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Our School: Steeped in history but now a modern rural primary school – Scoil Fionntáin Naofa, Shanahoe

Back in the autumn of 2019, we started a regular feature on LaoisToday ‘Our School’, where we planned to visit the primary schools of the county to meet their staff and students and hear their story.

Schools are the very centre of local communities and all have their own traditions and rituals and plans and hopes for the future.

The Covid-19 pandemic meant that that series was firmly stopped in its tracks and though we’ve been to many schools since – primarily around county final season – we’ve recently relaunched the ‘Our School’ series.

Our first visit was to was to Scoil Fionntáin Naofa in Shanahoe where principal Barry Whelan opened us with welcome arms.

Below we hear their story, accompanied by a selection of images from our photographer Julie Anne Miller.

History of the school

Scoil Fionntáin Naofa, Shanahoe is located in the village of Shanahoe which is 6.6 km from the heritage town of Abbeyleix.

The present Scoil Fionntáin Naofa, Shanahoe was officially opened in September 1949 by the then Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin Rev. Dr Keogh.

The official opening made the front page of ‘The Leinster Express’ with a feature article entitled ‘New School for Laois’. The Principal at that time was Mr John Whelan from Abbeyleix and the Assistant Teachers were Mrs Kathleen O’Connell and Mr William Coughlan. 

The current building was extended in 2004 with the addition of a new classroom and then again in 2020 with the building of a further new classroom.

Further refurbishment and renovation works took place in 2022 as a result of the opening of our Sonas Class for pupils on the Autistic Spectrum. 

The previous St Fintan’s N.S was located in what is now Shanahoe Community Hall directly opposite the current school, and it opened its doors in 1830.

The opening of the original ‘Shanahoe School, Queen’s County’ in the year 1830 predated the foundation of the National School System of Education in Ireland by one year, and this is testament to the long and strong tradition of formal education in the Shanahoe area stretching back nearly 200 years. 

Prior to the opening of ‘Shanahoe School’ in 1830, local schoolmaster Thomas Moloney operated a hedge school in the townland of Killeaney in close proximity to the Anglo-Norman Gortnaclea Castle, the ruins of this hedge school can still be seen today. 

Mr Moloney’s reputation as an educator proceeded him and as a result pupils came from near and far to attend his school. The continuous growth in enrolment necessitated the movement of the school from its site in Killeaney to the vestry of Shanahoe Church in 1822.

The pupil numbers continued to increase and as a result the school transferred to the main body of Shanahoe Church in 1828 where it remained for two years until the ‘new’ school officially opened in 1830.

At that time, Thomas Moloney was assisted by his nephew John Keegan who laterally became a national poet of renown with his most famous poem being the ‘Caoch the Piper’ which was recited by countless numbers of school children across the country down through the years.  

School Profile 

There are 70 pupils on the roll this year, three mainstream class teachers, one Special Class Teacher, one fulltime Special Education Teacher and one half time Special Education Teacher post that is shared with Ballacolla and Clough National Schools.

There are three fulltime Special Needs Assistant and one half time Special Needs Assistant, a school secretary, a bus escort and a cleaner on staff.

The school has a very supportive Board of Management which is led by Chairperson Michéal Delaney and Parents’ Association led by Chairperson Norma Rohan. 

School Staff 

The Principal Barry Whelan is a Laois man and hails from Ballylinan. He is a graduate of St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra and previously taught in schools in Athy, Terenure, Kilcullen and Castledermot.

He has been in situ in Shanahoe since Autumn 2021 and is happy to be teaching in his native county for the first time. He teaches 5th and 6th Class. He feels that there is a great sense of community in Shanahoe and that local people are very supportive of the work of the school. 

Previous Principal teachers in the school included Mr Richie Connor from Walsh Island, Co Offaly (2011-2021), Mr David Brickley from Coolrain (1979-2011), Mrs Mary M. Dollard (formerly Miss Foley) from Cork (1973-1979), Mr Richard Morgan from Cavan (1967-1973) and Mr John Whelan from Abbeyleix/Clonkeen (1935-1967). 

