Loving life - The Master, Pierce Ferriter

Frank Galligan profiles a man who loves his music and his community

The Master

Pierce Ferriter pictured with his wife Angela at their home in Laghey

From 1937-39, the Irish Folklore Commission, in conjunction with the Department of Education and the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, embarked on a very innovative project where senior Primary School children recorded in excess of 750,000 pages of local history and oral tradition from across the 26 counties.
This included some 18,000 of the children’s original school exercise books. It makes for fascinating reading, and one of many fascinating historical pieces was 88-year old Mary Anne Likely’s contribution to Laghey schoolgirl, Monica Connolly, entitled “Priest Hunting in Drumholm Parish”.
She wrote of one Father McGroarty that “No Catholic dare harbour him so a friendly Protestant farmer named Harron in the Mullindoon gave him a hiding place as long as he needed it.” Also ... “There was a priest in this district named Father Cleary who celebrated Mass in a field near the Red Brae.
And on different occasions he also celebrated Mass on Carrick Alt. The soldiers hunted the district. and actually caught him saying Mass. They dragged him out to the roadside on the brae and murdered him there which gives the name Red Brae.”
I had read that story many years ago in the course of different research, and was reminded of it when I visited the Secretary of the Drumholm Heritage Society, retired Principal Piaras Ferriter.
He was named after one of the most famous Ferriters in Kerry history, the 17th Century Gaelic Lord of Ballyferriter, Dingle, a renowned poet and harpist. Initially Norman conquerors in the 12th Century, the Ferriters were, half a millennium after their arrival in Ireland, in the same position as the Gaelic chieftains they had originally displaced, victims of Cromwell's anti-Catholic pogrom.
Priest hunting was one of his favourite past times. Piaras Ferriter was a cosmopolitan of his day; as well as being fluent in Irish and English, he also had a smattering of Spanish and French. Piaras battled the Roundheads, managed to take Tralee, only to end up being defeated. Cromwell's forces promised him his life if he surrendered.
Ferriter went to Killarney to arrange terms, and was promised safe conduct but was seized at Castlemaine and hanged with a priest and a bishop at a place called the Hill of Sheep. Piaras’s grandson Luke had two sons, James, (Seamus Lucas) and John, (Sean Lucas). They are acknowledged as the patriarchs or principal lines of descent of perhaps all Ferriters alive today.
Morgan Ferriter from Tir a Bhain in Ballyferriter was one of the first batches of An Garda Siochana in 1922 and was stationed in Westport, County Mayo, Kilnaleck in Cavan and eventually settled in Dunfanaghy with his wife, Teresa Drew from Termonfeckin, County Louth. Pierce is the eldest of their six children, who include one of our greatest ever footballers, Sean Ferriter.
Back in 1992, as part of Brian McEniff ‘s excellent homework, he sent the Dublin-based Sean Ferriter to most of Dublin's training sessions in the weeks leading up to the final. Sean then faxed back reports to Brian in Donegal. As Pierce told me: “My father Morgan played when he was stationed in Westport...in fact he pulled on the Mayo jersey on one occasion.
He was very much involved with the St. Michael’s club and I played centre field for them.”The 1955 minor team included Sean and Pierce Ferriter, Micheál Gibbons, Danny Langan, Mick Mc Ginley , Jack Gallagher, John Gallagher, Andy Hanlon, Antoin Mc Gettigan, Anton Mc Bride, Kevin Mc Fadden, Joe Quinn, Neal Gallagher, Hugo Mc Ginley, George Doherty, Francie Carr, Joe and John Doherty. Four of the team were Downings men and they beat McCumhaill’s 2-5 to 0-6.
Pierce was educated at Dunfanaghy National School, and got a scholarship to Colaiste Eanna in Galway and after completing his secondary education there, he was called to St. Patrick's Training College, Dublin, where he trained as a primary teacher.
He taught in two different schools in the Athy area in County Kildare for over fifteen years before returning to his native Donegal to take up the position of Principal in Laghey National School in 1973. He taught there for over twenty five years until his retirement in 1998.
“I played for St Patrick’s in 1956, we beat Vincents to win the Dublin championship. When I played in Athy, I switched to corner back but my last ever game of any type was a soccer match in Ballintra in 1973.
“I was very involved with the school in Cumann na mBunscol football and we had our successes.” He married Angela Cleary from Convoy, also a teacher and they have five sons. Eoin carried on the police tradition and is with the Garda Siochana Water Unit; Colm is a teacher and presents ‘Ruaille Buaille’ on Highland Radio; Enda is a full time musician ... a very accomplished pianist and tutor, and Morgan is one of Ireland’s most accomplished visual artists. Pierce's own passions include music, the Irish language and Scots Gaelic.
In fact he has graduated in the latter as a distance learner in Sabhal Mor Ostaig.
"Since childhood (and initially in the company of my mother) I have enjoyed singing as a member of church choirs and also as a member of choral groups".
They include the Abbey Singers, Bel Canto and Donegal Voices. He is also Secretary of Care for the Elderly and is fulsome in his praise for the great community spirit in Laghey.
As a teacher, he particularly enjoyed teaching Maths and when I asked him what were the big changes in education during a long career, he acknowledged that the introduction of arts and crafts in the 1970’s and the advent of remedial teachers was a huge step forward.
As I depart Tullywee, I’m reminded of a line in Oliver Goldsmith’s classic “The Village Schoolmaster” which reads...
“The village all declar'd how much he knew”. Laghey and Drumholm have greatly benefited from Pierce Ferriter’s lifetime of dedicated scholarship.

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