“My main focus will be on getting plans for a Midlands hospice up and running.”
That’s the priority for the newly elected President of Tullamore Lions Club, retired Ballinamere N.S. Principal, Larry Fleming who took up the position prior to the group’s Summer break.
Tullamore Lions Club is one of the most progressive and active in the country and its backing of the Midlands hospice project could be crucial to the concept’s success.
“The Lions will play their part but the hospice will be a much bigger than the Lions alone,” Larry stressed when the Tribune met up with him in Tullamore’s Brewery Tap recently, the public house and eatery owned and run by another prominent member of the Lions Club, Paul Bell.
Larry predicts the hospice project will cost a massive €8m to construct and fit-out before it is ready to open to provide a much-needed service to people in the four midland counties of Offaly, Laois, Westmeath and Longford.
The ambitious project was unveiled earlier this year at the AGM of Offaly Hospice but it will require the support of hospice groups in the other three midland counties to see it come to fruition.
Such support is far from guaranteed but Larry maintains that building the hospice in Tullamore makes sound geographical sense.
He adds there is an identified site earmarked at the Midland Regional Hospital in Tullamore which would be ideal for a hospice, being on the campus of the primary hospital in the region.
’I’d hope that all Lions clubs in Offaly will be involved in fund-raising,” he outlines adding that plans are already advanced for a cattle rearing project similar to the scheme run by the Third World charity, Bothar.
Larry knows a thing or two about agriculture having grown up on a farm near Ballycumber where generations of his family toiled on the land.
He was educated locally at Boher N.S. where Len Casey was a major influence on his subsequent choice of career.
The Ballycumber native completed his secondary education at the Carmelite College in nearby Moate during the “golden era” of the mid 1970s when the school won two All-Ireland colleges football championships.
“Vincent Henry and Aidan O’Halloran would have been part of those teams as was Mayo’s John Maughan and Galway’s Val Daly,” recalls Larry who admits his footballing skills were not up to scratch for him to gain a place on the panel.
Though interested in veterinary science, Larry now says he “fell into teaching” after completing his Leaving Certificate.
He attended St Patrick’s teacher training college in Drumcondra, the destination of choice for students from Offaly planning to pursue a career in primary education.
After completion of three years study he graduated in 1980 and secured a position at Ballinamere N.S. where he was to spend his entire career before retiring in 2014.
“I always suspected that I would be near home in Ballycumber,” he now recalls.
At the time he joined the staff, Ballinamere was a rural school that was beginning to grow under the leadership of Principal Donal Brady.
“It was a rural school which always attracted children from the town,” points out Larry.
“There was five teachers there when I started and would have been close on 180 pupils.”
He continues: “The pupil teacher ratio was much bigger than now and it wouldn’t have been unusual to have 40 kids in a class.”
By the standards of the time the school was “fairly modern” as it had been constructed 14 years prior to Larry joining the team.
The Principal at the time, Donal Brady had a “wonderful reputation” having taught at the school since 1952. That reputation was partially based on the results pupils from the school achieved in the Primary Cert, an examination of crucial importance in the not too distant past.
“Donal was head hunted when the new Scoil Eoin Phoil opened in Tullamore. There was pressure put on him from the Parochial House. Donal reluctantly took up the post, took on the challenge and did a great job with Gerry Walsh as Deputy Principal.”
Donal’s wife, Mary succeeded him as Principal in Ballinamere and when she retired in the mid 1980s Larry found himself in the hot seat.
As a Teaching Principal, Larry presided over huge growth largely accounted for the courageous decision to enrol special needs pupils in mainstream education at the school.
Normally such children would have been catered for in special schools and as such Ballinamere was at the coalface in the integration of special education into mainstream education in the country.
In the early 2000s, Ballinamere became a pioneer in the development of education services for children with autism.
This expansion resulted in the construction of a new school, designed by local architect Denis Duggan, which officially opened in 2005.
“Almost 15 years later it is still a state of the art facility and was really a prototype for other schools around the country,” points out Larry.
He completed his Masters in Education in 1994 with his study focused on management in education and from 2000 onwards he taught at Ballinamere in the capacity of Administrative Principal.
Larry was also a founder member of the Irish Primary Principals Network [IPPN] along with his fellow Offaly man, Killeigh N.S. Principal, Damien White.
He served on the body’s national steering committee and became editor of its bi-monthly newsletter before serving as President from 2007 until 2010.
The IPPN is a professional organisation which represents the views, needs and aspirations of Principals and Deputy Principals in primary schools across the State.
Retiring as Principal in 2014, Larry found time to “dabble in farming’ as well as helping out his wife, Maree who runs an early years learning centre in Ballycumber. The couple have three children Graham, Sinead and Shayne.
But it wasn’t long into his retirement before he was approached to become a member of Tullamore Lions Club, a group which he now describes as a “fantastic organisation.”
“I had no realisation of all the work they did,” Larry admits.
“It’s an organisation that serves with much of its acts of generosity conducted under the radar . . helping families in need, organisations and clubs and responding to catastrophes, nationally and internationally.”
Much of the work involves financially assisting families in need, pupils who have educational requirements, children with special needs together with purchasing specialised equipments for schools.
Larry agrees that the Lions best known fund-raiser is the annual Christmas food appeal which benefits 120 families in need in Tullamore and the surrounding district.
Other activities the club carries out in public include diabetes screening at the National Ploughing Championships together with organising and financing annual holidays for senior citizens and carers.
“Tullamore is a strong club with 35 members and attendance at monthly meetings is always 80 to 90 per cent,” outlines the incoming chief. Members are also involved in a variety of sub-committees responsible for different areas of activity which requires further commitment.
The club is over 40 years in existence and founder members such as Christy Maye and Tom Maher are still heavily involved.
Monthly meetings are held in the Bridge House Hotel though recently the club has begun diversifying its activities to other areas within its designated region with meetings having been held in Geashill, Ballyboy and Moate.
Fund-raising to finance its charitable work is a huge task with its biggest source of income being the “Tullamore Annual” publication, of which Larry is Editor.
All proceeds from the sale of the Annual go directly to charitable causes with advertising revenue financing print and design costs.
The Annual is a much sought after publication by Tullamore natives living in other parts of Ireland and across the globe and features an eclectic mix of articles and photographs with a Tullamore theme.
This year, Larry reveals, the focus is on sustainability and climate change together with the usual mix of features, historical articles, supplied by Offaly History Society, reminiscences, profiles and sporting contributions.
Larry took over the Editor’s chair from Lion Denis Doherty, the retired CEO of the former Midland Health Board, who is set to play a leading role in the club’s Midlands hospice campaign.
That campaign will be focus of Larry’s year-long term of office in which he will be ably assisted by President Elect, Paul Cullen.
“There is a big commitment ahead but I have the right people by my side,” stresses Larry.