Anne Beades.

Anne makes history as first Bower female lay principal

When former pupil of the Bower Secondary School, Anne Beades, was appointed as Principal of the all-girls school in September, she made history by being the first-ever female lay Principal.

All the other female Principals of the school were members of the Le Sainte Union Des Sacre Coeurs Order of Nuns, who founded the school in Athlone in 1884, along with a sister school in Banagher, County Offaly.

However, when she first enrolled as a day pupil in the Bower in 1990, Anne Beades said she “never even dreamed” that she might one day return there to serve as Principal. “It wasn’t anywhere on my radar, never, ever in a million years,” she admits. “In fact, it was far more likely at that time that I would become a farmer rather than a school principal.”

As the second eldest in a family of six, Ann says she came from “a very busy house” in Ballinamona, Brideswell, and she credits this with instilling “a very strong work ethic” in her from an early age.

Her parents, Eamonn and Patricia Beades, are farmers, and with five daughters and one son to look after, their second eldest daughter says everyone just “got on with whatever jobs had to be done, and there was work to be done on the farm every day of the year.”

She admits that it was often “a tough call” between heading off to school or staying at home on the farm, but her parents insisted that she (along with her siblings) got a good education. “I fact, I never missed a day at school, despite the very strong pull of wanting to stay at home and work on the farm,” she says.

Staying at home on the family farm “wasn’t an option” she says, even though she loved farming, and she is quick to acknowledge the fact that her parents realised she “had potential” to make a good career for herself outside of farming.

With a good Leaving Certificate under her belt, Anne Beades left the beloved family farm in Brideswell in 1995 to pursue a BA in Home Economics and Religion at St Angela’s College in Sligo and, after a year teaching at Scoil Chriost An Rí in Boyle, she joined the teaching staff of Moate Community School for what she describes as “a very happy 13 years.”

The lure of farming was never far from the forefront of the young teacher’s mind, however, and she jumped at the opportunity to teach Agricultural Science in Moate when one of the teachers retired and admits to “absolutely loving every minute of it” even though her teaching degree was in Religion and Home Economics.

An interesting statistic she throws out during our conversation is that 33% of Home Economics teachers actually go on to marry farmers, and she duly followed that tradition by marrying local farmer, Liam Dolan, from nearby Cam. The couple now jointly run a very busy farm of 500 sheep!

“Looking after the sheep is actually my downtime,” she laughs. “Even though I love my job, I honestly can’t wait to go home in the evenings, get changed and go out on the farm, it’s my little bit of Heaven.”

When she arrived back in her old alma mater in The Bower Secondary School in 2013 as Deputy Principal, Anne Beades says it was “difficult, at first” to make the transition from teaching in a co-educational school to an all-girls school. “In Moate, particularly when I was teaching Ag Science to students, I felt I could connect with them in a very unique way given my farming background.”

The study of Agricultural Science had not been an option for Anne Beades while she was a student in the Bower, but she is delighted that present day students now have the option to study it if they wish.

The new principal of the Bower had seven years to prepare for her new role, having served from 2013 to 2020 as Deputy Principal to Noel Casey prior to his retirement. She was then appointed as Acting Principal from November 2020 until her formal appointment as Principal in September of this year.

With almost 700 students, a teaching staff of 65 and 10 ancillary staff, Our Lady’s Bower is a very busy school environment, but Anne Beades says she “thrives on the work” and is “very committed” to maintaining the reputation of the school.

“Not only is the Bower known all over Ireland for its excellence, but it also has a global reputation, and my job is to continue that proud tradition,” she says. “I am a very determined and driven person with a very strong work ethic, and I would have a strong vision for the school going forward.”

In cards she receives from past pupils, Anne Beades says one phrase that keeps cropping up is that the students see her as a role model. “I would like to think of myself as being a good role model to the students, and I think that is a very important aspect of my job.”

While the Bower undoubtedly has a reputation for academic excellence among its students, Anne Beades is anxious to point out that, while over 60% of its students consistently achieve over 400 points in their Leaving Certificate, they cater for students “of all abilities.”

“We have over 28 clubs and societies in the school, as well as a choir and an orchestra, and we strive to provide a well-rounded educational experience for every student that comes into our care, and to help them to realise their potential.”

She is quick to praise the “wonderful and committed staff” in the school and says everyone “works closely together” for the good of the whole school community.

Anne Beades next big project for the school is a €2m development for an outdoor wellbeing, recreational and sports campus incorporating a hockey pitch, multi-sports pitch, a running track, wellbeing gardens and other facilities which are designed to provide enhanced outdoor facilities for the students.

“We would hope to get planning permission for the project before Christmas and be in a position to turn the sod in the New Year,” she says.