The Deputy Principal is Johnny Watson who is originally from Ballyagran in Co Limerick. He is a graduate of Mary Immaculate College in Limerick.

He previously taught in Kilshanroe in North Kildare and has been Deputy Principal in the school since Autumn 2022. He is SEN Co-ordinator and fulltime Special Education Teacher and has settled in very well to life in Scoil Fionntáin Naofa.  

Mr Watson replaced Miriam Brickley who retired as Deputy Principal at the end of June 2022, having spent her entire teaching career of 39 years in the school. Mrs Brickley (formerly Miss Collins) is originally from Ballymoe in Co Roscommon and her first (and only teaching position) on graduation from St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra in 1983 was in Scoil Fionntáin Naofa, Shanahoe.

At that time, Scoil Fionntáin Naofa was a two teacher school and over the following years romance blossomed between the staff and Miss Collins and Mr Brickley (the Principal) married in 1988! The school remained as a two teacher school until 2002. 

The other current teaching staff members are Kris Cahill who is Assistant Principal 2 and has been teaching in the school since 2002. She is originally from Co Monaghan. 

Mrs Cahill teaches 2nd to 4th Class this year. Gillian Burnell from Abbeyleix is the Junior Room Teacher and she has responsibility for Junior Infants, Senior Infants and 1st Class.

Rachel Fisher from Rathdowney is the teacher in the Sonas Class and Kay O’Connor who is originally from Kerry but now resident in Laois is shared Special Education Teacher with Ballacolla and Clough National Schools.

Joey Hennessy from Tipperary covers Principal Release Days. The Special Needs Assistants are Tracy Lalor, Deirdre Bates, Lisa Walsh and Clementine Kearns.

Isobel Magner is the school secretary and Marie Gleeson is the bus escort for the pupils in the Sonas Class. Michael Cahill is the school cleaner. 

School Facilities 

The school is very fortunate to have an extensive outdoor play area which comprises of a hard yard area, a basketball court, a large pitch, a natural play area, an outdoor classroom and a purpose built soft play area with a play structure which was installed in the Summer of 2022, to coincide with the opening of the Sonas Class for pupils on the Autistic Spectrum.

A dedicated sensory room space was also opened at this time within the school building.

The school is very lucky to have access to the recently refurbished Shanahoe Community Hall for school assemblies and for certain elements of the P.E curriculum, namely Dance and Gymnastics. 

Catchment Area and Community Links

The pupils in the school are predominantly drawn from Shanahoe side of Raheen Parish and parents and grandparents of many current pupils received their initial education in the school.

Some of the pupils in the school come from further afield. The school endeavours to foster positive relationships and partnerships with the local and parish community. 

Pupils in the school regularly attend masses and celebrations in St Brigid’s Church, Shanahoe and Parish Priest Fr. Paddy Byrne is a good friend to the school. 

General Information 

The school may be small but it is very active. In addition to endeavouring to achieve high academic standards across all subject areas, the school prides itself on offering a broad, balanced and relevant curriculum that is responsive to individual learner needs.

This is complimented by access to a range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. The school’s motto is ‘Mol an agus tiocfaidh sí’ (Praise the Young and they will flourish). 


The school has been a Discover Primary Science and Maths award winning school for a long number of years and has received many plaques of STEM excellence.

The school is working towards achieving a Gold STEM Award for the school year 2022-2023 as part of the ‘Curious Minds’ (formerly Discover Primary Science and Maths) initiative.

All pupils participate in various activities for Maths Week in October, Science Week in November and Engineers’ Week in March. 

Sporting Endeavours 

The school is an Active School and a wide range of sports are played and undertaken across all classes.

Pupils participate in Cumann na mBunscol football and hurling leagues on an annual basis and the girls’ football team reached the final of their division last year.

The school maintains strong links with the local Shanahoe GAA Club who provide great support to the school. 

