Sr Margaret’s passion for education saw her play a key role in development of Ballyfermot College

By Aideen O'Flaherty

A PIONEERING historian and Dominican nun, who described her involvement in setting up Ballyfermot Senior College as her “best contribution to Irish society”, has been remembered by President Michael D Higgins as a multifaceted and impactful woman following her death at age 91 this week.

Dr Margaret MacCurtain OP grew up in Cork, and battling diphtheria at the age of nine cemented her resolve to become a nun when she grew up.

Sr. Margaret MacCurtain2 1

Sr Margaret MacCurtain

On completing her Leaving Cert, Dr MacCurtain went to university in her native Cork, and after obtaining a Bachelor’s degree she then gained a postgraduate qualification in education, and joined the Irish Congregation of Dominican Sisters shortly thereafter, where she also taught in the congregation’s schools.

Outside of her teaching role, Dr MacCurtain also soared academically, and went on to get a Master’s degree in UCD while teaching full-time, and in 1964 she earned a PhD in history and lectured in the college’s Irish History Department.

This passion for education led Dr MacCurtain to become an instrumental part of the development of Ballyfermot Senior College, which is now a college of further education.

Writing in a Dominican Sisters blog several years ago, Dr MacCurtain remarked: “An invitation to develop a Senior College in Ballyfermot, now a college of further education, tested my sincerity but gave me the opportunity to make my best contribution to Irish society.

“Ballyfermot people deserved a college and the Senior College staff set a standard of achievement and creativity that astounded the skeptical.”

President Michael D Higgins reflected on the impact that Dr MacCurtain had on many sections of Irish society.

In a statement, President Higgins said: “I am among the many, in so many parts of Irish society, who will have heard with great sadness of the death of Sr Margaret MacCurtain, Dominican sister, historian, educator, human rights advocate, feminist and writer.

“There were so many aspects of Irish life, past and present, to which she made a unique and valuable contribution.

“Dedicated to her religious vocation and inspired by the Second Vatican Council, Sr Margaret MacCurtain displayed her tremendous talent in so many areas, and she will be remembered not only for her academic achievements but also for her tireless campaigning for social justice.

“We owe her a profound debt of gratitude for her advocacy on the abolition of corporal punishment in schools and for the rights of children with special educational needs, and indeed for her academic work in which she highlighted the oft neglected role of women in Irish history.

“She brought not only great determination and energy to all her work but also great humour, compassion and humanity.

“She will be missed by the countless people she inspired, but most acutely by her family and fellow members of the Dominican order. Sabina and I express our deepest condolences to all those whose lives she touched.”

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