Alex Yusko

Where you grew up…

I was born in Los Angeles, California as my parents were both from the US. I only lived there until I was 3, after which I moved with my family to Dublin, Ireland. I grew up in the Ballsbridge area, so I spent a lot of time in Herbert Park, going to matches at the Aviva, and hanging out with friends at Baggot Street.

How you came to be at St. Conleth’s.

I was familiar with St. Conleth’s having lived in the surrounding area for years. I knew my classmate from a previous school so when I found out about his positive experience at St. Conleth’s and when a place opened in 6th class, I decided to put in an application. I was greeted by Ann Sheppard and Kevin Kelleher during the interview, and I felt right at home as soon as I walked through the doors. Luckily, I received an offer soon after that and I knew the decision to accept it would be an easy one. 

Junior School memories

Favourite and/or least favourite subject in school.

Personally, my favourite subjects included maths and physics as they were very challenging, and I enjoyed problem solving. Eventually, I decided to enroll in applied maths for the Leaving Cert which I also enjoyed since it was a different application of maths including interesting concepts such as projectiles, inertia, and relative velocity which I quickly learned are relevant in many aspects of how objects work in the real world.

Fondest memory of St. Conleth’s.

My fondest memory throughout my 7 years at St. Conleth’s was having a very inclusive and supportive environment with both the teachers and the other students there. I always felt like there were many opportunities to get involved in extra-curricular activities such as volunteering during Daffodil Day for the Irish Cancer Society, adventure trips to Ovoca Manor, and going for a hike in Wicklow for the Gaisce Bronze Award in 4th year. I also enjoyed playing tennis, squash, and basketball which I participated in for many years on competitive and recreational teams. I always found that St. Conleth’s was a fantastic place to pursue my interests and try new activities as well.

Class of 2016

Who/what influenced you to pursue your chosen field.

My form teacher in 6th year told us about the engineering open night at UCD and I decided to attend it that evening. I went to the talk with my dad who studied both electrical engineering and computer science in college. The talk itself discussed the course, modules, and experiences from current students at the time as well as professors who gave insight into the industry and current research within the school of engineering across the different disciplines. Both the talk at UCD and my family inspired me to pursue going into the field and eventually, I decided to choose engineering at UCD as my 1st choice on the CAO application and I accepted the offer later that year. 

At what age did you know you wanted to work in your chosen field?

At age 10, I had a trip to the science museum called W5 in Belfast, and I remember being fascinated by new technologies there such as a stringless harp which could be played by not touching the instrument to advanced robotics that could solve Rubik’s cubes. When I was around the same age, I attended the Young Scientist Exhibition in the RDS, where I demonstrated an experiment involving a mixture of baking soda and vinegar while attaching a balloon to the top of a water bottle so that it expanded. By participating in both, I realised I was curious and interested about the field of science and engineering.

Tell us about your education/ career path.

At UCD, I started in a common first year where there is an opportunity to experience different engineering disciplines offered as well as ensuring the core subjects of maths, physics, and chemistry are learned. In second year, I chose mechanical engineering as my degree which is a combination of engineering principles and design with materials science. Some topics from my modules included explanations into how external environmental factors influence the power from the engine in a car, and how the density of building materials in a house influence the heat loss through the structure and the subsequent energy usage. I undertook various summer internships throughout the program including at ESB conducting research into future wind farm developments, and at Waterman Moylan where my role as a building engineer involved designing and surveying services into future housing developments across Dublin. I also had the opportunity to study abroad for a year at the University of Connecticut in the US which was an invaluable experience. I graduated with a bachelor’s in Engineering Science in 2020 and then stayed on an extra year during the pandemic to pursue my master’s in Mechanical Engineering from which I graduated in 2021. I recently began working as a Graduate Mechanical Engineer for a global multidisciplinary design firm called Arup in New York City. My responsibilities in this role include performing mechanical engineering design using 3D modelling software for HVAC systems within a building which are responsible for heating, cooling and ventilation purposes. Since I started, I have been performing this work for data centres and manufacturing plants. Another important aspect of my role is commissioning which involves performing site visits to test mechanical equipment for correct functionality to ensure that the building is as energy efficient as possible. I am fortunate to be involved in carrying out this work for an ongoing airport re-development in New York City valued at 8 billion dollars. In general, I have found myself intrigued with the complexity of engineering applications in the built environment, and Arup has exposed me to many large-scale developments with a focus on sustainability as there becomes an increased demand for building sector decarbonization in the future.

Proudest achievement to date.

My biggest achievement to date is completing my thesis as part of my master’s degree. The topic I chose is called Phase Change Material Characterisation for Demand Response in Buildings and it involved running computer simulations to see the effect of offsetting the energy usage in a building by installing thermal storage materials on the interior side of a building envelope so that a HVAC system can utilise off peak energy prices while reducing the impact of demand on the electricity grid during the day. I worked on the thesis for 10 months which involved writing reports, preparing presentations, and defending the research against the school of engineering. I received first-class honours for the thesis from UCD and it was nominated and won the 2021/22 ASHRAE Ireland Student Award which recognises the research contributions made to fields related to the built environment such as HVAC&R, building engineering, energy management, and sustainability. Currently, I am in the process of assisting my thesis supervisor with publishing aspects of my thesis in an international journal paper so that my research can be cited while possibly assisting others with future work related to the field.

Aspirations for the future.

My personal aspirations involve excelling in my career path and earning my professional licence and engineering chartership which is granted based on continuing education credits for attending talks on up-and-coming technologies related to engineering, number of years of experience working in the field, and exams related to a chosen engineering field of expertise. Once I earn this licence, I will be qualified to independently perform extensive engineering design, sign off on drawings, and mentor other engineers on design practices. My aim is that Arup will give me further exposure to state-of-the-art projects from across the world and possibly some travel opportunities to other regions which I have not visited before.

Advice for people wanting to work in your sector/ general advice.

My advice for anyone going into engineering or a career path of their choice would be do not be afraid to pursue what you are interested in and push the boundaries on your capabilities. During my time in engineering, there are many times I was convinced I could not complete a project or submit an assignment due to the complexity of the task, but I learned to work hard, and the results would follow. Also, it is important to ask and accept advice from others as I found that when I needed help, it was always around the corner whether it was from other classmates in school, lecturers in college, colleagues in the workplace, or at home from family.

Diana Spencer

Where you grew up…

Baggotonia, as the area was known in the 50s, was still a state of mind in the 70s. I grew up on Raglan Lane, back when it was a very different and much livelier place. We had lots of small industry (and a fair few derelict sites) around us: the Free Brothers’ carpet warehouse was thriving a few doors down, the garage at the end of the lane helped jump start our dodgy car on winter mornings, and further along on Pembroke Lane the Pasteur Dairy allowed one to sneak in and sip cream (while the Wee Stores had great deals on penny sweets…). Not to mention the pigs kept on Heytesbury Lane. Parsons Bookshop was a bit of a haven, though I could rarely afford to buy a book new – instead the Pembroke Library down by the Dodder was the place for weekly reading pilgrimages. 

