Archie McMullan – The First Headmaster of St Joseph’s

September 1, 2014

This week as part of The Examiner’s series marking the 50th Anniversary of St. Joseph’s HIgh School Crossmaglen, we have reproduced a tribute to the legendary first Principal of the school, Archie McMullen.  The homage was penned by Tommy McKeown and first appeared in St. Joseph’s Silver Jubilee celebration booklet.

By Mr. T. McKeown

Archie McMullan B.A., B.Sc, Econ., who died on the 16th January, 1984 aged 68, was a man of exceptional intellectual ability whose extensive knowledge and grasp of detail made him a valued advisor and an entertaining conversationalist.

After a number of years working in The Ministry of Agriculture and a period running a factory in Downpatrick which manufactured dolls, Archie began his teaching career in Crossmaglen Technical School in the late fifties. He taught in The First Aid Point’ a name which I know will evoke fond memories for many south Armagh people. In those, now distant days, Archie provided a sound education in the whole range of academic subjects for students of varying abilities at a time when the term ‘comprehensive education’ was not current in south Armagh.

At that time, he was a very familiar figure as he arrived on The Square in an aging Rover from which he emerged, a stocky figure wearing a black beret and carrying a bulging briefcase, to begin another day in The First Aid Point’.

The relatively small number of students attending the Tech then, and the more leisurely pace of life, allowed for a good deal more informality than we know today. The main building, where practical subjects were taught, was on the other end of the Square and students were summoned there by a shrill blast on Barney Larkin’s whistle.

Archie, never a slave to time, occasionally chose to ignore the summons when he was in the middle of an interesting lesson. Shuffling of feet and elaborate pantomine of clearing away books had little effect. Now and then however, advantage could be taken of his tendency to become absorbed in a subject when timely questions from keen students could put off the moment when homework would be asked for.

The end of the school day was never predictable and lessons could go on well past 3.30 p.m. In cold weather, the pot-bellied stove that warmed the draughty old building would sometimes obligingly give out great clouds of smoke or perhaps go out altogether and the cold would become even too much for Archie.

At that time some of the well known local characters would meet outside The First Aid Point’ for ‘a crack’; and students next to the windows were kept well informed about all that was going on in the locality. On occasion, however, exchanges became a little too lively and Archie would emerge to disperse the unruly assembly.

Many students of that era were given their first opportunity to appreciate the beauty of Ireland outside south Armagh when they crowded into Archie’s Rover for tours here, there and everywhere in an age when school trips were unheard of. He also gave generously of his free time to help students with extra tuition for examinations.

In 1964 he was appointed first principal of St. Joseph’s. Although some of the informality of the Old Tech’ was lost in the new school, Archie’s original and indeed eccentric personality gave the school a special character.

In an age which perhaps demands a greater conformity, Archie maintained an independance of spirit and an originality of approach. He had an enviable ability to be his own man no matter what conventional wisdom might dictate. He had an insatiable curiosity about anything and everything as well as a very practical bent. Visitors to the school were quite likely to find him  working on some piece of equipment that had stopped working or even mending a burst pipe.

Outside school, Archie had a wide circle of friends and he took a very active part in the social life of the area. Many people in farming and business went to him for advice. He was even known to ‘tread the boards’ having had a number of roles in plays presented by The Anamar Dramatic Society.

After he retired in 1981, Archie returned to his native County Antrim where he lived with his sister Sarah in the ancestral home at Moninea, Corkey near Cloughmills.

In characteristic style, he set about converting the roofspace of the family bungalow into a study and library for his extensive collection of books. He was also planning to construct a turbine on the Moninea river which ran past the house. Alas he did not live to enjoy for long the pleasures of the library, nor to realise his life-long dream of generating his own electricity, for he died quite suddenly after a very short illness and was interred in the family vault, designed and built by himself in Loughgiel Churchyard.

The vault itself, in a way stands as a very fitting epitaph to a quite remarkable man and an eccentric in the most endearing sense of that word.