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Our Own Village Schoolmaster Loses Battle For Life

by Jimmy Rhatigan

As principal of Castlecomer Community School, Séamus O’Connor was always as busy as the proverbial bee.
He loved his work and the entire team at the school responded to his positive urgings.
Outside of the North Kilkenny seat of education that he admired and led so well, he was a quiet, friendly, softly spoken family man.
In school, the son of Celbridge, Kildare kept his finger on the pulse, worked closely with parents, teachers and school management and prioritised the welfare of students in whom he had great confidence.
His beloved wife Sheila, son Luke, daughters Annie and Ciara, along with his extended family of brothers, sisters and in-laws were his pride and joy.
He was a devoted family man who treasured his involvement with his nearest and dearest at family occasions, in sport, horse racing, soccer and GAA and he enjoyed sharing the various interests of his children.
Understandably, an máistir, aka príomh oide was always happy to advise and also to listen to opinions and suggestions from his close-knit family unit.
At the end of a hectic week, Séamus liked nothing better than to relax, read his favourite newspaper, at times newspapers, and to chat about sport.

He sometimes speculated as to what teams would bring home the bacon on a particular weekend.
As a family, the O’Connor Clan immersed itself in the activities of North Kilkenny, including ‘Comer’s Wellie Race, a phenomenal fundraiser to help local charities to ease local communities as an extended parish craved a ‘Hiems Transit’-type scenario on the way to Spring and Summer.
Unlike with his deep involvement in all aspects of education, he was a backbencher when it came to conversation.
Those who were privileged to enjoy his company on the odd occasion when he relaxed with a few pints of Guinness, would never have to listen to any particular agenda proffered by Séamus.
He left life at Castlecomer Community School in the classrooms, gymnasium or on school playing fields, although if you brought up the subjects of teaching and learning, you were left in no doubt of the respect which he had for what he called a proud school community.
He had great pride too in his Celbridge roots and in his six siblings, Tom, Rita, Des, Ger, Joe and George. He spoke too of growing up in a family pub business.

A devoted and truly passionate educationalist and lover of an Teanga Gaeilge, Séamus leaves a wonderful legacy of progress, fair play, ingenuity, honesty and happiness at the school that he served so well from 1985 and was promoted to principal in 2005, 36 years of loyal service.
He had been ill for a comparatively short time only. He fought the good fight but sadly he passed away all too early at the age of 58.
Séamus will have gone to his eternal reward with the knowledge that the magnificent work he championed in Castlecomer Community School will continue for many years to come.
His confidence in all sectors of school staff and the dedication of an entire school community were proof positive that good foundations were laid for a house of knowledge in which Séamus took so much personal pride.
As a journalist, it was particularly pleasing to hear Séamus on the other end of a ‘phone. He know the value of public relations and would ensure that words and pictures would get to your desk in the hope of what he termed valued publicity and with the warm and very understanding message of ‘whenever you get a chance to use them.’

So happy to be with students he believed in at the Castlecomer Community School he loved

Requiem Mass was celebrated in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Castlecomer, with all Covid.19 restrictions being observed.
Interment was at Donaghcumper Cemetery, Celbridge, County Kildare.
In life, Séamus had huge respect for his native place, his beloved North Kilkenny and for his adopted Kilkenny City where his family lived at Ayrfield, Granges Road.
In death he remained united with a Kilkenny community at his final Mass, his farewell from Castlecomer and environs friends in his two-way street of mutual respect.
He now rests in peace among his own, those he went to school with, played games with and was taught the values of family and community.
It is hard to believe that we won’t have the pleasure of his company again.
But he will always have a special place in our hearts.
Great numbers of local men, women and children turned out to pay their respects as the cortege paused at the community school and edged its way through ‘Comer and local villages.
Again respecting Covid.19 restrictions, representatives of myriad local families lined the route to the bridge below the town before Séamus was brought home to be laid to rest.

To paraphrase slightly a line from The Village Schoolmaster; And still we gaz’d and still the wonder grew, how one small head could carry all he knew.
Séamus was most likely type of teacher that poet Oliver Goldsmith had in mind when he penned his verses that have stood the test of time.
The words of Acting Deputy principal Peter O’Donovan emphasise the great respect that Séamus O’C enjoyed in his adopted place.
“Seamus O’Connor was a true champion of Castlecomer. He had a deep love for the communities of North Kilkenny. He knew the area’s history, he knew it’s values and he knew it’s humour.
“As an educator he was peerless. He served as a mentor and friend to staff, parents and students. His dedication to the community school was immense. In his 36 years in Castlecomer he touched so many lives. We have lost one of life’s great gentlemen,” Peter told Kikenny Press.

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