How you came to be at St. Conleth’s…

I had been at the Teresian School before coming to St. Conleth’s. My parents liked the idea of co-education, and that I could walk to school. So when St. Conleth’s accepted girls into Fifth Year and I got towards that point… 

Class of 1987

Favourite and/or least favourite subject in school…

I loved English and History for the first time in my schooldays, at St Conleth’s, and this was very much a result of the teachers I was lucky to have. I was very bad at following the official ‘line’ on Leaving Cert English. I never caught onto what exactly it was that the examiners wanted but I adored Mr McGloin’s quirky approach and great empathy for my eccentric rhyming attempts (‘very Irish’ I remember him telling me about one poetic composition). That our English classes were wholly successful in terms of inspiration and creativity, just not (for me) in the way that would bring me success in the Leaving, is clear from the top mark I got in the UCD Matric English paper – and my determination to study English at college. History I adored, and mostly through Mr Gallagher’s stratagems and encouragement, |I was also successful at it. Though I remember the terrible day in the mock leaving when I mistook my ‘Henris’, wrote an answer about the wrong one, and was rightly berated. History and in particular the ‘mediaeval and renaissance’ paper that we did, fascinated me. I loved the sense of exploring worlds as at once alien and familiar. Mr Gallagher’s storytelling of the past, through which acerbic filter everything was there to be eyed askance, has stayed with me to the present. As an historian and a literary scholar these two subjects at St. Conleth’s were transformative.

Fondest memory of St. Conleth’s…

The school buildings themselves were characters in the mix. They were an interesting agglomeration of old and new, with quirky corridors and twists and turns that brought one blinking into light or darkness depending on the corners turned. There was a faintly mysterious labyrinthine quality about any journey undertaken… 

I don’t think I have any stand out moments. I remember the opera trip to the Gaiety with great delight: the first time I had ever seen Turandot staged. I loved the way we could mooch out to Herbert Park at lunchtime, just get out of the school confines for a little while. Art classes on Saturday mornings were very happy – there was a totally different vibe when in the school out-of-hours, surrounded by paints, scissors, mess…

Perhaps the defining feature from those mornings when I was running, panting late (as I was for the French Leaving Cert Aural exam) was Mr Kelleher emerging miraculously in front of me tapping his watch and saying ‘Miss Spencer: the nearest to the Church …’ (never needing to fill in the blank: but the furthest from God).

Who/what influenced you to pursue your chosen field…

I think I fell into it. I had always been curious about different mythologies and religions, and loved languages, and stories of strangers and other worlds, but the Teresian School stopped teaching Latin a year or two before I could have started it, so it was impossible at St. Conleth’s. This helped impel me into Beginners Latin as a Trinity undergraduate (9am every morning, not a joyful thing at any age), which entranced me. I was always curious, and wanted to know ‘why’ and ‘more’, and the model of scholarship that emerged from Mr Gallagher’s classes continued to prick me into further enquiry. It still does.

At what age did you know you wanted to work in your chosen field?

As a child I was certain I was going to be a vet or a groom. Next, I thought maybe a journalist, an architect, or a theatre director. At college, a careers advisor suggested ‘detective’. It probably wasn’t until I was in my mid 20s that I began to take an academic career seriously as an option.

Tell us about your education/ career path…

When I was near the end of my degree at Trinity (Modern English and Classical Civilization) I felt I still hadn’t found out enough about what happened next to Rome (after the 3rd century CE, where our studies stopped), and since Classics was the subject I had eventually focused on, I went to do an MA in London. Wanting to know more about the oddities of how we come to understand the past took me to a PhD at Cambridge (examining the way Alexander the Great was a cultural icon in ancient Rome). And then the track towards academia became the obvious way to proceed. After a few years in temporary and part-time posts I was fortunate to get a permanent job as a Lecturer in Classics at the University of Birmingham, and have progressed my career there ever since. These days my role is primarily in university leadership: after a stint as the Director of the College Graduate School in Arts and Law I took on the development and operation of our interdisciplinary Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences unit, and have been Dean for some years now. It’s never dull, I still work with students but I also get to talk on a daily basis to some of the world’s most brilliant scientists, scholars of politics and culture, and literature. And I can dabble a bit in University and sector politics. What could be better?

Diana with Peter Gallagher after her Inaugural Lecture as Professor of Classics at the University of Birmingham

Proudest achievement to date…

The pinnacle of any academic career is being appointed Professor, and that has definitely been my proudest moment in academia. It signifies that one’s peers believe that one’s ideas and publications make a difference to the subject at the highest level, and that one is perceived to be a colleague who supports the work and development of others to make the field stronger. That’s a huge accolade.

Aspirations for the future…

My husband and I are now back more in Dublin, still in Raglan Lane, helping my mum. We hope to be able to give back more to the community in Dublin, to make a difference to the fabric of life in whatever positive way we can, and to enjoy our time ‘back home’. I am also very keen to continue to research and explore new approaches to how the past speaks to, but is also a construct of, the present. I’ve a particular interest in ‘sense of place’ and the material experience of nature in antiquity. Dublin is fortunate in having many excellent libraries and I’m hoping to continue to haunt them for research and pleasure.

Advice for people wanting to work in your sector/ general advice…

Academia is very much under threat from funding squeezes and a real-terms diminution in the amount of money received per student. Universities are being asked to do more with less, as the saying goes. For an academic career, a PhD in the relevant subject remains the foundation but increasingly postdoctoral study (for instance a fellowship) is becoming the way talented researchers have the time to publish work that will make them attractive hires in a job market with much casualisation and precarity. If this sounds bleak, I always say to aspiring PhD students ‘do it because you love it’ then think about what the doctorate qualifies you to do. In many cases excellent students with PhDs are now looking at careers in R&D in global corporations, but also at careers in academic leadership and administration as universities themselves become more corporate. A PhD doesn’t exactly qualify you for anything but opens many doors if you’ve a creative approach to what kinds of skills you’d like to develop and use in a career.

Jack Quann

Where you grew up…

I grew up – and actually still live – in the Rathgar area of Dublin. I have done and still enjoy a fair amount of travelling though – I spent a number of early childhood years in Budapest and also studied in college in Bilbao. It seemed things kept bringing me back here for one reason or another.

How you came to be at St. Conleth’s…

I was actually in Muckross Park (back when they still taught boys) and myself and a number of others all went to Conleth’s together. Starting out in 3rd class with Mrs McQuaid, I managed to make it to 6th year in 2003! I actually still, distinctly, remember being interviewed by Kevin Kelleher in his drawing room ahead of my joining the school – the things that stay with you. 

Class of 2003
Class of 2003

Favourite and/or least favourite subject in school…

History was my standout favourite, thanks in no small part to Peter Gallagher. If you show passion for something, you will instil it in others. Alas, I still haven’t got a good pair of handmade leather shoes (as he so frequently suggested to us all). Least favourite would have to be maths – through no one’s fault but my own – I just don’t have a head for numbers and always found myself struggling. Though I suppose the old adage of ‘You won’t always have a calculator in your pocket!’ hasn’t quite come to pass…

Fondest memory of St. Conleth’s…

Singing Edelweiss in the Mansion House for Dublin’s Lord Mayor. As far as I remember, this was all the way back in 3rd class. I remember Kevin Kelleher congratulating me afterwards and all the fuss that was made. I also remember a photo of my performance hung beside the 3rd form classroom for several years, which was great to see. There are many, many more great memories – of course – but this is one of my earliest.

On a fifth-year trip to Lough Dan in Co Wicklow
On a fifth-year trip to Lough Dan in Co Wicklow
Outside the British embassy in Dublin, following the death of Princess Diana in 1997; and later on at the Debs in 2003

Who/what influenced you to pursue your chosen field?

I was always outspoken and opinionated – so I felt I should share that! Though I always saw myself as a Spanish teacher for some reason, it was one of my UCD classmates who suggested I consider journalism. As a self-confessed news junkie, this seemed like a good fit. An application and interview later, I was doing a Masters in Journalism. The rest, I suppose, is history. 

At what age did you know you wanted to work in your chosen field?

