Last bell to sound for Tony

St Malachy's Primary School pupils on stage during a retirement celebration day last week. INCR24-316PL
St Malachy's Primary School pupils on stage during a retirement celebration day last week. INCR24-316PL

When the final bell sounds next week one of Coleraine’s best known principals will have chalked up 40 years teaching at the school he attended as a boy.

Tony Fisher has admitted to feeling a “whole gamut of emotions” as the clock ticks down to his last days at St Malachy’s Primary School.

St Malachy's Primary School pupils on stage during a retirement celebration day last week. INCR24-317PL

St Malachy's Primary School pupils on stage during a retirement celebration day last week. INCR24-317PL

“I’m happy to say I spent my entire teaching career at St Malachy’s,” he said. “My first teaching job here was in 1976 and before that I did my teaching practice at the school under Brendan Jennings.

“It was the great Frank Molloy who encouraged me to apply for the post.

“I then took over the vice principal’s post from Eamon Magee and succeeded Phonsie Mullan as principal 20 years ago.

“It’s unbelievable how time has flown and I have many, many fond and vivid memories of the school.”

Mrs Nuala Fisher receives a bouquet of flowers from Una McAuley, school secretary and Patricia Cosgrove, past secretary during retirement celebrations for principal Mr Tony Fisher at St. Malachy's Primary School. INCR24-312PL

Mrs Nuala Fisher receives a bouquet of flowers from Una McAuley, school secretary and Patricia Cosgrove, past secretary during retirement celebrations for principal Mr Tony Fisher at St. Malachy's Primary School. INCR24-312PL

St Malachy’s has been at the very core of Tony’s life - his wife Nuala is even a past pupil - and they live at St Patrick’s Avenue, a stone’s throw from the school.

And he is proud of the school’s pupil-centred approach which has not changed over four decades of personal commitment.

“Well the pupils are why we are here,” he says with complete conviction.

“The difference now is that they are much better prepared for the modern world than in my primary school days.

Mr Tony Fisher, principal of St Malachy's Primary School receives his retirement gifts from past staff members from left,  Mrs Henry, Mrs O'Hara,  Mrs Rodden and Mrs Carolyn. INCR24-313PL

Mr Tony Fisher, principal of St Malachy's Primary School receives his retirement gifts from past staff members from left, Mrs Henry, Mrs O'Hara, Mrs Rodden and Mrs Carolyn. INCR24-313PL

“I have been very fortunate to work with some tremendous teachers over the years, people like Frank Molloy, the former headmaster here and FG Murray, another principal, who was a visionary and a man before his time.

“My teaching staff have been fantastic too, the team work has been outstanding. The relationship with the pupils, teachers, governors, auxillary staff and parents has all been key.

“I want to personally thank my vice principal, Gerry McAleese for all that he has done for me and the school.

“I have been blessed too with the support of the governors who are the unsung heroes of the school.

Mr Tony Fisher, principal of St Malachy's Primary School pictured with Father Brendan and Father Damian during a retirement celebration day last week. INCR24-314PL

Mr Tony Fisher, principal of St Malachy's Primary School pictured with Father Brendan and Father Damian during a retirement celebration day last week. INCR24-314PL

“What they do voluntarily is never given the credit it deserves and they have always had the best interests of St Malachy’s at heart.”

The eldest son of Eileen and the late Daniel Fisher - the couple had five boys and five girls - Tony attended St Malachy’s old school (close to the current Parish Centre) and then continued his education at St MacNissi’s College (‘Garron Tower’) in Carnlough.

He completed his teaching qualification at St Mary’s College in Belfast.

“If someone had told me 40 years ago I’d still be here I would have laughed at them. I’ve just had a great love for the school and the community and I hope that when I’m gone we can contuinue to serve the community.

“It has been wonderful seeing second and third generation families sending their children here so it’s lovely having that continuity.”

In his retirement he intends to continue his work with the St Vincent de Paul Society and the Early Years Family Centre in Coleraine.

He and wife Nuala - married 40 years ago - have three grown up sons and six grandchildren - so that will certainly keep him busy!

And he adds: “I play golf - badly - and do a bit of gardening so I’ll have more time now for those.

“But as I live close to school I’m sure I’ll hear the pupils playing at breaktime each day.

“But it will definitely be strange for a while not coming back here in August for another term.”