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President McAleese honours St. Mary's High School.

Tuesday April 30 was a red-letter day for St. Mary's High School, Midleton, when President Mary McAleese visited the school to perform the official launch of its Centenary Celebrations. Now East Cork's oldest and largest girl's school, St. Mary's opened its doors for the first time in September 1902 to a student body of 60 girls.

Since then it has become noted throughout the country for its academic and sporting prowess, as well as for the social consciousness which it actively encourages among its students. Adjoining streets were closed to traffic as The President arrived at St. Mary's, where she was greeted by a Guard of Honour comprising of 100 first year students.

President McAleese first contribution was to unveil a School Centenary Plaque, which has been fashioned with the help of Grainne Sheedy, stone-sculptor and former student of St. Mary's. Following this ceremony, The President proceeded to the school Assembly Hall to meet The High School's six-hundred-plus staff and student body.

Officially welcoming The President, School Principal Mr Donal Cronin said that the school's Centenary Year would evoke wonderful memories of the past. "We are extremely and justly proud of our great Presentation Tradition", said Mr. Cronin, "but while tradition is cherished dearly at St. Mary's, so equally is innovation and change". The Principal recalled numerous changes, many of them of a pioneering nature, which have been wrought within The High School. These innovations ranged from academic reforms in the realms of Leaving Cert Applied, Transition Year and Senior Certificate Courses; to the outstanding prominence, which the school has played in a wide variety of sports both at national and international levels. Mr Cronin referred also to the active and often courageous stands for which St. Mary's has been known in matters of Civil Rights and in favour of poor and oppressed people both in Ireland and abroad.

None of these changes, Mr Cronin pointed out, could have been achieved without the imagination, verve and outstanding hard work in every department of what he described as St. Mary's dynamic staff. Mr Cronin ended by thanking and saluting the staff on his own behalf, on behalf of preceding principals and on behalf of the Presentation Sisters.

President McAleese expressed her delight at having the opportunity to salute Midleton's High School on this important milestone of its proud history. Excellence in education, she said, was a vital foundation on which Ireland's social, economic and political future is based. The President paid a warm tribute to the Presentation Sisters for their long, distinguished and priceless role in the social and educational development on Midleton. "These women," said the President, "are prominent among the largely unsung heroines of our nation. They have devoted and continue to devote their energies, their expertise and indeed their lives to The People" President McAleese also paid tribute to the excellence of St. Mary's as an educational institution, to its staff and to its friendly and impeccably-mannered students.

Following her Presidential Address, President McAleese performed the official lighting of the School Centenary Candle, after which members of the School Orchestra presented a brief musical interlude. A vote of thanks to The President for her visit and her kind remarks was then proposed by Mr. Denis O' Sullivan, Chairperson of the High School's Board of Management. At the conclusion of the very pleasant ceremony, flowers were presented to President McAleese by a member of the student body. The presenter was Ms Karin Lam, a fifth year student who this year transferred to the High School from a post primary school in China.

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