I always enjoyed being informed and in the loop about everything around me, so I suppose it was something that was there from a very young age. It was also in Conleth’s that I found debating and it was a natural fit for me. I won several awards and was eventually Auditor of Debates in 6th year – perhaps my first taste of informing the news agenda, so to speak? It certainly kept that spark going in me and at the forefront of my mind.

Tell us about your education/ career path…

I went from Conleth’s to study Arts (Politics and Spanish) in UCD. I saw this as a segway to becoming a Spanish teacher, but a rejection to do a HDip put an end to that avenue. Following some soul searching and advice from a classmate, I applied to do a Masters in Journalism at DCU. From there, I got an internship in Newstalk and I never left. I’ve also gone on to study Finance, Film Production and – most recently – a Diploma in Social Media. It’s important to keep upskilling and stand out, I feel. I still see all my college friends regularly, which is great. And I imagine I’d see more of my Conleth’s classmates if not for COVID.

Proudest achievement to date…

Covering the election of US President Barack Obama. I was covering the Democrats Abroad event in Dublin through the night, sending regular reports back to Newstalk as the votes were counted. I also spoke to several eminent Irish-Americans about their hopes for the future. It was probably my first taste of real-time news unfolding, while at the same time history was being made. I was privileged to play my part.

Aspirations for the future…

To stay healthy and happy in whatever happens. If the last two years have reinforced anything, it’s that so much is actually outside of our control – we have to learn to focus on ourselves and play our part, and not worry about what everyone else is doing. If you figure out how to do that, let me know!

Advice for people wanting to work in your sector/ general advice…

Go into journalism for the love of the profession and wanting to keep people informed. If you’re looking for fame, this probably isn’t for you! Never burn bridges; you never know who you might need to do you a favour in the future. As a general note, I would say never care about what someone else thinks/says of you. Your opinion of yourself is really the only one that matters – so make it a good one. 

Jack Kirwan

Where you grew up…

I grew up in Killiney right beside the sea. Getting a few extra minutes of sleep on the DART each day before the walk to school is something I’ll always remember fondly. Attending secondary school near the city centre was somewhat of an adjustment for me but being able to listen to music through my headphones on my “long” journey eased the trip magnificently. 

How you came to be at St. Conleth’s…

I remember not really minding where my parents decided to send me to secondary school. I didn’t know a lot about St.Conleths but I heard a couple of the lads from my primary school would also be attending which eased my anxieties. When the idea of St.Conleths was presented to me I hadn’t a clue what the school embodied but the moment Mr.Kelleher handed me a packet of smarties after my interview I would say that helped aid in my decision making process exponentially.

I would say the fact that the school was small and mixed were enticing aspects for my parents. I think having no particular interest in sport, it was also important that the school I attended taught art and music which I had always had strong interests in.

Class of 2014

Favourite and/or least favourite subject in school…

4th Year work
Jack's handy work
Jack’s Handy work

My favorite subject by far would have to have been art. The art room was where I felt most comfortable and confident during my time at Conleths. I would say I knew by third year that art was definitely something that I knew I wanted to pursue after secondary school. Ms.Halpin had a huge influence on my decision to study art in college. Instead of taking a year out to do a portfolio course after sixth year, I decided to give it a go during my final year. I would never have been able to complete a portfolio worth submitting if it wasn’t for Ms.Halpin’s help. She would stay back after class most weeks to help me edit and work on different aspects of my work and I’ll always be grateful for that. The support I felt from Ms.Halpin and other teachers in school was something I possibly took for granted at the time but now I’m fully able to appreciate just how much that support has helped me over the years.

Having art class to look forward to in the timetable was always a relief to see. Being able to express myself visually and artistically during school hours created a balance that helped me get through the day. Knowing I had art to look forward to during a double period of double maths helped more than I can say.

Fondest memory of St. Conleth’s…

Jack singing in Irish with Evan Byrne
Jack singing in Irish with Evan Kennedy

I think a lot of people wouldn’t agree with me but I’ll always remember 6th year fondly. I’m still extremely grateful for the classmates I was put together with as some of them remain to be my closest friends to this day. Navigating adolescence and becoming adults together is a bond I think most of us will appreciate for a very long time.

The short period of time between finishing up classes in 6th year and preparing for graduation is a fleeting moment that sticks out in my head. Being able to celebrate our time at St. Conleth’s and the bonds we had made before that final push for the Leaving Cert was quite special. I’ll always remember the anxious fits of laughter everyone shared while prepping for the ceremony and reassuring each other everything would work out in the end.

Being able to go back to the school for the 5 year anniversary with my classmates was a surreal experience. Sitting in our old desks and viscerally remembering specific moments during class was an occasion I’ll never forget.  

Who/what influenced you to pursue your chosen field…

I had always been interested in animation from a young age. I can remember watching countless DVDs and clicking on the bonus features after the credits had ended to find out more about how each film was made. Watching the animators in their studios coming up with plots and character designs was extremely inspiring.

I knew I wanted to pursue art after my time at Conleths but was never sure on which exact path to take. Being able to have a career and a salary was something I knew would be extra difficult when choosing this field but when I saw the animation course in the IADT prospectus I knew straight away it was the one for me. I also knew that by attending an institute like IADT that supported their student’s artistic explorations I would learn more about myself than I had before.

Tell us about your education/ career path…

Luckily, I got enough points in my Leaving Certificate as well as enough points in my Portfolio to get into Animation in IADT. For some reason I think in the back of my head I thought getting into art college would be the hardest part but the next four years were a lot more tough than I had expected. The imposter syndrome hit me like a tonne of bricks as I started attending lectures and tutorials with other art students surrounding me. Thankfully I kept working hard and getting through each semester until reaching my final year.

I teamed up with Éabha, my now creative partner and decided to direct and produce our own grad film, The Usual, which turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve made. The film went on to win the award for Best First Short Animation at the Galway Film Fleadh that year. Because of this, we got to attend multiple film festivals nationally and internationally which inspired us even more to keep pursuing careers in animation.

The success of my grad film helped me to get a job quite quickly with Radii Animation just around the corner from St.Conleths where I am currently creating and directing my fourth film as we speak.

Proudest achievement to date…

I think for sure my proudest achievement to date would have to be winning an IFTA at this year’s virtual ceremony. Myself and my co-director, Éabha Bortolozzo picked up the award for Best Animated Short Film for directing our second piece of work, Her Song.

Her Song

Apart from being in shock for winning the award I was extremely grateful our film won because of the subject matter that the film revolves around. Her Song is produced by Radii Animation in conjunction with Screen Ireland and RTÉ. The film sees the main character, Eve learning of her Grandmother’s harrowing history in a Mother & Baby home. Woven through her past is the mythological and misunderstood figure of the Banshee, whose comforting presence inspires the strength she needs to tell her story. Being able to highlight the dreadful issues associated with the Mother & Baby Homes to the public was our main goal with this film. For me, using animation to feature important issues to its viewers is a lot more interesting than using the medium for cartoons and children’s entertainment.

Aspirations for the future…

At the moment I’m really enjoying my field of work. I won’t lie though, the first year of the pandemic was quite a tough experience for a young filmmaker in Ireland looking for work. Thankfully I got to take the time to work on my craft and explore different avenues which have led to very rewarding and exciting experiences. For now I want to keep making films through animation that leave audiences with something to think about and stay with them after they leave the theatre. I want to keep pushing my craft and being open to any opportunity that comes my way. I believe that Irish people are some of the best storytellers out there and I would love to eventually bring more of our stories to light.

Advice for people wanting to work in your sector/ general advice…

I’m not sure if I feel old enough yet for me to have a reputable answer for this specific question but I can certainly give it a go.

