from "St Michael's College and Academy - A Celebration 1921-2007",
published June 2007

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Accommodation in Irvine and Kilwinning
three buildings over 86 years - the main story
1957-1966 progress towards the new school in Kilwinning
The 1974 huts
Silver Jubilee Kilwinning 1990
the wee staffroom

The main story

St Michael’s owes its beginnings to two events in 1918 – the Scottish Education Act allowing Catholic schools to be maintained by the state, and the arrival in St Mary’s Parish, Irvine, of Canon Joseph Hogan, who realised the vision of a building for the primary school (which met in the church) and of a Catholic secondary school in Ayrshire. In 1920, Canon Hogan persuaded the Sisters of the Cross and Passion to buy the Williamfield estate and to staff new schools. On 7 November 1921 seven pupils formed the first intake, being taught in the former billiard room and dining room until their new secondary was opened in August 1923. The primary shared the accommodation until the new primary opened in August 1928.

Sarah Clegg (nee McQuade) recalls arriving in 1934 – “the place was modern, one storeyed, tidy, clean, surrounded by two schools, a field and a moor [but] I was still scared!” The drawing (not included on the web page) shows St Michael’s College as it was then. Sarah recalls, “We were co-ed till 3rd year,

then the boys went to Glasgow to St Aloysius’ or St Mungo’s, so we were used to a lovely quiet senior school”; but in 1939, after war broke out, the senior boys stayed in Irvine, and “our poor school was crowded with big noisy boys.”

On 25 October 1939, at about 8.15 am, fire broke out and spread quickly, destroying the whole building. Sarah says, “We were told it was an electrical fault, but we did wonder if maybe Sr Joseph had forgotten to put her cigarette out!” Huts were erected in the cleared space, as the photos show. The class shown is a Homecraft class in the early 1960s.

In 1965, the College moved into its new £453,000 building in Kilwinning. John Mitchell recalls, “The contrast between the primitive environment of huts and the palatial surroundings was dramatic. The corridor walls were papered! Such was the pupils’ respect for their new facilities that the paper remained intact on the walls for years! The situation was idyllic: the countryside stretched into the distance.

Lunchtimes in the new dining-hall were very orderly and highly civilised. The environment was immaculate and inspiring.” The large Assembly Hall has seen many shows, dances, discos, and exams over the years.

When the extension was added in 1984, the dining hall became the Art Department, and the library became the staff room. As well as new dining areas, PE halls and new library, the school gained an oratory, a Sixth Year common room, and interview rooms. Mrs Jean Lamb wrote, “we lived on a building site, but we survived”.

Recent years have seen a few other changes. Some staff and pupils have enjoyed new draught-free windows, and 21st century problems have necessitated a ring of security fences. The playground has wet weather shelters, and there are facilities for pupils with special needs. But, as Heraclitus said, everything changes.

I J Dickson

The photos show: 1950s/1960s huts in Irvine; Home Economics there; view from playing fields in Kilwinning before 1984 extension; front of school in last years; aerial view of school (photos are not to be reproduced, and are of reduced quality for the web).

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The Genesis and the Demise of the New St Michael’s (from p.92)

St Michael's College, Irvine, was destroyed by fire in 1939. Then came the years of the Second World War when the country had other priorities. The period immediately following was a time of austerity and deprivation for the whole nation, but by the 1950s the concept of a new school to replace the original was frequently mooted. In the first School Magazine of 1957, the topic was raised:

When? 1961, 1962 ? We know not. The purchase of the Convent Field by the Education Committee has let us know at least the site of our new building. Rumour has it that work will begin in 1958. Haste the day! It is now almost eighteen years since that disastrous day when St Michael's College went up in flames to be replaced by a motley collection of huts.

And in the 1959 Magazine:
Our accommodation problem is still with us. We have more that seven hundred pupils on our roll and the number is expected to rise by more than one hundred over the next three years. We have been heartened to learn that the Scottish Education Department has approved the building of an entire new school for St Michael's, instead of the large extension which was originally planned.

