• Morgan Fagg

Marist College´s First 50th Reunion

Updated: Sep 23, 2018

(First published in the Athlone Topic in 2011)

Class of 1961 reunite at Marist College

ROLL CALL was taken for the Marist College’s Leaving Cert class of 1961 which celebrated a milestone anniversary of their graduation dinner in the Radisson Blu hotel on Friday, December 2nd.

A number of functions were held on Friday and Saturday to mark the passing of five decades since the 21 men last stood shoulder to shoulder for a group photo. Some hadn’t seen each other since that time and many had only seen a few people from their class over the years.

There were 31 pupils in the Class of 1961 which the Marist Past Pupils Union reported at the time, was the largest number ever to sit the examination. This once off re-union also included the Intermediate Certificate Class of 1959 where many past–pupils had relocated or went off to boarding schools.

They had left as teenagers but were now returning to their old school, many of them married and are now grandparents. The group of graduates include a doctor, a judge, a publisher, teachers, engineers and a former mayor.

The sixties scholars, now in their sixties went their separate ways and only a few remained in Athlone and the gathering had dispersed amongst the country with some emigrating to America, Canada and England. Friends from near and far gathered to mark the occasion and representing the class’s diaspora, Eamon Cunningham travelled home with his wife Eileen for the event.

Eamon could hardly miss the reunion as it was his suggestion to hold a graduation dinner in the first place. The class of 1961 broke new ground by having a dinner when graduation balls were not common place and their venue of choice was the Royal Hoey Hotel.

Mr Eamon Cunningham originally from Asicus Villas left Ireland in 1970 where he now works as a physician in Alberta, Canada. Eamon had nothing but thanks for the reunion organising committee who invited him for the special 50th anniversary.

Eamon described the Leaving Cert as one of the best years of his life and said that he met a great group of people, that year.

Let us go back six presidents to Eamon de Valera’s Ireland of 1961. A newly elected American president is reaching for the moon and Berlin is building a big wall. At home, Gay Byrne presents a late late show to temporarily fill the summer slot of the recently established RTE.

Fast forward 50 years and the old classmates explain the remarkable changes to Athlone which includes a new by-pass, an impressive new library building and shopping centre where they enjoyed their graduation dinner at the old Hoey Hotel site, Golden Island shopping centre where they used to play football and back in 1961, the nearest college for the Marist scholars was UCG and not AIT.

Gathering in the Radisson Blu, The hotel and marina are quite a change from the industrial heart of old Athlone where the Apparel and Woollen Mills once stood and unrecognisable to anyone returning to Athlone after 1961 is the build-up of the Monksland area. Despite the economic downturn, Eamon Cunningham said that Athlone still appears a very prosperous and progressive town.

A table quiz was held on the night to test the students’ knowledge and memories of the night held half a century ago. Questions included, what day of the week was the dinner and what deliberate spelling mistake could be seen on the menu. To answer this question, the class got to see a faded copy of the original menu which was signed by the entire class.

In a world of instant access, communication was made easier once the organising committee could make initial contact with their former comrades. This involved sending letters and making phone calls to their old home address and contacting known family members. Clusters of friends were found at times and soon word got round that the Class of 1961 would re-unite.

Mr Rod Killeen who got the ball rolling in July and was helped by the organising committee which included Mr Paddy Kenny and Mr Brian Fagg who were aided by staff from the Marist College.

Not everyone of the class was in attendance and remembering their former comrades, a mass was held in their Alma mater for those who have since past away. This included Marist brothers and lay teachers who taught them.

The mass was said by Fr. Shay Casey and keeping the old school friends in order, the group were joined at Saturday’s remembrance mass by their past teachers, Bro Colman, Bro Macartan and Michael O’Keefe.

Fr. Casey praised the work of the Marist brothers for establishing the school in Athlone, 125 years ago and said that the town has a lot to be thankful for the Scottish brothers who founded the school and also the work of a French nun in setting up the Bower girls’ school adjacent to the Marist.

Eamon Cunningham was responsible for putting the idea of a dinner to the class and teachers back in 1961 but maybe the class have set a new benchmark for others to celebrate their 50th Leaving Cert anniversary.

Then & Now

#maristcollege #reunion

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