If I was talking to a student currently attending St.Conleths who was worried about which path to take after their time at school, I would firstly tell them to relax. Because of St.Conleths academic reputation I think it could be quite easy to think that you may have to go down a path that you are not inspired by. The support that I felt from the school when I was open about what I wanted to pursue was extremely comforting. Students that I know from my time at Conleths have gone on to explore exceptionally interesting avenues in their careers. I believe that if you have the potential to work in an area that seems overwhelmingly niche at first, you should give it your all. St.Conleths is a great support system which I will always be thankful for.

John Carvill

I attended St. Conleth’s from 1972 to 1982, starting in 3rd Form with John Joe Poole, then Martin Gavin in 4th Form, Mr. John O’Byrne in 6th Form and then on to the senior school. I guess the main reason I went to St. Conleth’s was that I had five older brothers there. Having said that, I grew up in Kilgobbin surrounded by farms and coincidentally two of them belonged to past pupils, Barry Lawless and Lochlann Aiken. Barry Lawless was a good friend of my Dad’s and our families have been close for over eighty years now. Barry Lawless’ granddaughter Gretta is now going in to 3rd Year. Lochlann Aiken’s father was Frank Aiken, Minister for External Affairs and Tánaiste. He often presented the Fáinne to pupils in the early years. 

St. Conleth’s Confirmation 1976

Favourite Subject

My favourite subject right throughout my time in St. Conleth’s was either English or History. I still couldn’t say which. I certainly developed my love of history under the guidance of Peter Gallagher, who was a legendary teacher of the subject. I actually went on the study History and Politics at UCD. With regard to English I had two remarkably good teachers, firstly Michael Gardner and then John Rooney. John has had two grandsons in the school in recent years.  I’d actually credit John Rooney, more than anyone else, for prompting a desire to be a teacher in me. John was an amazing teacher, with a fabulous sense of humour, which he continues to have, with an eternal youthful spirit, which I try to emulate in my own teaching. 

Class of 1982

Fondest Memory

My fondest memories from my time as a student in St. Conleth’s were mainly from my final year. I had lifelong friends, including Colm Fanning, Brian Gleeson and Niall Toner and was on very friendly terms with everyone in the year. I do remember a trip that Mr. Paul Mullins and Mr. Brendan Doyle took us on. It was to the Wicklow mountains in the dead of winter, with snow on the ground and frozen marshes everywhere. The intent of the trip was to toughen us up. Nowadays St. Conleth’s pupils have the opportunity to go and expeditions to Africa or South America, while they are in 4th or 5th Year. For us the big school tour was by train to Sligo, lunch in the CIE restaurant and a few hours at the amusements, then returning to Dublin on the same day. 

Who/what influenced your career choice?

I took an unusual route in to teaching. When I was 22 I was elected as one of the youngest ever members of the Fianna Fáil National Executive. My plan was to certainly be Taoiseach by now. Luckily for Martin and Vradker I became disillusioned with that. At 22 I also started working for IBM and spent nine fabulous years there. Finally I decided to exorcise a bug that has been with me since my teens, to try teaching. I went back to TCD and did the HDipEd and here I am now! But rather than going on about me, I thought I’d write a bit more about St. Conleth’s in the 1970s and now. My life has been very tied up with the school, having spent ten years as a pupil and twenty-one years as a teacher there up until now. When I started as a teacher in September 2000 I was the only past pupil teaching at the time. Now there are six of us, which is a tremendous compliment to the school.

John with Charles Haughey

Looking back to the 1970s, Ireland was a very poor country with a disastrously bad economy and a virtual civil war in the north, which occasionally spilled south. In 1972 the British Embassy in Dublin was burned down by protestors and in 1976 the then British Ambassador was blown up near Stepaside. As a side effect of “the troubles” two families used to arrive to school with armed body guards, one being the family of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the other that of a senior Bank of Ireland executive, due to the risk of being kidnapped. Economically there were few jobs and massive emigration. People used to joke “would the last to leave please turn out the lights”. Ireland was a foreign country that nobody growing up now would recognise. I guess in St. Conleth’s we were in the top few percent economically, but there were not many foreign holidays and certainly nobody knew how to ski!

When I arrived in 1972, it was the middle of the “glam rock” period. The 6th Years had long hair, long collars, big lapels and platform boots. You can see them in the 1973 graduation photo. In the mid 1970s Abba were the big thing. For some odd reason clogs shoes became fashionable. KD banned them in St. Conleth’s, but like today that didn’t stop teenagers challenging the rules. There was one famous incident in the class of 1978 when clog wearing Gerry Thornley (Irish Times) was playing tennis ball soccer in the yard. He took a kick and one of his clogs went orbital. On re-entry it smashed KD’s dining room window, but bounced back out into the yard. I think Gerry had to pay for the window repair, but I don’t think Mr. Kelleher every discovered it was a clog and not a tennis ball that broke his window. In the late 70s the punk rock era arrived. Doc Martens, ripped t-shirts, spikey hair and meeting in the Dandelion Market were the thing. My brother Julian and most of his class of 1977 were caught up in that movement. By my time, partially as a reaction to that, there was a mod revival, which was all about smart clothes, narrow ties and pointy toed shoes. Niall Toner, Brian Gleeson and I were tied up in that. For a time we had a band called “The Con”, inspired by The Jam and The Who. Niall was the only real musician among us and still performs successfully today. Unlike now, in the 70s fights used to occasionally break out in the yard. Two lads would start what nowadays might be called mixed martial arts. A big ring of virtually the whole school would form around them. Everyone would be shouting “claim claim claim” for some reason. The teachers would eventually arrive and have to break through the crowd to stop the fight. The normal consequence, when the “guttersnipes” were brought before Mr. Kelleher, was suspension. 

Nowadays, like Ireland, St. Conleth’s is a very different place. Between the Prep, Junior and Senior schools, there are about 450 pupils. The uniform goes from grey, to green to blue. There are girls in every year and you would be excused for thinking that was always the case. The rough edges of the school’s character, which left several disgruntled past pupils, have been well worn off. Every year at the graduation current pupils speak of the unique familial atmosphere of the school. A huge effort goes into pupil care, helping our students to stay mentally and physically well and achieve their potential.

A recent Department of Education inspection described the relationship between staff and pupils as “gold dust”. The three school principals know every pupil by name and could tell you details about each one. There are more and more children and grand-children of past pupils among the student body. Mr. Michael Murphy’s great-grand-daughter is now among us. Pupils can look at the old pictures of their fathers’, mothers’ and grandfathers’ that adorn the walls of the school. They have much more space than we used to have. The interior space is more than three times what it was in my time. There are specialist art, music and science rooms, soon to be expanded further. And for those who remember the mince and canned corn beef we used to be served, these days the canteen food prepared by Chefs Mark and Emerson, is superb. For all the past pupils out there who have lost contact with the school, please call by as you will be always assured of a warm welcome and, when Covid permits, a tour of the St. Conleth’s. Please feel free to contact me [email protected] if you’d like to visit.

Lastly I’d just like to mention two good old friends from my year, Tomás Clancy and Gordon Hogg, who have passed away in recent years. Requiescat In Pace.

John’s application form

The year according to Kevin

Ronan Murphy

Where did you grow up?

Life started in Crumlin where I went to National School. The family moved to Mount Merrion when I was around 11 by which stage I had started in St. Conleth’s.

How did you come to be at St. Conleth’s?

With a father (Michael Murphy) who taught in the School, a Godfather (Kevin Kelleher) who was Headmaster of the school, and my older brother by two years, Dermot, already attending the school, it was something of a foregone conclusion I would end up in St. Conleth’s. Sometimes one just gets lucky in life!

