When President McAleese arrived at the primary school, she was greeted by the board of management chairperson, Fr Partrick Kehoe, as well as the school principal.
The infants formed a guard of honour for the President as she walked to the main door.
Mary McAleese was given a tour of the school and a short presentation on James Fintan Lalor by the 5th class pupils.
The President then met the Green Schools Committee and had a meeting with some of the special education teachers afterwards. President McAleese was then shown the sensory garden.
At the end of the tour of the school, McAleese and her husband, Dr Martin were officially greeted by the principal, Aidan McEvoy.
Mr McEvoy said:
“It is a privilege to welcome you to our school. This is a very special day for the whole school community and your visit will remain in our memory for some time to come.”
Mr McEvoy spoke about the Brigidine Sisters and the Partrician Brothers who founded schools which amalgamated in 1983.
McEvoy acknowledged the staff, board of management and parent’s committee in his speech. He also commended the pupils on the sense of joy they bring to the school.
The pupils then sang ‘Abbeyleix’, lead by musical director John Hosey and singing director Mary Egan.
After their fantastic performance, McAleese adressed the students. She asked them if the rumours were true that Scoil Mhuire was the best school in Ireland, to which she received an enthusiastic yes.
The president then asked Mr McEvoy to cover his ears while she asked the pupils if they would like to have no homework for the evening. This question was answered with the loudest cheer of the day.
She said: “Education is the best chance you get in life. It’s like winning the lotto, it’s life changing and it is the key to lots of doors.”
She thanked the Patridan Brothers and the Brigidine Sisters for all they had done for education in Abbeyleix.
She told the students: “Their work invested in your parents and grandparents. This education allowed people to stay in Ireland, and now the country has developed so much that people come from all over the world to Ireland.”
She continued: “We heard in your song, what happens when someone leaves home, they feel lonely. They want a friend.
“There are students here in the school who have left their family and friends in Africa, Asia and all over the world. They need you to be their good friend.”
Commenting on how well the school looked, the President joked: “My kids tell me that a visit from the President is worse than a visit to your room from your mother. The work in this school was certainly done with a heart and a half.”
The final address came from the chairperson of the board of management, Fr Patrick Kehoe. He said:
“We have a very active and vibrant school community. It is a very special year as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the school.”
Fr Kehoe continued: “We are fortunate enough to have such committed teachers, both religious and lay, and we are most grateful for their commitment.
“Your visit, President, is a fulfilling tribute to the work of the school.”
President McAleese was then invited to unveil a commemorative plaque celebrating the school’s silver jubilee.
Two students, Caoimhe and Jack, then made a presentation to President Mary McAleese before she departed.