The first national school in Kinsale, a two storey building opened in November 1840 and was located on the Half Wall and was for boys only. It was called the Kinsale Male School. A separate girls school the Kinsale Female School was established on the first floor in May 1841 and was later assimilated into the new Convent in March 1845. At this stage the upper floor in the boys school became the Kinsale Senior Boys School. From 1844 when Mother Ann Burke a wealthy widow form Macroom decided to join a charity order but changed her mind and joined the Mercy Order in Limerick the future of Mercy Education in Kinsale was secured. Her brother Fr. Justin Mac Namara persuaded her to come to Kinsale where there was a need for a school for girls. In 1845 the sisters opened the Convent school for girls with over 700 students and only 6 teaching sisters whose job was not only to educate but also to feed their students. The primary school was housed over three floors and the building was eventually shared with boarding and day pupils from the secondary school. During the famine when there were fish but no potatoes Mother Bridgeman went to Belfast to learn to make fishing nets, returned and shared her knowledge. She also travelled to Limerick to learn to make lace and brought this craft to Kinsale. Kinsale lace won prizes and recognition worldwide and indeed this craft is currently being revived.
Mercy Education and leadership in Kinsale continued until 2000 with the retirement of the last Principal Sr Mary McAuliffe in 2000 and the subsequent retirement of the last teaching sister Sister Genevieve O’ Keefe in 2013. The Mercy sisters continue to play a role in education in Kinsale with Sr Mary Donovan being appointed as Chairperson of the Board of Management of our new school Scoil Naomh Eltin.
In 1891 Fr Justin’s successor Fr Cotter invited the Presentation Brothers to Kinsale. The first St John’s NS opened in 1895 and the brothers continued educating the boys of Kinsale until the last Brother Brother Benildus retired in 1969. Dermot Ryan was appointed as principal in 1970 and oversaw the transfer to the new boys school in Ballinacubby in 1978. Margaret Canty a past pupil of the Convent of Mercy succeeded as principal in 2005 followed by Alice Mc Carthy in 2012.
The link between the Mercy Sisters in St Joseph’s Convent NS and the Monks in St John’s NS was long established with both boys and girls spending their junior and senior infant years together. The boys traditionally transferred to St John’s before the summer holidays. Their arrival coincided with the arrival of the new season potatoes so they became known as the new spuds by their peers.
Both schools held pivotal positions in the town of Kinsale for more than 150 years and education for the youth of Kinsale reached the highest standards. . In more recent years it became apparent that parental choice for coeducational schools needed to be acknowledged and put in place while at the same time the Department of Education and Skills were encouraging smaller schools to amalgamate.
Following years of negotiation and planning it was agreed by all involved parties that both schools would amalgamate thus achieving both objectives. The Department of Education and Skills investigated the sites of both schools. The site of St John’s NS was deemed to be the bigger of the two and therefore the more suitable. The initial plan was for both schools to move into the old St John’s School Building but following a Des directed demographic study on the population Of Kinsale Minister Ruairi Quinn decided that a new 16 classroom primary school was needed in the town to cater for primary education. This school was announced in December 2011 and was to be built under the 2012 Department of Education Five year Construction Plan.
In order to give the new school a name parents and the wider Kinsale community were balloted. A number of names were proposed but the majority of proposals related to the patron saint of Kinsale Naomh Eltin.