As our academic year draws to an end annually in May, the school community prepares to say its goodbyes to the graduating Leaving Certificate students. In our school it is rarely a final goodbye as our graduates always seem to find a path back to us for some reason whether it be for a reference (€100), advice (€200) or just a chat (€300) in the years after they leave!
It is always a special evening that is enshrined with great optimism and hope as the school community reflects with pride at all that our students have achieved to date. Family and friends gather to pay tribute to the hard work, positive attitude and good humour of those who have the honour of describing themselves as O’Connell Secondary School alumni.
Graduation evening is a reflective occasion imbued with music, liturgy and various awards to acknowledge all that the staff and students have achieved in their years at O’Connell Secondary School.
There are a number of awards which pay tribute to the Spirit of Blessed Edmund Rice which lives on through our students. Among the awards are the following:
- Individual Class Student of the Year Awards
- Individual awards for sporting excellence in gaelic games, soccer and basketball
- Overall Sportsperson of the Year Award
- Awards for contributing to the promotion of different activities such as music and drama within our school
- The Cathal Dunlop Memorial Award.
Cathal Dunlop Memorial Award
Cathal Dunlop, a well-liked and highly respected student of O’Connell Secondary School, lost his battle with cancer and died at the tragically young age of 16 in June 1998. Each year at the annual Graduation Ceremony, the coveted Cathal Dunlop Award is presented to the graduating student who has contributed most to the life of the school community during his time in OCS.
The students are made aware of Cathal’s story and courage from the beginning of their time in our school and it is considered to be a highly prestigious award as it rewards qualities that mean so much to us in life.
Donated by his loving family, father Frank, mother Sheila and sister Sinead, this award we hope will remain part of the fabric of O’ Connells for as long as Cathal’s wonderful qualities are valued.
The following comment was written by Brian Dunleavy, a transition year classmate of Cathal.
“Last May I went with some of my transition year classmates to visit Cathal at his home. Cathal was sick, but his great personality wasn’t. We laughed and joked and talked of the latest gossip from transition year. It was a great couple of hours but tragically it was the last time I would see him. On the 24th June 1998, I lost a friend”.
The following article was written in 1999 by Mr. Conor Flood, Cathal’s Transition Year form-teacher:
Here are a few words about Cathal Dunlop who died last summer aged just 16. I suppose the only way we can make sense of the seeming shortness of Cathal’s life is to think of just how full, happy and content his time with us was. He was a smiler by nature and not even his illness got in the way of living his life to the full.
From an early age he seemed to set himself goals which quietly but assuredly he attained.
A proud Meath man, Cathal loved sport and in particular swimming. He started young, but it wasn’t until he joined Coolmine Swimming Club that it became his passion. He represented his school with pride and success and whilst doing so was picked to represent his country at an international schools tournament in Malta in July 1996.
The previous year he was a member of the team that lifted the national Tetrathlon trophy, setting a record in the swimming discipline that still stands today. The Tetrathlon involves swimming, horse-riding, shooting and running.
Cathal’s sickness may have sapped some of his strength but none of his enthusiasm for the things he loved. He enjoyed transition year, thriving on the challenges and targets, craic and friendship it entails. Although very ill at the time he was determined to collect his certificate at the end of May last. It was his attitude, strength and character which made him stand out and helped to make him such a good friend and loving brother to his sister Sinead and devoted son to Frank and Sheila.
It is very hard not to be sad when we think of Cathal. The loss for his family is a terrible one. Our thoughts and prayers remain with his mother Sheila, his father Frank and his sister Sinead. Cathal’s family were, to a large extent, prepared for his death. His classmates never really came to terms with it. That God could reach out for one so young and vital was not part of their experience. Their reaction was and indeed still is one of disbelief. Their lives were, however, enriched by having known him and when, inevitably, they face crises of their own in the future they will almost certainly draw inspiration and courage from his example.
In closing, on the 26th of June this year a new O’Connell’s tradition will begin. One student will receive the Cathal Dunlop Memorial Trophy. This annual prize will be awarded to the student who has contributed most to O’Connell’s, in all aspects of school life. It is more than fitting that this award will be given on the basis of the very qualities we came to admire and respect in Cathal – diligence, warmth, character and friendship.
Cathal, you are missed and will always be remembered.