My memories of the school are happy ones. At that time the school was smaller (we were a Leaving Certificate class of 20) and the school had something of a family feel to it. I was very fortunate in my classmates many of whom have remained life-long friends and with whom I socialise regularly. I wasn’t particularly studious but managed to get by in most subjects. In early days we had a wonderful English teacher, Michael Gardner, who instilled in us a love of reading, storytelling and an  appreciation for how to express oneself in writing. 

Throughout my time in organisational life I have been struck by the importance of the latter. Looking for approval for a particular request or course of action usually required an ability to argue persuasively in writing. In my career I was regularly involved in recruiting graduates and was frequently surprised that many very bright people struggled to put their points of view in writing in a persuasive and coherent manner.

Kevin Kelleher with Ronan Murphy

Favourite Subject

Perhaps my favourite topic at school was debating. I remember great class debates and regular inter-school debating competitions. Others were more skilled than me but what debating did for all of us was to teach us how to structure arguments and deliver them confidently. That’s a skill that remains relevant through life. Confidence too is an important attribute. If pupils can graduate from school with a decent level of self-confidence then life’s challenges are more easily met and success in their chosen field more easily achieved. I thought St. Conleth’s was a very good environment for instilling confidence in its pupils.

On the sports front we had opportunities to play rugby, cricket, tennis, fencing, even boxing at one stage. Being big for my age helped with rugby which I really enjoyed. With Kevin Kelleher’s reputation as a top-class international referee we might have been expected to be more successful on the pitch. Suffice to say we learned from an early age how to handle defeat!

Fondest Memory

I wouldn’t single out any particular memory but rather take my experience of St. Conleth’s in the round. I felt very happy there. The school was on a scale that I think all pupils could relate to. I doubt anyone ever felt lost or over-looked or felt like being on a conveyor belt in a factory. I had great classmates. The school didn’t over-emphasise the academic at the expense of giving its pupils a broad education and providing furniture for the mind.

Class of 1969

Who/what influenced your career choice?

On graduating from school I studied Economics, Politics and Statistics in UCD. The principle reasons for choosing that degree course were that my brother was already taking the same degree course and seemed to be enjoying it, plus an absence of any strong sense of knowing what I wanted to do. 

Two years into a three-year degree course and I still had no idea what I wanted to do after college. I knew that prolonging the academic life was not for me but what to do was still an unanswered question. I had applied in final year for a number of different jobs in different industries and by great good fortune was successful in my application to join Citibank N.A.’s branch in Dublin.

Citibank was a terrific place to work and to gain experience. Graduate entrants were sent on formal training courses throughout their early careers, often in exotic locations, and that was a significant attraction. On one of those courses I spent four months in Milan (one of the less exotic locations) attending daily credit assessment classes and travelling to more beautiful locations at weekends. Milan was a great base from which to explore. It was one of the experiences of my life and confirmed for me that Corporate Banking was something I really enjoyed.

Citibank also gave me an opportunity to take on significant responsibilities early in my career when I was asked to run its Cork branch at the age of 22. That was quite the experience! While I was there the 1976 Associated Banks strike took place. This did not involve Citibank which stayed open and which overnight became the go-to bank in Cork. It meant that what had been a two-year marketing plan to penetrate Cork’s corporate customer base was no longer required – the customers were queuing up to open accounts with us!

I well remember that summer of ‘76 as the weather was fantastic but I saw little of it. Coping with the phenomenal growth in business meant long hours and getting home towards midnight most days. Part of the reason for the long days was that some customers were making substantial cash deposits during the day which we didn’t have the resources to count on the spot. So while they told us how much was in their deposits we couldn’t give them a receipt until we counted the money after the branch closed. I don’t recall us ever having a discrepancy between the customer’s figure and our own. 

I spent 15 years with Citibank in Ireland during which I did a number of different jobs including corporate banking, running the finance function and setting up a venture capital business. That variety of jobs was a big part of the reason I stayed with the bank. Large organisations have the capacity to offer many different careers within the same institution. 

I left in 1987 to help set up a corporate bank in Bank of Ireland. This involved bringing together two significant lending arms of the bank with all the challenges that sort of organisational change entails. It was a terrific learning experience.

Bank of Ireland also had an emphasis on training and education. I was fortunate to be sent by the Bank to Harvard to participate in their Programme for Management Development. I remain grateful for that opportunity which broadened my understanding of management and prepared me to take on additional responsibilities. 

Proudest Achievement

Again, being part of a large organisation such as Bank of Ireland presented opportunities to do different things throughout one’s career. One of my proudest achievements was helping to build-up an international lending business out of the International Financial Services Centre. I was fortunate to have a team of exceptionally bright and energetic colleagues with whom it was a pleasure to work. The focus was international and saw us open offices in the U.S., England, Germany, France and Australia. It was an exciting time in the markets and we had great success. Thankfully the business withstood the collapse of international financial markets in 2008 and, from what I hear, continues to thrive. 

By the time of the international financial crisis I had moved on in the Bank to take up a newly created Chief Risk Officer role and become a member of the Group Executive Committee. Timing is everything in life! However, it’s a time I would not have missed for the world. I had spent almost 40 years in banking and thought I knew something about the subject. There’s nothing like a crisis to teach you about the true fundamentals of an industry. In banking that meant liquidity and capital. I learned more about these cornerstones of the business in a few years than in all the years prior to the crisis. 

Advice for people working in the banking industry/general advice

The banking industry has changed very significantly since my time so I hesitate to give advice to anyone contemplating a career in it. However, if choosing such a career path then I would emphasise the importance of building your CV throughout your time in the organisation. That advice goes for working in any large organisation. Be proactive in putting yourself forward for relevant training that the organisation offers and take on different roles even, or especially, when they may seem outside your comfort zone. If you want to progress through the ranks then having a CV which demonstrates an ability to take on different roles will always compare well with a CV which is narrowly based.

Class of 1969 in 2012

Conclusion

In conclusion I should say how delighted I am that the Murphy association with St. Conleth’s continues to this day. My granddaughter, Laoise, is a proud member of the Senior Infants class!

The year according to Kevin

Catherine Prasifika

How you came to be at St. Conleth’s.

I started at St. Conleth’s in 2012 in my fifth year, at that time girls could only attend for their final two years. I’d come from an all-girls school and wanted a change, and my two brothers had attended St. Conleth’s so it seemed like an obvious choice. 

Class of 2014

What was your favourite and/or least favourite subject in school.

My favourite subject was English, with Classics as a close second, because I’ve always loved stories. I never wanted to rote learn essay questions for exams, I wanted to engage with the ideas presented in the texts and answer organically with my own thoughts. I loved studying poetry most of all. 

I enjoyed all of the subjects I took for my Leaving Cert, I chose them because I was honestly interested in them all. Looking back, however, it might have been more strategic to focus on one area. I ended up taking eight higher level subjects: English, Irish, Maths, Spanish, Physics, Classics, Art, and Japanese. I didn’t have a least favourite subject, but by the end of my sixth year I was the only girl still hanging on in higher level maths and physics, which presented its own challenges. I’m glad I stuck with them, although I can’t say I’ve done a quadratic equation since.

Who/what influenced you to pursue your chosen field.

I think I’ve always wanted to be a writer, of one sort or another. The question wasn’t whether I wanted to be a writer, but if it was actually possible to be one. When I was younger, I had big ideas for stories but little talent to pull them off. That didn’t stop me though. I wanted to learn how to make words leap off the page and create something in the minds of other people.