Tag rugby in conjunction with Leinster Rugby and Portlaoise Rugby Club was introduced to the school this year. Pupils in the senior classes will be participating in the FAI 5 a Side schools league in the coming weeks.

In addition, all pupils receive a block of dancing lessons with Aisling Walsh from the ‘Aisling Walsh School of Dance’ on an annual basis.

Pupils receive a block of swimming lessons in Portlaoise Swimming Pool in the Summer term. Under the guidance of the Deputy Principal Mr. Watson, the Active Schools committee is working diligently to renew the school’s Active School status.

Activities that they are currently organising and promoting at school level include ‘Walk on Wednesday’ during which the entire school completes a 1.2km lap of the ‘triangle’ in Shanahoe Village, ‘Funky Friday’ during which the entire school take to the yard for dance and aerobics activities and the ‘Couch to 1K/2k’ programme in conjunction with Laois Sports Partnership. Members of the Active Schools committee also serve as playground leaders at breaktimes. 

Green Schools 

Scoil Fionntáin Naofa is a Green School and the Green Schools committee under the guidance of Mrs Cahill is currently working towards achieving their fourth Green Flag which is for biodiversity.

They are presently developing a biodiversity/Bee Garden in an area of the school grounds which will incorporate our existing ‘Bug Motel’.

The Green Schools committee recently organised a ’Save the Bees’ mural competition for a mural design for the wall in the Biodiversity Area.

They also promote the ‘Picker Pals’ environmental awareness and care initiative at school level. The work of the Green School’s committee is further enhanced by regular engagement with the ‘Heritage in Schools’ initiative and collaboration with it advisors.

Prior to the Christmas holidays, all pupils worked with Beth Murphy from ‘Heritage in Schools’ to create a new Willow dome in our natural playground area. Under the ‘Orchards in the Community’ scheme, the school received 25 apple and pear trees last year to encourage pollination in the school grounds.

The school also received saplings of Native Irish trees under the ‘Trees for the Land’ scheme. Both sets of trees were planted by pupils and parents. 

Student Council

The school has a Student Council which is comprised of one representative from each class from Junior Infants to 6th Class, totalling eight members.

The Student Council is very active in promoting and organising different events during the school year including activities for our ‘Anti-Bullying Week’ in October, the ‘Team Hope Christmas Shoebox Appeal’ in the lead up to Christmas, events for ‘Safer Internet Day’ in February and ‘World Book Day’ in March.

In addition to this, the council organises fundraising activities for different charities during the year and prior to the February midterm break, they raised €255.70 for the Ugandan Orphan Appeal as the result of a ‘No Uniform Day’.

The Student Council is also aligning their work this year with an application for an Amber Flag for the promotion of positive mental health and wellbeing across all classes in the school. 

Blue Star Programme

The pupils in 5th and 6th Class participate in the ‘Blue Star’  programme on an annual basis, the aim of which is to develop their knowledge and understanding of the European Union through active engagement with historical, cultural, creative and institutional elements.

The school was awarded a ‘Blue Star’ flag for their participation in the programme last year (2021-2022). 

The Pushkin Trust

Pupils in 5th and 6th class are engaging with the ‘Pushkin Trust’ project this year. The ‘Pushkin Trust’ is a cross border initiative.

The initiative retains creative writing as the central core of its activity and this is supplemented by other creative art forms, using the environment as an important source of inspiration.

Participation in the programme opens up meaningful lines of integration between different subjects from the Primary School Curriculum. The theme of this year’s project is ‘Reforestation of the Imagination’.

The School Band

The school has a band that has been in existence since the early 1990s and which was established by former Principal David Brickley and former Deputy Principal Miriam Brickley.

Pupils form 2nd to 6th Classes under the direction of Mrs. Cahill, play tin whistles, piano accordions and percussion instruments.

The school band was very fortunate to be chosen to participate in the ’Primary Ensemble Project’ with the National Concert Hall and the Royal Irish Academy of Music this year.

