The Sisters of Mercy came to Ballymote from Swinford for the first time in 1904, at the invitation of Canon Thomas Loftus, P.P. At first they resided at Castle Lodge, where now the Convent of St.John of God is situated. They opened a girls' school in the Loftus Hall.
When Canon Conington became Parish Priest of Ballymote in 1909, he purchased Earlsfield House as a parish residence. This house was owned by the Gore-Booths at that time and it was occupied by their land agent, Captain Gethins. The house, with land attached, was purchased for £2,000. As it was too far from the parish church, Canon Conington gave it to the Mercy Sisters as their convent and he moved into Castle Lodge. In 1915 Canon Batty Quinn had the Girls' National School built on some of the estate land.
In September 1942, Sr. M. Frances de Sales Gould, who was superior in the convent, decided to open a secondary school at the convent. Following consultation with Miss Rose Gonley who, in 1939 had set up a school on the Keash Road, the project went ahead, and the first 15 pupils took their places in class on the 14th September, 1942. The convent secondary school became co-educational in 1955, being one of the first convent secondary schools in the country to become co-educational.
This new departure made the need for adequate classroom space an urgent matter. The government of the time was not prepared to provide any funding, so the Mercy Order - out of its own resources - built a fine new school of five large classrooms, plus kitchen and cloakrooms. It was blessed and officially opened by the late Bishop James Fergus on the 12th September, 1957. Sr. Albeus O'Halloran, Convent Superior and Sr. Patrick Cawley, Principal, had brought their dream of a new school - which they called Colaiste Muire - to fruition.
There were still only five teachers in the school, Sr. Patrick (Principal),Sr.Albeus, Sr. Regina Lydon, Sr. Assumpta Breheny, and Mrs. Norah McNulty. Sr. Patrick Cawley was succeeded as Principal in 1965 by Sr. Veronica Cassidy - a past pupil of Colaiste Muire, and at present Superior General of the Mercy Sisters. Mrs. McNulty taught Science to all classes, but without lab. facilities.
The sisters saw this as an unacceptable situation and in 1967 - during Sr. Veronica's principalship, - a large, fully equipped lab was built. This was the only building ever grant-aided in Colaiste Muire until the present new extension was given the go-ahead in 1988.
In 1967, the late Donough O'Malley, then Minister for Education, introduced what has come to be known as the Free Education Scheme. The free School Bus service was also initiated that year. This resulted in a fairly dramatic increase in enrolments in the late 'sixties and early 'seventies'. The irish economy had also improved dramatically in those years, emigration had decreased, there were more job opportunities at home, and third-level education became more acessible due to the Higher Education Grants System and the establishment of Regional Colleges and the Limerick and Dublin Institutes of Higher Education in the early seventies. The end result of all this for Colaiste Muire was too little space for the increased numbers.
The Pre- Fab Era
In 1970 Sr. Veronica purchased the first double pre-fab. In the following nine years, a succession of pre-fab buildings were bought and sited behind the school - 4 double pre-fabs in all. Even the long abandoned 1943 classroom was pressed into use again, and for a short time, a room in the convent was again used. Sr. Veronica left in 1971 to join the Mercy Sisters Mission in Jefferson City, Missouri, and was succeeded by Sr. Angela O'Grady( principal in Ballisodare '91). By now the syllabi of various subjects had been updated. Old syllabi - some of which had been in place for 40 years - were scrapped, and new syllabi introduced. For the first time modern literature was prescribed in English and Irish. The course content of the other subjects - e.g. Geography - was expanded; more flexibility in the selection of course material was given to teachers e.g. in history. Around this time also, the National University and Trinity College dropped the compulsory Latin requirement for Matric. Almost overnight Latin disappeared from school timetables - something many of us - not just teachers of English regret. Latin was a splendid foundation for anyone wishing to achieve real proficiency in Continental languages.
BRICKS AND MORTAR AGAIN
Sr. Angela was succeeded as principal by Sr. Kathleen Shields - also a past pupil of the school. It was during her time and under the management of Sr.Teresita Casey, that the Sisters decided to finance the introduction of Woodwork and Technical Drawing. A prefab woodwork room was purchased and equipped and a teacher employed. The cost to the sisters was close to £16,000. Sr. Teresita was also responsible for converting a classroom into a comfortable staffroom. This enabled Sr. Kathleen to use the original very small staffroom as a book store-cum-office. But more remained to be done and when Sr.Agatha Durkin became manager, plans were drawn up for 8 new classrooms, plus 2 large cloakrooms. This project was completed in record time - again without state grants - and staff and students took possession in January 1979. With student members now consistently above the 300 mark and a staff of 20 teachers, new classrooms were badly needed and greatly appreciated.
THE NEW EXTENSION 1981-91
Sr. Colette Kilcoyne became Principal in 1980 and with Sr Attracta Shields, manager, began negotiations with the Department for a grant-aided extension. With the expansion of the curriculum and record enrolments, there was an urgent need for specialist rooms, office space, and an indoor games facility. After 5 years of negotiation planning permission for a 3/4million building was granted. The project went to tender in 1986, but due to Government cutbacks, it was not until April 14th, 1988 that approval to build was granted. An Taoiseach, Charles J. Haughey, turned the first sod on June 10th and the contract was signed on September 5th. Work began on October3rd, 1988. Sr. Margaret Killoran had succeeded Sr. Colette as principal in 1986, and both she and Sr. Veronica Cassidy, Superior of the Achonry Mercy Sisters, have worked untiringly, to bring the project to a successful conclusion. Local fundraising was undertaken by the Friends of Colaiste Muire, who raised £65,000 by means of a £100 per ticket monthly draw. The cost to the Mercy Sisters of the extension, has been close to £300,000. Management, staff and students rejoiced in the opening of this wonderful new facility on Monday, 4th March, 1991. -M.E.Candon
In 1992, Sr. Margaret Killoran took a career break from the Principalship of Colaiste Muire. Mrs. Candon, Vice Principal, took over for the year.
In 1993, a Lay Principal was appointed and Mr Gerard Kielty, son of Mr. James Kielty, Wolfe Tone St., Ballymote, came to stay......................Sept.1998.
Colaiste Muire continues to thrive with first and second years wearing the new school uniform - blue skirt/trousers with a crested blue jumper.........Sept.1999.