Seamus Gallagher was my English teacher, and I think the first person to take my writing seriously. He engaged with my ideas and saw the vision of what I was trying to pull off, even if it was some bizarre horror story about zombies. When I was a teenager I wanted to write things that challenged people’s expectations, that took what they saw as a limitation and made that the central turning point of the story. Being in a classroom with a teacher who wasn’t only trying to teach me how to pass an exam helped me to hone that instinct.

Tell us about your education/ career path.

After graduating from St. Conleth’s, I went on to study English at Trinity. I didn’t go with an agenda, there isn’t a clear path to being a writer, but with a desire to learn more about the subject I’d always loved. 

There, I studied widely. I think I spent a significant portion of my first two years feeling insecure whenever anyone asked me what my favourite book was, because the answer never felt literary enough. Then, I spent my final two years searching for explanations and wanting to justify why popular literature deserves to be studied. I wrote my dissertation on the subversive power of the fantasy genre.

I didn’t write much prose during my time at Trinity. Rather, I spent my time debating in various arts blocks in various colleges in various countries. This time helped me to understand the world, and people, and I came out the other side with an ability to see the connections between seemingly disparate ideas. For a brief time I considered changing discipline and studying something to do with politics, or international relations, or conflict resolution.

This all changed when I googled ‘Masters Fantasy Literature’, just to see what would come up. About two sentences into the course description I knew I had to study at Glasgow and that was that. My mother asked me what job I planned to get with such a specific and unemployable extra qualification, and I shrugged and said a writer or a tour guide on the set of Game of Thrones.

After my masters I came back to Dublin with the general plan of working and finding myself, which was cut short due to the pandemic. Suddenly, I had endless time and no more excuses not to finish the novel I’d started writing. It seemed like a pipe-dream, but it was also a good way to find focus and purpose during the first lockdown. I finished my first draft in September of 2020, I signed with my agent in December, and sold the book in February of this year.

Catherine won the Woods Bowl in 2014

Proudest achievement to date.

Either winning the Woodsbowl in my final year at St. Conleth’s, the first time my writing was recognised, or finishing as the third best all-female team at the 2018 European University Debating Championships.

Advice for people wanting to work in your sector/ general advice.

If you want to write a book, there are only two pieces of advice that matter. 

The first is to just do it. Force yourself to write when you don’t want to, set yourself goals, hold yourself accountable. What helped me was thinking about all of the bad books I’ve read or bad TV shows I’ve watched; someone thought they were worth publishing/making. And, evidently, I thought they were worth consuming. If you hold yourself to a writing schedule suddenly ideas will come to you in the shower, or when you’re out on a walk. Write these ideas down so you don’t forget them. The first hurdle most people fall down at is never finishing the book. You can’t sell what you don’t have, and you can’t start to improve a blank page. 

Which brings us to the second piece of advice; edit. You have to be ruthless with yourself, and kind to the people who are willing to help you. Take your work as far as you possibly can by yourself, and trust your readers to offer you constructive criticism. It’s no good asking for advice if you already know your characters are bad, or the dialogue sucks, or the plot has a million holes. You need to fix all of those problems first before asking people for advice, and if you’re lucky they’ll put into words the exact thing you know you’re missing.

I don’t believe I have any special talent or gift for writing, but I do have the willpower to push through writer’s block and a critical eye that helps me to improve even the worst first draft. You have to start somewhere, so why not start now?

The year according to Kevin

David Kelly

What I Learnt at School

I was born in Dublin, the son of a politician, and grew up about a mile and a half from St. Conleth’s.  When I was six, my parents took me to be interviewed by Mr. Kelleher. This was always the expected path – my father and his brothers had gone to Conleth’s in the 1940s and my brother Nick, who is 15 months older than me, had entered the school a year before.  

David Kelly

Either because he dazzled “The Boss” (as Mr. Kelleher was known) at his interview or because my father wanted to push him, Nick was put in third form rather than second, making him the second youngest in his class.  I suffered a similar fate and my parents enrolled me in a class in which I was the youngest by six months.  Strange as it seems, this one decision has probably had a greater impact on my life than almost any subsequent choice.

My first year at Conleth’s was traumatic.  While I was able to follow along in class no problem, my handwriting was atrocious and I had no memory for spelling at all.  Reports of my struggles reached home and Mr. Kelleher and my parents recognized that they had made a mistake and demoted me to second form.  

This was a matter of deep shame for me, and as I had made friends in third form, I pleaded with the authorities to reinstate me and worked hard to convince them.  They relented and let me back up.  I slacked off and was demoted again.  And then, finally, having shown some signs of promise in maths, they relented again and I returned to third form, doomed forever to be the youngest in the class.

After third form, I settled in.  While I liked history, maths was the subject in which I got the best marks.  Mr. Poole was an early maths teacher and a lovely man.  I remember him helping me in my struggles to stay in third form and his belief in my ability.  Over the years, I have become convinced that nothing is more important to success than having people who believe in you.  

English was my worst subject. Truth be told, I wasn’t really bad at English – it was just that my handwriting was abysmal and my spelling entirely random.  These faults, of course, have ceased to be impediments in the days of word processors.  But they were serious issues to Mr O’Byrne, who would storm into the class, red in the face and foaming at the mouth, and slam our notebooks onto the desk in front of him.  I didn’t really think of him as a gifted teacher.  But the fear of incurring his wrath encouraged all of us to put a little extra effort into our compositions.

Fear was an important tool in maintaining discipline in Conleth’s.  Mr. Kelleher and Mr. Murphy would patrol the halls in search of any boy who had been so wicked as to be sent out of the class.  When they encountered such a criminal, they would lead him back into the class, inquire as to the nature of his crime and dispense summary justice.  This came in the form of “six of the best” from the “Little Biffer”, a leather strap wielded by Mr. Kelleher, or the “Big Biffer”, a similar implement carried by Mr. Murphy.  Mr. Murphy, although a very kind-hearted man, really didn’t know his own strength and I think classes were better behaved on days when Mr. Murphy was on duty in the halls.

In the evenings, I’d return home exhausted from school or rugby and had no energy for homework.  So in the mornings, I’d get up early, cycle to school and frantically try to get my homework done before the bell rang.  Often, I’d just complete the first class’s homework before it started and would sit at the back of the room, pretending to take notes while feverishly working on the assignment for the next class.  I’ve been much the same with work ever since – there is nothing like a deadline to concentrate the mind. 

I would also argue with our French teacher, Mr. Feutren.  Mr. Feutren spoke quietly but truly scared us all, partly because of the rumours we’d heard about him siding with the Nazis as a Breton Nationalist in World War II.  He could always be drawn into a political dispute and regarded me as a member of the decadent bourgeoisie.  As a consequence, my classmates would egg me into getting into an argument with him to leave him with too little time to quiz us on our homework.  I learnt more about debating than French from Mr. Feutren.  

Class of 1980

However, throughout my days at Conleth’s, my youth was always an overshadowing handicap.  I was young, I looked younger and was naturally shy.  While I had friends at school, I felt pretty isolated as a teenager and probably didn’t build the social connections that I could have done had I been in a class closer to my age.  This continued in university, which I entered at age 16, and probably had some influence on my decision to go to graduate school in America.

When I entered sixth year, I applied to do Arts in U.C.D..  I think Mr. Kelleher was disappointed as he thought, with my maths skills, that I should be going for a more prestigious place in engineering or medicine.  But I wanted to study economics with an idea that it would be useful if I went into politics.  Undergraduate economics left me with more questions than answers and I decided to do a Ph.D. I was also attracted by the adventure of attending graduate school in the States.

