sutton and Howth. Manor House was a public school run by a religious order, the Poor Servants of the Mother of God.

One of those nuns, Sister Eithne, gave me and my fellow classmates what I recognise now to be my first motivational speech. It was about opportunities and choices, about educational and career possibilities. One line from that speech “girls, you can be what you want to be” has stuck with me to this day.

Up to two years before that picture was taken in 1975, Ireland was a far different place for girls who were about to sit  their Leaving Certificate.

Women in public sector jobs had to leave on marriage.

Few secondary school students were given the opportunities, as we were, to study honours maths and do science subjects. Ireland’s accession to the EU heralded a new opportunity for young women and we were among the first group to benefit.

Back to the photo.


That’s me in the front row, third from the left. I wanted to pursue a career in journalism and, with Sister Eithne’s encouragement, succeeded in getting a much-sought-after place in Ireland’s only journalism course. I became the first member of my family to go on to third level and get a qualification (a diploma).

Here’s a roll call of  some others in the photo:

  • Moya Doherty, Producer of Riverdance (third row, first on left)
  • Eileen Dunne, RTÉ newscaster (third row, seventh from left)
  • Brigid McManus, former Secretary General of the Department of Education and Science, one of the first women to run a government department (back row, first right)
  • Anne-Marie Taylor, a management consultant, ex-Accenture and the Project Manager of the Gathering book launched by Taoiseach Enda Kenny last week.
  • Kathy Prendergast, award-winning, world-renowned artist who has exhibited across the world from the Tate to the several New York galleries (second last row, eighth from right)
  • Andrea Nolan, President, Napier University in Edinburgh, a vet who was awarded an OBE for services to education of veterinary medicine (second row, fifth left)
  • Anne O’Gara, President, Marino Institute, the third level teaching institute (front row, sixth right)

Our year also produced two fashion entrepreneurs, Brenda Duane, who runs Pace boutiques in Clontarf and Foxrock and Carmel Brennan who has two boutiques, Ellen B in Malahide and Clontarf. There are two school principals and many, many more women who have achieved much in their

There were Manor House high achievers in other years as well – RTE’s Aine Lawlor, the Children’s Ombudsman Emily Logan, Bank of Ireland’s company secretary Helen Nolan, Executive Director of the IMF Mary O’Dea and Ann Nolan, the Second Secretary of the Department of Finance.

Manor House also produced what I call our quieter heroes, who became homemakers, community workers, volunteers, social workers, teachers and many others who took other different paths and who have maintained a low profile than some of the rest of us.

The photo has had a renewed relevance in my life over recent months. Brigid McManus invited me and some old school friends to dinner back in April. In catch-up conversation, we learned that Anne-Marie Taylor, the original project manager of the Gathering, was in the midst of a major publishing project with journalist Miriam Donohoe.

They were producing a book on the Gathering in aid of the Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF) and inviting various well-known figures to contribute to the book, among them our old school pal Moya Doherty.

That very day, Anne-Marie received Moya’s contribution for the book. She read out the following passage…

The Manor House school in Raheny: nuns whose memory might just give nuns a good name. Sr. Alacoque, not cut out for the habit – but a wizard of a basketball coach. Sr Theresa, the tsetse fly, who shocked the innocent, asserting that all natural disasters were a means of stabilising the world population. Sr Ephrem – the little effer – tiny and fearful of her wards…

It struck a chord with each of us.  And it got me thinking. Why don’t we hold a Manor House Gathering and help raise funds for the IHF? And that’s exactly what we are doing.  The Manor House Gathering is on tomorrow night in the Marine Hotel in Sutton and the last time I checked over 200 past pupils, teachers, parents are coming (and I believe even some of the nuns).

The event is open to anybody with a Manor House connection,and is not exclusive to our school year. But in planning this project we encountered a problem – how do you make contact with your old school friends?  We had challenges. At this point, 48 hours before the event, I reckon we still have not got the word out to half of the girls in that photograph.

So if you are in that photograph, or if you spot your mum, aunt, sister, cousin please let them know about the Manor House Gathering. Tell them to try to come along, even if they haven’t been in contact
with anybody from school for so long. We plan to celebrate our wonderful fortune in being taught at a truly remarkable school into the early hours of the morning (if we’re let).

PS. The burning question…how old am I?  As young as Madonna is all that I will say…

Aileen O’Toole is a co-founder of The Sunday Business Post and now works as a digital strategist through her company AMAS.

Learn more about the Manor House Gathering here. The Irish Hospice Foundation will benefit from proceedings of the Gathering: Reflections on Ireland book.

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