The death has occurred of one of the county's best known music teachers, Olive Rice Cole of Athboy, who taught generations of Meath pupils how to master all sorts of instruments.
In April 2012, John Donohoe spoke to Olive as she was honoured by the Association of Teachers of Music in Post Primary Schools. The interview is reproduced here.
“Am I going too fast for you?” asks Olive Rice Cole, as we chat in the living room of her Athboy home.
The former music teacher in numerous secondary schools across the county hasn’t slowed down too much in her 92 years, and is still as active as ever as director of Athboy Church Choir. Recently, she was one of the surviving founder members of the Association of Teachers of Music in Post Primary Schools honoured by the association at a function at the Aisling Hotel, Dublin. “It was a very pleasant event,” she says.
The association was responsible for the introduction of music as an exam subject for State examinations.
Those founding members included the late Mother Ignatius, who was her former music teacher in St Michael’s Loreto Convent, Navan, who had recognised the young Olive Reilly’s ability in music, and encouraged her greatly. “She was an absolute genius,” says Olive.
By the time Olive was departing the boarding school at Loreto, she was proficient in piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass. It helped that when growing up at Castlepark, Slane, her parents were both piano players and sang, and the family entertained itself with overtures to light operas and piano duets on Sunday evenings.
She recalls one occasion at school when she got drafted in at the last minute to play the double cello in the orchestra when an examiner was coming. The regular girl, from Dublin, had taken ill with appendicitis.
“There was a knock on the study room door, and I was brought off to the music hall to play the double bass. Sure I was five foot nothing, and it’s a very big instrument. A cellist was put sitting in front of me so that I wouldn’t be noticed too much.”
Olive went on to receive qualifications as a licentiate of the Trinity College London and of the Leinster School of Music, and began working as a music teacher for Meath Vocational Education Committee, moving around the different VEC secondary schools in the county.
“Then, the Department of Education introduced free education, and there was much more emphasis on the exam subjects in the Leaving and Intermediate Certificates,” she explains. “So naturally, teachers were looking for extra time for their exam subjects and the hours for music were reduced.”
Olive saw an advertisement in a newspaper seeking a music teacher in a school 30 miles from Dublin, and answered it.
“It turned out to be my old school, Loreto. When I applied, Mother Ignatius said if they knew I was available, they wouldn’t have advertised.”
After a period, she was asked to work full time at Loreto, having been dividing her time between the convent school and the VEC up until then.
Sr Ignatius became the first chairperson of the Association of Teachers of Music in Post-primary Schools, and Peter O’Driscoll, Blackrock College, Sr Cecily, Dominican Convent, Eccles Street, Sr Frances Jerome, Loreto, Dalkey, Frances Rooney, Loreto Stephen’s Green and Olive Rice, Loreto Navan, formed the first committee in 1965 and for many years meetings took place in the Loreto Hall, Dublin.
The association was established to provide a united voice nationally for second level music teachers on issues of common concern. It is an independent association comprising music teachers who are passionate about music education, managing, supporting, advising and representing music education at second-level schools., and closely liaising with the Department of Education
Olive Rice Cole believes that there is not enough resources put into music in schools today, and that the subject should be taught as a mandatory subject far as Junior Certificate.
“It’s a talking language,” she says. “And like any language, you need to be able to read or write it.”
She enjoyed success with her Loreto school choirs on two occasions nationally, winning the regional finals of the Irish Press Telecom Eireann Schools Choral Competition in the Longford Arms, and appearing in the National Concert Hall. RTE in their coverage, featured the Loreto Choir, appropriately playing ‘Old King Cole’.
For 25 years, Olive cross-crossed the country as a member of the board of examiners of the Leinster School of Music, mainly around Easter week, June or around Christmas. She also taught private lessons.
Outside the educational world, she also acted as musical director for a number of local musical societies. When Fr Nicholas Foley was curate in Kilskyre, he got her involved in Kells Musical Society’s production of ‘Carousel’, and also ‘Showboat’. In Trim, she worked on ‘The White Horse Inn’ and ‘Oklahoma’.
Her first musical was ‘Trial by Jury’, produced in the Macra Hall in Athboy in the 1940s.
“It was a tremendous achievement for a small town like Athboy at the time,” she says. And she was involved in ‘The Righteous are Bold’ which Athboy brought to the All-Ireland Drama Finals in Athlone in the 1950s, and won gold medals for Joan Dempsey and Johnny Farrell.
Around thirty years ago, the choir at St James’ Church in Athboy decided to get serious, and with Olive as organist, developed into one of the best in the county. She is now director, with a past pupil, Noel Griffin as organist.
“We have five basses, five tenors, five altos, and about 12 sopranos,” she says. “I did a diploma in church liturgy at Maynooth, and learned that the music should beautify the liturgy without holding it up, and that it has to be in praise of God. I did lots of courses over the years - you have to keep refreshed.”
The choir represented the diocese of Meath on the annual pilgrimage last year, and also received a Distinguished Award at last year’s Navan Choral Festival. Olive Rice herself was named Athboy Community Person of the Year 1999 for her local activities, which included being one of the original members of the Athboy ICA guild.
She officially ‘retired’ from Loreto 20 years ago, but remained on to help individual students through exams until the middle of the last decade.
And she is still busy with the church choir. “I do a lot of our own harmonies for the choir, as a lot of material can be too difficult for amateur choirs,” she explains.
In ‘Forever Young ’, Bob Dylan writes “May your hands always be busy ….. May your heart always be joyful, May your song always be sung, May you stay forever young.” In her 90s, Olive Rice Cole remains forever young.
The death has occurred of Olive RICE-COLE (née O'Reilly)
Chapel Land, Athboy, Meath.
Peacefully in her 94th year at Our Lady's Hospital Navan. Retired musical director of Athboy Church Choir and music teacher. Predeceased by her husbands, Michael Rice and Paddy Cole, her son Dickie and son in-law Hugh. Sadly missed by her loving family, her daughter Miriam (Dowse), son John, daughter in-law Carmel, grandchildren Anne and Michael, great granddaughter Ella, her sister Sr. Carmel (Kathleen) Presentation Sisters, Kilcock, her sister in-law Monica (Rice), nieces, nephews, relatives and a large circle of friends.
May she rest in peace.
Reposing at Mullen's Funeral Home, O'Growney Street, Athboy, from 3pm this Tuesday afternoon with removal to St. James' Church, Athboy, arriving at 7.30pm. Funeral Mass on Wednesday at 11am with interment in St. James' Cemetery, Athboy