Following an application process, the school was one of nine schools nationally to be selected to participate in the project. Pupils in 2nd to 6th Class have been working with tutors from the Royal Irish Academy of Music over the last number of months to further enhance their performance skills.

Participation in the project will culminate in the school band taking to the main stage in the National Concert Hall on March 28th for a performance of instrumental medleys and different songs.

The school band also performs at local community events and will perform and march at this year’s Mountrath St. Patrick’s Day Parade wearing their band uniform which is in the Shanahoe colours of red and black. 

Local History and Heritage 

There is a very strong interest in local History and Heritage in the school that has been fostered over a long number of years by successive Principals and teachers.

In the school year 2021-2022, all pupils in the school from Junior Infants to 6th Class went out into the local area and interviewed family members, neighbours and friends about various different topics under the umbrella heading of local history and heritage.

This project was aligned with the principles of the nationwide School’s Collection/Bailiúchan na Scol of 1937-1939 which involved primary school pupils across the island of Ireland going out into their local areas to interview people regarding local history, heritage and folklore related items.

As a result of very generous sponsorship provided by local businesses and organisation together with a high level of commitment and interest from members of the school and local community, the Shanahoe School’s Collection of 2021-2022 was published in book form in December 2022 under the title of ‘Tracing Our Past-Scoil Fionntáin Naofa, Shanahoe’.

The collection was officially launched by former Principal David Brickley in conjunction with the school’s ‘Celebration of Christmas’ in December 2022.

Mr. Brickley was instrumental in fostering a very strong awareness and appreciation of the rich local history and heritage of the area in its many forms among the pupils of the school during his tenure as Principal from 1979-2011.

Tracing our Past-Scoil Fionntáin Naofa, Shanahoe’ is available to purchase directly from the school, in AllBooks in Portlaoise and in Anthology in Abbeyleix. The cost of the publication is €20. 

Pupils in the school regularly go on fieldtrips to local historical sites. 

The Visual Arts 

The school has a strong interest in the Visual Arts and engages with programmes and initiatives such as ‘Artists in Schools’.

The school was very fortunate to receive a ‘Blast Artist in Residency’ in the school year 2021-2022 in conjunction with Laois Education and Support Centre. Under the guidance of Mary Slevin from Mount Henry Art Studio in Killenard, pupils in 5th and 6th Class created a large scale local history and heritage themed mural which incorporates elements of the local built heritage such as Poor Man’s Bridge, St. Fintan’s Well at Cromogue, Gortnaclea Castle and Thomas Moloney’s Hedge School. In addition, local folktales such as ‘The Bacach Rua of Poor Man’s Bridge’, ‘The Banshee of Gortanclea’ and ‘The Ditreabhac’s Legacy’ are also represented in the mural as is Caoch the Piper from John Keegan’s poem of the same name.

An image of the mural forms the cover of the aforementioned publication ‘Tracing our Past-Scoil Fionntáin Naofa, Shanahoe’. 


Readers’ Theatre and Researchers in Residency 

In the school year 2021-2022, the school in collaboration with Scoil Bhríde in Knockmay and Holy Family Junior School in Portlaoise with the support of Laois Education and Support Centre was awarded a Researchers in Residency Bursary from the Teaching Council to explore the use of Reader’s Theatre as a methodology to improve reading fluency.

Pupils in 5th and 6th Class in the school wrote Reader’s Theatre Scripts based on the legend ‘The Children of Lir’ and these were subsequently used and performed by the pupils in the middle classes.

The work of the pupils and that of the partner schools was showcased at ‘Féilte’ in the Helix in DCU at the beginning of October 2022.

To further develop the project this year, pupils in the senior classes will work with Laois based Dramatist and Playwright Frances Harney to further develop their skills as playwrights. 

  • School Website: www.shanahoens.weebly.com 
  • Facebook Page: ‘Shanahoe National School’
  • Instagram:  shanahoe_ns
  • Twitter: @ShanahoeNs

School Contact Details

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