So, in 1983, I went to Michigan State University where I was lucky enough to acquire a Ph.D. and meet my wife, Sari, who has now had to put up with me for over 35 years.  I wrote a dissertation in applied econometrics and we moved to Boston in 1990, where we have lived ever since.  In 1994, I joined the now infamous Lehman Brothers and acquired a CFA designation.  

In 1999, after a brief sojourn with a Swedish asset manager, I applied for a job as an economic advisor to Putnam Investments.  This involved plenty of writing but also media appearances and delivering speeches across the United States.  Finally, in 2008, as the Great Financial Crisis was unfolding, I moved to JPMorgan. I now work as the Chief Global Strategist for JPMorgan Asset Management and have the good fortune to run a team of 25 young, energetic and talented strategists and analysts around the world.

David Kelly

I was asked, when compiling this account, to mention any achievement of which I am particularly proud or any advice I might have for someone wanting to pursue a career in finance.  

As to achievements, I have nothing extraordinary to my name.  However, I do think, over the years, I have helped people understand the nature of the economy better and, by calming both their wildest fears and most exuberant hopes, helped them make better investment decisions.  I also feel good about the number of people I’ve supervised over the years who I honestly think I’ve helped in building their careers.

On advice, first be a good person.  In business, surprisingly, it has been my experience that good people finish first because people want to work with them. Second, learn how to communicate.  Finance is full of numbers people who cannot write vividly or speak convincingly.  So read the work of great authors to make yourself a great writer.  Also, speak up at meetings and make your voice heard.  It is much better to say the occasional stupid thing than to never speak at all.  Finally, knock on doors, even if it feels uncomfortable. You really never know where the next opportunity will come from but you are much more likely to find it if you are brave enough to go looking.  

The year according to Kevin

Alex Hamilton

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Ballsbridge, literally across the road from St. Conleth’s., when it was very much smaller than today. My family had moved there from Monkstown in the mid 1980s, and I arrived on the scene in 1988. My earliest memories are of playing in Herbert Park with my brothers, Nicholas and Ollie, who also went to Conleth’s.

How did you come to be at St. Conleth’s?

Alas, I should admit that Conleth’s was not my first love, for I went to Mount Anville, when it was mixed!. I spent five very happy years there, but it was girls only from 3rd Form onwards, so I joined Conleth’s in a class of only four in 1996. We were such a small class that we were combined with 4th Form and taught by Mr Carey, but we did have some specific 3rd Form classes in a very small room in Mr & Mrs Kelleher’s house on the top floor.

Class of 2006
2006
Alex with Peter Gallagher

Favourite or least favourite subject in school.                                        

My favourites subjects were probably French and Latin. I loved languages, understanding how they worked, and being able to speak French during much later years in Haiti was a source of pride. I’m grateful to Ann Sheppard and Françoise Brotelande for instilling in me a love of the language. I’ll never forget Peter Gallagher’s Latin classes in 1st Year; I have unfortunately forgotten the 1st Declension (mensa mensa…?) but it infused in me a curiosity about Roman history and culture, and I went on to study Latin at Leaving Cert level.

Alex with his Bank of Ireland Pupil of the Year Award in 2006

Fondest memory of St. Conleth’s.

Perhaps it’s a cliché, but I have many happy memories of Conleth’s. I am particularly fond of 6th Form with Pat Murphy. He was a disciplinarian, but he gave so much to his teaching, and even then as young boys we were able to appreciate that. Every class with Peter Gallagher was like a performance, and always engaging; “This is not Butlins by the sea”. I remember the various plays, school trips to Rome, castle competitions in 1st Year, and the debates and school concerts in later years. I also loved 5th Form and later Leaving Cert English with Mr Latvis, where vigorous debates about American foreign policy were interspersed with studying On The Waterfront and A View from the Bridge.

Who/what influenced you to pursue your chosen field?

Well, I am not sure that I have a chosen field yet, being 32 and still not knowing what I really want to do in life but somehow I’ve found myself in business over the past 10 years. I remember a time when all I wanted to do was to have my own company but I am not sure where this bug comes from; perhaps it’s about independence and wanting control over my work and time.

Alex with Conleth’s friends Conor McGrath and Tony Kelly

At what age did you know you wanted to work in your chosen field?

In Transition Year, I did a mini company with my two friends, Mark Ennis and Mark Doherty, and we made a small fortune selling footballs. We would buy them from O’Neill’s wholesale for €5, and then sell them for double or triple, going door-to-door in our local areas. I think that gave me the bug for wanting to do my own thing.

Tell us about your education/career path.

I studied Business & Economics in Trinity College, and I also spent on year studying at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. I enjoyed my time at university but I am certainly not an academic. After university, I did charity work in Kenya for half a year, and then joined a start-up in Dublin, which went on to become Web Summit. I then moved to the Caribbean to live in Haiti for a few years, working for the telecoms company Digicel. I worked there a few years after the devastating earthquake in 2010, and it was a very humbling experience. Later, I came back to Europe where I started an online training company with a friend. I am currently living in London, but almost always contemplating coming back to Ireland.

From Alex’s time in Canada

Proudest achievement to date.

I am proud of my work in Kenya, which I’ve continued over the past 10 years. I am also glad that I have spent time living in quite a few different countries since leaving school, as I always wanted to see the world, and experience different cultures. The challenge of building and managing a company from scratch was huge, and I am glad that I decided to do it. 

Aspirations for the future.

I have recently taken a break from work, having sold my company last year, and I have no idea what I’ll do next. I have no commitments, and while I always thought that I would relish this, I am somewhat daunted by the extent of the “freedom” I now experience. I’m trying to work out what is important to me, as I look ahead to the future. Of course, one day I’d like to have a family, and I think I’d like to live close to home.

Advice for people wanting to work in your sector/general advice.

I find this the hardest question, as I don’t feel that I am old enough to be giving out any wise advice but I’ll give it a try.

The few regrets I have are mainly from not doing things, or not having the courage to take a risk. It’s the oldest cliché but life is too short, and there’s no point worrying about what others think of your choices, as long as you’re sure of what you’re doing.

I also think that life can be so busy these days, so it’s important to have a simple practice of quiet, be it meditation, a retreat, or hobbies.

The year according to Kevin

Dervilla Mitchell

Where did you grow up?

My earliest years were spent at Seapoint within a short walk of the sea, where early memories were of seagulls and the smell of the sea; being surprised by heavy fog when we would lose sight of Howth and being delighted on hot summer days getting ice creams in Martello Tower.

The family moved into Mount Street Crescent in the early sixties and that was the family home for over 40 years. I still always try to walk past every time I visit Dublin.

We were therefore within walking distance of Conleth’s and Pembroke School (Miss Meredith’s at 1 Pembroke Road) which I attended before joining Conleth’s.

How did you come to be at St. Conleth’s?

Mr Manning taught sciences on a Saturday morning at Miss Merediths and our headmistress Miss McKendrick arranged for Naomi Coyle, Mary Raftery and myself to go to St. Conleth’s for physics once we reached 5th year. I later joined Conleth’s full time to gain more maths and physics teaching in preparation for the Leaving Cert.

Class of 1975

Favourite and/or least favourite subject in school.

Dervilla with former teacher Mr. Manning and fellow past pupil Naomi Coyle.

My favourite subject was physics. I liked all the sciences but the practical application of physics really appealed. In fact it was learning about projectiles that really brought this home. There was a formulae and one could calculate what would happen!

Fondest memory of St. Conleth’s.

I have great memories of my time at the school, but a more enduring memory is not from that time but more recently when the girls, now ladies, came together for a dinner to celebrate 40 years of girls in the school. It was wonderful to see so many had now left school, and we were engaged in very diverse careers and bringing up families. To top the evening off Mr Kelleher was there at almost 1am folding table cloths and seeing us off the premises.

