05 Jul 2022

Trip Through Time: May Day and a history of Dundalk Institute

Looking back at Dundalk's past, with former Democrat editor Peter Kavanagh

Trip Through Time: May Day and a history of Dundalk Institute


Like most things these days May Day customs that were once common in the Dundalk area seem to have all been forgotten about as result of Covid pandemic.

However, I am sure that many of my readers will recall that the month of May was regarded in these parts as the beginning of the summer season.

One of the great events of the year in old Dundalk was what was known as the Big Fair Day which was held annually on May 17.

This was once the annual Horse Fair in the district and it was also one of the two Hiring Fair days of the year, the other being on November 1.

May Day was also one of the two 'Gale Days' in Ireland when half-yearly rents of tenant farmers were due to their landlords

May Day itself was also important in these parts because the days were lengthening and people could get out and about in the evenings after work and for school children it was a signal had the summer holidays was not far off.

One of the big events in local secondary schools was the annual sports days.

In my schooldays it was only boys who took part in competitions, (the days of girls' sports competitions was still a long way off), but the whole family would turn out and it was especially important to Dundalk mothers who came along to watch their sons compete!

I was never very good at athletic events and I positively disliked gymnastic displays when we had to dress up in white outfits that were nearly impossible to keep clean.

It was, however, a day off class work and, maybe, even on the following day if the 'Head of School' was feeling generous to their charges.

It often was also a 'time of romance' for older pupils as sisters and cousins turned out to watch the competitions.

The school I attended had many boarders who were starved of female companionship for much of the school year and day-boys, like myself, would often carry secret notes to the girls who turned up.

There was no 'social messaging' in those far off days and romantic communications had to be hand written.

I was no great romantic myself and believed that it was all very innocent encounters - but now I am not so sure?

Dundalk Institute anniversary

Next Monday, May 9, marks the anniversary of the official opening of Dundalk Regional Technical College 51 years ago in 1971.

The idea of the formation of such third level institution was initiated as far back as 1966 when the report of the Steering Committee on Technical Education in Ireland was published. Building on the College at Dublin Road was commenced in 1968 and the project cost just around a million pounds sterling to build and equip.

The first pupils were enrolled in September 1968 when around 300 students entered its first year of tuitions.

Most of the original lecturers have since retired but their work has achieved great success!

The institution became the Dundalk Institute of Technology in 1998 and its graduates are engaged in important work, not alone in Ireland but all over the world.

Now, 22 years into the 21st century, nearly 5,000 students are enrolled and the Institute has nearly 500 staff.

The foundation has become one of the most important supports of education and the economy of the North East.

A few years ago another Steering Committee was formed to raise the status of the foundation to that of a Technological University.

While that has not yet been achieved, the idea has the support of the Higher Education Authority and the the hope is that it be granted in the not too distant future.

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