In the 1960 Magazine:
The school year commenced with an intake of almost 800 and, as the school was already bursting at the seams with numbers, the greater intake did not assuredly ease matters. In the second term, three new rooms were added – a new Medway hut with two airy classrooms and a cloakroom, and a second-hand Medway fitted for Science – easing the situation considerably. We had hoped that our new school would begin this year, but again we are fated to be disappointed. New building regulations have made it necessary for the Education Authority to seek a larger site for the prospective building and it seemed likely that we should have to move a few yards up Kilwinning Road. Even that hope has been snatched from us, as preliminary tests have proved that this location is unsuitable for building purposes.

In the 1962 Magazine:
Our accommodation problem is still with us – pressing and constant. Our 'bulge' is ever with us at every level, and our much-talked-of New School has not even stuck the tip of its toe in the earth.

In the 1963 Magazine:
As usual, we have to report that we are still in our old premises. However, it is almost certain that work will commence before the end of the year.

In the 1964 Magazine:
At long last the foundations for our new St Michael 's College were laid at Kilwinning, The “powers that be” decided that Kilwinning was more centrally situated than Irvine for two-thirds of our pupils and a site of nearly seventeen acres, part of Cranberry Moss Farm, on the outskirts of Kilwinning, was obtained by Ayr County Council. Bulldozers appeared on the land in the opening days of the New Year.

In the 1965 Magazine:
On 2nd July, the old school was occupied for the last time. Meanwhile, at the new school, it was difficult to find places to stack our stock as cupboards were not yet ready. About a week before the new session, staff gave up their holiday and set to unpacking and storing books. Workmen laboured feverishly to have the school ready for 26th August and what seemed impossible, due in no small measure to the labours of our janitors, Mr Frew and Mr Fulton, was achieved. For the first week, the pupils were delighted to go home early each day as Dining Hall facilities were not quite ready.

And finally in 1966:
On Friday 3rd June 1966, St Michael's was formally opened by Mr Bruce Millan, MP, Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. The occasion was impressive with a dedicatory prayer said by His Lordship Bishop McGhee of Galloway, an inspiring address by Mr Millan and the uplifting singing of the choir. For present pupils, and for the generations of pupils yet to come, today's ceremony is a milestone. Pupils are unanimous in their approval of our new College with its excellent facilities, spacious library, comfortable classrooms, well-equipped labora-tories and practical rooms, as well as its extensive playing fields . . a school of which we can be justly proud.

Despite protests from pupils and former pupils alike, the name of the school was changed from College to Academy by Ayr County Council in 1967. Now, forty-two years after the opening of the New St Michael's, our school is closing. Many of us feel very sad at the demise of St Michael's, but we feel justifiable pride regarding the magnificent contribution to society which the school has made in so many ways, and we are pleased to be able to reflect on those halcyon days of yore.


R A Mitchell

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The Kilwinning huts, 1974 (from p. 4)

In October 1974, new huts provided extra classrooms in the area past where the mini-bus garage is now and SMART school newspaper reporter Shirley Stewart interviewed the staff who used them.

Mr Maxwell (Bus. Stud.) prefers the huts as they are warmer, quieter and more pleasant working surroundings. . . . Miss Collum and Mrs Anderson (now Mrs Deeming) (Biology) complain that the shelves are falling down, they have no blackboards, no plugs, no gas, weak benches which bend when apparatus is placed on them, shelves which give skelves and will rot underneath the animals, and the front door fell off, but they are well ventilated (holes in the walls) and they are entertained by the workmen who whistle and sing. . . . The Art Department are to have the use of a room eventually; Mr Brodie said that if they had wanted it badly designed they could have done no better. . . . Mrs Barkey (H.E.) did not have a single good word about the huts. She also has no gas, and the cookers had no insides. Cupboards have no shelves and sinks have no plugs.

The Kilwinning-era Silver Jubilee, 1990 (from p. 27)

On 7th November 1990, over 400 staff and pupils, past and present, parents, friends and benefactors filled the Assembly Hall to celebrate 25 years of the school's existence in Kilwinning.