Mr Kelleher and Ms Sheppard with a group of past pupils at the 40 years of girls celebrations.

At what age did you know you wanted to work in your chosen field?

I was completely unsure about my future until the day Mr Kelleher stood in front of us and asked about our intended university application. I was a little daunted by the clarity and confidence of my classmates but when it came to my turn I said Engineering with certainty.

I now reflect on this and realise that I had seen my father work as an architect and knew I would enjoy working as part of a team and using my maths and physics to design buildings- a very tangible outcome from a day’s work! One of my grandfathers and two of my uncles were engineers so again it did not seem strange to choose engineering and follow in their paths.

Who/what influenced you to pursue your chosen field?

My father… but neither of us could possibly have seen the journey I have taken. So I encourage all to surprise themselves and their families.

Tell us about your education/ career path.

I studied Civil Engineering at UCD and enjoyed the breadth of the course. As a student I worked each summer with Arup and was delighted to join them as a graduate. It is through my early work as a structural engineer that led me into building design then design management and project leadership.

Following 4 years working in Dublin I moved to Boston where my husband was studying and I worked with Weidlinger Associates who gave me lots of opportunity to learn and develop in my profession. It was also a great opportunity to experience life in America and following that we moved to London and I returned to work with Arup.

Proudest achievement to date.

There are two things I would like to mention. Leading the design team at Terminal 5 Heathrow is one I had to work hard for and the unexpected achievement was receiving an Honorary Doctorate from UCD in 2016. That was a real surprise!

Dervilla receiving her Honorary Degree from UCD.

Aspirations for the future.

Again there are two things which I hope for going forward. Firstly a more diverse and inclusive engineer and construction sector but also I hope that I and other engineers can make a significant contribution to decarbonise our planet.

Advice for people wanting to work in your sector/ general advice.

Our world is evolving rapidly and perhaps Covid has enabled us to not take things for granted. So the advice is to be flexible and adaptable and seize the opportunities that arise.

The year according to Kevin

Some of the first destinations of the Class of 1976.

Lukas Houdek

Where did you grow up? 

I was born and raised in Prague, today’s capital of the Czech Republic. Back then it was still Czechoslovakia.

How did you come to be at St. Conleth’s?

We moved to Ireland in 1990 when my father was sent to Dublin by his company. We lived in a house in Ballsbridge. St. Conleth’s was some three hundred metres away, right at the end of our extremely straight lane – a major advantage for someone with such poor orientation skills as mine. Plus I guess my parents must have gotten some very good references.

Lucas at Graduation

Favourite and/or least favourite subject in school.

I was immediately disappointed by Latin. Not the subject itself, but the fact that I could not take part in it, having joined the school as a 3rd year. Irish gave me a fright until I was told it was not compulsory for me as a foreigner. As with many things, I now regret not having taken more interest in the language. But at the time I was relieved to spend some study / reading / looking-out-the-window time up in the library. I did enjoy rugby a lot, although some of its rules are beyond me to this date. 

It was interesting to learn about Soviet history in Peter Gallagher’s classes, having come from a formerly communist country myself. It was exhilarating to watch Jean de Florette, Manon des Sources and Cyrano de Bergerac with Gerard Depardieu in Ms. Broteland’s French classes (by then I was becoming very much interested in film and thought I would pursue a career in this field). And it was intriguing to learn about the classics of English literature from Mr. McGloinn, a man who brilliantly combined threat with sensitivity and had the air about him of knowing just about everything.

Fondest memory of St. Conleth’s.

I distinctly remember how in the first half of the nineties the school emanated both the past and the future, which gave it a sort of timeless touch. Some of the classrooms struck me as rather dark, small and ancient, others as full of light and quite modern. I was also fairly excited to have my very first school uniform, complete with a tie (we never wore school uniforms in Prague). Only later did I realise that even the longest sleeves (green or navy) would not cover the entire length of my somewhat prolonged arms. One is also tempted to say that the sudden (though not unexpected) appearance of girls in the class was a moment to cherish but one feels this somehow goes without saying. So I guess my fondest memory would be of the handful of friendships I managed to establish while at the school, being the awkward, introverted, tall foreign boy that I was.

At what age did you know you wanted to work in your chosen field?

I didn’t. I know this will sound ostentatious but I think the field chose me, not the other way around. As I mentioned above, I was very much into film and spent a good deal of time at the Irish Film Centre in Temple Bar. Having returned to Prague in 1996 I studied documentary filmmaking. But before I could finish my studies I had a professional revelation. I was twenty four years of age.

Who/what influenced you to pursue your chosen field?

While still at the film school I met a great American clown who was just starting a healthcare clown project in the Czech Republic. I had fond childhood memories of some great theatre clown performances which had moved me deeply, but it never seemed to me as something I could actually do. Suddenly I felt I could and also found the courage to go with that feeling. At that moment my whole professional life had shifted from film to theatre, much like pulling a lever.

Tell us about your education/ career path.

The moment I started as an “apprentice clown” I felt like entering yet another school, this time based largely on courage, skill and physical and emotional experience. Besides going to hospitals I went to several workshops a year, some of them given by teachers from the renowned Lecoq and Gaulier schools. I learned to carefully discern between what clowning really is and what it can appear to be – the image of a party clown or even “killer clown” still haunts many of us but has little to do with the actual art. In the naivety and innocence of the clown I found reassurance, in the Socratesesque (sorry, Mr. McGloinn!) “I know that I know nothing” I discovered great freedom and creativity. I soon started working with a clown/physical comedy group Squadra Sua, creating shows both for the street and for theatre and also travelling abroad. “New circus” was becoming quite a thing and the audiences warmed to these “new clowns”. At the same time I stayed with the healthcare clown organisation Zdravotní klaun and started teaching seminars on humour as a communication skill at medical universities and for hospital staff. And in the latest twist so far I was asked by the nonverbal theatre department of the HAMU University in Prague to teach clowning there. It is my third year at the school now and I still consider this the most amazing work I never even knew I could one day have.

Proudest achievement to date.

As a proud father I might be expected to dodge this question by mentioning my three lovely daughters now but I won’t. I hope I do not underestimate pride when I say that I seldom feel proud, and yet often content. I think I did experience some level of pride when we finished our latest show Across with Squadra Sua. We collaborated with the hugely inspirational Belgian director Jos Houben and the result has been described by some as a “shared sensation”. Instead of a piece of theatre we maybe almost succeeded in creating a “joint perception space” in which the audience feels included as much as the actors do and has a lot of laughs in the process. So yes, I think I actually am proud when I can do my share to make people happy. It has little to do with altruism. I consider myself a human being too and like being made happy myself.

Aspirations for the future.

I hope to make such creative, pedagogical and personal choices that would ensure that there will actually be a future. I hope to continue teaching and in the process to learn as much about myself, theatre, other people and the world as possible. One day I would like to make a film about theatre clowning to reconcile the two poles towards which my life seems to gravitate.

Advice for people wanting to work in your sector/ general advice.

Be suspicious of anyone wanting to give you advice! Had they taken the advice of others to get to the place they are now? But at the same time I would suggest lending everyone a discerning ear. People often give you both good and bad advice when they are not aware of it.

Speaking of theatre I often have the feeling that people are attracted to it not for the love of the art or the audience, but because they are primarily affectionate about themselves. While this may work for some, I am content to say that clowning is a “narrow path”. It teaches you how to take joy in not being perfect and how to be appreciated for a skilled approach to fallibility. In clowning your affection always resides with the audience and only then is it presented back to you as a rather unexpected gift.

The Year According to Kevin