The Abbey Vocational School was named after the historic ‘Old Abbey’ where the ‘Annals of the Four Masters’ was compiled, over four hundred years ago, by four scribes often referred to as ‘The Four Masters’. This is fitting given the long tradition of scholastic achievement in Donegal Town from that era to the present time. The modern school with its extensive playing fields and gymnasium is located at The Glebe, overlooking the historic ruin of the Franciscan settlement.
Early records indicate that the town had a secondary school called the Eske College, which in the early 1920s became known as Fisher’s High School. The next chapter in post primary education began in the late 1940s when F.R. O’Clery founded a private secondary school, Ard Scoil Na gCeithre Máistri. Through his school, Mr. O’Clery, as principal and manager, helped to pioneer the provision of secondary education in Donegal Town.
Elsewhere in the county, Technical Education was to the fore when the first Technical schools were opened at Ballyshannon and Letterkenny in 1914. After the Vocational Education Act was passed in 1930, the County Donegal Joint Technical Instruction Committee was transformed into the County Donegal Vocational Education Committee. As the V.E.C. expanded its role, a new Technical School was built at Drumcliffe, Donegal Town. The school, under the guiding hand of Paddy Rooney extended and nurtured the provision of education in the region. The school opened its doors for students in 1954 and was officially opened on 6 June, 1955 by the Minister for Education, Richard Mulcahy.
While the two schools had co-operated, whenever possible, on the provision of education in the town, successive Ministers for Education sought to have the Vocational School and the Ardscoil na gCeithre Máistir amalgamated. This ideal came to fruition in 1970 when the Manager and Principal of Ardscoil na gCeithre Máistir agreed to an amalgamation, with the property and staff being transferred en bloc to the V.E.C. Initially the closure and subsequent amalgamation was to be completed on a phased basis but, at the request of Mr. O’Cleirigh, the school was closed entirely on 1 August, 1971.
The Donegal Vocational School, under the control of the V.E.C., and with John J. Harvey as principal, expanded its curriculum and eventually operated out of eight centres that included: Ard Scoil na gCeithre Máistri, The Technical School, the Clubrooms at Water Street, The Pavesi Ballroom/St. John Bosco Centre, at basement rooms in the Methodist Church, rooms at the Presbyterian Church, the Four Masters Cinema rooms and also at a small garage on the Clar Road. To cater for this expansion, plans were prepared for a new building, The Abbey Vocational School, with provision for 565 students on a fourteen acre site at the Glebe.
The Abbey Vocational School was opened in 1982 by Donegal Town Mayor, Gerry Mc Keown, with Councillor Colm Gallagher, presiding as Chairman of the County Donegal Vocational Education Committee, while the Minister for Education, Martin O’Donoghue performed the Official opening. The new school received a further three extensions from 1982 to 1997 to cater for the expanding number of students and a comprehensive curriculum. Today the school caters for 770 students with a staff of 55 teachers.
Note: Annála Ríoghachta Éireann (1632-1636), became popularity known as the ‘Annals of the Four Masters’ as a reference to the four scribes who compiled, wrote and illuminated the Annals. The scribes, often referred to as ‘The Four Masters’, were: An Bráthair Micheál Ó Cléirigh, Cúcoigríche Ó Cléirigh, Fearfeasa Ó Maolconaire agus Cucoigcriche Ó Duibhgeanáin.