Described by former pupils and colleagues as inspirational, Mr Anthony McMorrow is retiring as principal of St Francis’ Primary School in Lurgan.
A Lurgan native, Mr McMorrow comes from a family of teachers and has spent his entire career shaping the lives of local children.
He has a happy disposition and cheeky sense of humour which endears him to children and adults alike and he has proved a popular principal through enormous changes and upheaval in the local education sector.
Anthony spent his childhood in Ardboe Drive, Lurgan. “Obviously it was before the Troubles kicked in as I was born in 1959 and had a lovely childhood in what was known as The Hospital Estate.
“Then Taghnevan was built and we were one of the first families to move into Downshire Avenue and, for us as children, it wasn’t a big flit as it was only round the corner really,” he said.
He explained that he went to St Patrick’s Primary School, Derrymacash as his father, Sean, was a ‘Tones’ man (playing for The Wolf Tones GAA Club).
The principal was Peter Murray who was the brother of Alf Murray, a former president of the GAA and principal of Tannaghmore PS. “We always knew we were in the presence of greatness because Alf was the President of the GAA. Peter obviously had a very Irish/Gaelic bent and he was a great man and we felt that we received a great education from him,” he said.
He then spent three years in St Paul’s JHS with Tom Keville as headmaster and Gerry McCrory as deputy. He credits Mr McCrory, who later became principal, with giving him a love of Latin.
“That was the start of my love of English. I went the English route throughout school,” said Mr McMorrow, adding that he then went to St Michael’s Grammar School. After that it was to St Joseph’s Trench House Belfast (teacher training college - now known as St Mary’s) and, while there, it became affiliated to Queen’s University. Having graduated as a teacher, he then started subbing in Lurgan in local schools but became frustrated as he couldn’t get a full time post and almost took a job in advertising in the Irish News.
He credits his mother’s regular visits to St Paul’s Church saying the Rosary for getting a post as a teacher in St MacNissi’s PS in Glengormley where he spent five years, also completing a Masters degree in Educational Management.
From there he moved to St John’s PS, Gilford under Plunkett Campbell for a year.
He got his first teaching principalship, aged just 29, in St Colman’s PS, Kilwarlin near Moira and spent five very years happy years there.
“The people were so good to me,” he said recalling getting a knock on the classroom door and by the time he arrived at the door there was no one there but there was a half hundred weight of spuds.
In September 1994 he became principal of St Peter’s Boys School on the same site as the now St Francis’ PS with 200 boys and eight teachers. Later St Peter’s Boys, St Joseph’s Infants and the Sacred Heart Girls amalgamated to form the now St Francis’ PS in 2001 and it is currently the fifth largest primary school in NI with 823 pupils.
“It was a massive undertaking to pull it all together and none of us were familiar with a school of that size. It was a big learning curve,” he said praising Marie Rice and Jane O’Loan, both vice principals for their great help and support.
Mr McMorrow explained that the Bunscoil was starting at the time with just five children and now it has more than 160 pupils. He said it is a great source of pride that, while some in the gaelic speaking fraternity had hoped the Bunscoil would eventually become a free-standing school, it has thrived as part of the St Francis’ family. That leaves four teachers in each year group with one Irish teacher and “they all work hand in hand,” he said. “The Bunscoil is a great success story, ably managed by Kathryn de Brun,” he added.
“St Francis’ is so big that there is very little we haven’t seen or faced. We have had good times and bad times. We have lost parents, grandparents and one lovely wee boy, Lee Beaton along the way and they were obviously hard times but we pulled together and supported each other.
“We have had great successes too, perhaps the biggest one was our last inspection in November 2016 where the school was awarded the highest grade,” said Mr McMorrow, adding that the school has been very well supported by the Board of Governors chaired by Dr Michael McEnery.
Asked what he feels is his greatest achievement he said: “There is a great atmosphere in the school which comes about from a mutual respect between children and adults. We worked very hard at the beginning to set that up and it remains the case today. I know Miss O’Dowd, the new Principal, will be warmly welcomed by everyone,” he said.
“If someone had said to me at the start of my career I would end up being the principal of a school with over 800 pupils, I would have said “Aye dead on - no chance’”, he said laughing.
“I wouldn’t have thought I had either the ability or the confidence to do it. And yet here I am now and the school does not feel the size that it is because of the quality of the people around and the way they work. It doesn’t feel like such a large organisation and it is easier to manage because of that. I have loved coming to work every day because there is always laughter. The children are always smiling, everybody is easy to get on with and everybody works really hard. Staff are so dedicated. The car park is usually full at five o’clock when the school finishes at three.
“I suppose that has been the biggest pleasure for me, having a big bunch of people here who work hard and are easy to work with - and that goes for all the staff. There’s about 100 adults in total and they have made my life very easy. From a management point of view, it is being able to lead a school which is held in such high regard in the community across Lurgan, knowing that and having great pride in that,” he said.
Into his fitness, Anthony played racket sports for years after he stopped playing football. He played tennis and squash competitively but now it is mostly golf and gym which he attends every day.
And he is a biker. “I have a couple of motorbikes. I have gone to Europe on the bike a few times. I would head out every Sunday up to Newcastle and along the coast in the summer. I follow the racing, the Northwest, Cookstown and Tandragee. I have a wee Vespa and do a bit of scooting up the town on that. It’s handy to avoid the traffic,” he said.
He is the father of two children who are both teachers. Sarah teaches in St Anthony’s PS and Anna teaches in St Francis’ PS. His brother Sean is principal of St Anthony’s PS and his brother Mark is a teacher in Tannaghmore PS while Mark’s wife Siobhan is a special needs teacher in St Francis’.
“I have three grandchildren, Jack (5), Harry (3) and Evie (6 months). They take a wee bit of running after which I thoroughly enjoy.
“I love reading,” he said and plans on reading the old English classics in retirement like Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. There are lots of trips planned to the Irish Open and the British Open and Wimbledon this year as well as a big American road trip in July.
“I am never going to work another day in my life,” he said laughing. “I am going to enjoy every day. Life is short and I want to live it to the full and give as much time as possible to the family.”