Among those present were Sister Pauline, C.P., former headmistress, and Miss Catherine Brosnan, former Principal Teacher of Art, the oldest surviving past pupil of the original St Michael's College which first opened its doors on 7th November 1921.

Mr John Mitchell was Master of Ceremonies for the evening, which began with a fanfare from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, as Bishop Maurice Taylor and ten priests, including three former pupils, Father Byrne, Father Murphy and Father Mann, entered the hall to concelebrate Mass.

After a brief welcome from Mr James McCutcheon, Head Teacher, the liturgy commenced – a moving and uplifting community experience for all present. The music, provided by Mrs Adamson, staff, and pupils, was of the highest standard. The readings were done by Mrs Merrick and Paul Canning (Captain), the Bidding Prayers by Mr Farrell and Mrs McGowan, members of the School Board, and the homily was delivered by Father Hutchison, School Chaplain.

At the end of Mass, Bishop Taylor reminded the assembled crowd that as Christians they were part of the world and that they must bear witness to their beliefs in their daily lives. He referred to the truth of St Michael's motto, “Aeterna non Caduca” – “things eternal do not perish”.

Mr McCutcheon then presented the Dux Medal to Thomas Greenan.

Afterwards, in the Dining Hall, Mr McCutcheon and Sister Pauline cut the jubilee cake and baskets of flowers were presented by Bernadette McFadden (Captain), Christine Russell (Vice Captain), and Lorna Dowell (prefect) to Sister Pauline, Miss Brosnan and Mrs Joan McCutcheon. Mr Peter Maxwell gave the vote of thanks.

A delicious buffet was provided by Mrs Hemming and the Catering Committee. Many looked at the photographic display devised by Mrs Merrick and her team. In the Computer Room, Mr John Walsh showed old school movies. The evening was a highlight in the annals of St Michael’s.

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The wee staffroom, by Mrs Rose Ann Mitchell (from p. 71)

My first spell of teaching in St Michael's Academy lasted for almost four years; I joined the English Department in 1970 as a replacement for Mr Peter McManus who had emigrated to Australia with his family.

My classroom – Room 22 (now occupied by one of my former pupils, Mr Jim Jenkins) – was next door to what was generally known as ‘the Wee Staffroom’ (now, incidentally, the English Resource Base).

In those distant days, the main staffroom was in the corridor alongside the Assembly Hall where the PE Changing Rooms are now. Although the main staffroom was not a great distance from their rooms, the denizens of the corridor in which the Wee Staffroom was situated preferred to walk the few short steps required to bring them to their place of ease at intervals and lunchtimes.

Now, almost thirty-seven years later, I wish to pay tribute to those members of staff (some of whom are now deceased) who frequented this staffroom, for the kindness and friendship which they extended to me on my arrival, and during my early years, at St Michael's.

The regulars in the Wee Staffroom were Mrs Margaret McGuinness (nee Dorrian), Miss Mary Whiston, Mrs Grace McKinley (nee Garland), Mrs Mary Duffin (nee Trodden), Mrs Helen Hughes (nee Trodden), Mrs Betty Moultrie (nee Leckie), Mrs Hilda Smith & Sister Bernadette Doyle.

Most of these were former pupils of St Michael's and had known each other for many years and, as a result, the atmosphere was friendly and light-hearted. The air was usually thick with smoke,

as several were addicted to the tobacco weed; of course, the non-smokers among us were, in those far-off days, blissfully unaware of the dangers of passive smoking.

Other members of staff visited the Wee Staffroom from time to time - sometimes, but not always, it must be said, for a smoke. Among those whom I can recall were Mr Jim McCutcheon, Mr Eddie Mellan, Mr Vincent Campbell, Fr Owen Wynne, and Miss Margaret Brady.

It would be fitting, as St Michael's closes, to remember the ladies of the Wee Staffroom and the many other members of staff who served the school community very loyally and faithfully over many years.

Tempora mutantur et nos mutamur cum illis.

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