Miss Joan McKeever received her early education at Ballyhegan Primary School.
From there she won a scholarship to study at Assumption Grammar School, Ballynahinch. She progressed from Assumption Grammar to St. Mary’s Teacher Training College in Belfast.
On graduating from St. Mary’s she secured employment in Glenavy Primary School where she worked for three years. A position as Assistant Teacher became available in her Alma Mater in Ballyhegan in the mid 1950’s. She worked happily in Ballyhegan from the mid 1950’s until 1967. In 1967 she was invited by The Presentation Sisters to assist them in the founding of the new St. Brigid’s Secondary Modern College at Drumcree. She was a member of staff at St. Brigid’s from 1967 through to 1971. During this time Joan had the opportunity to teach many of the girls whom she had formerly taught in Ballyhegan. She relished the challenge of the professional change from Primary to Secondary education and it was a particular cause of pleasure for her to see local girls complete their formal education in these newly established, enhanced facilities.
Joan constantly strove to keep up with developments in the teaching profession and it is a testament to her own personal and professional integrity that she left a full time teaching post to return to Queen’s University Belfast in 1971 to embark on a further course of study. She studied at Queen’s from 1971 to 1975, securing a Further Honours Degree in Social Sciences. One of her course tutors at Queen’s was the late Seamus Heaney. Joan used to joke that Seamus insisted on referring to her as “Rosa”, a reference to the fact that she shared a second name with The Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret Rose – both Joan and Seamus saw the humour in that cheerful coincidence!
On completion of her studies at Queen’s in 1975 Joan took up a teaching position in St. Francis’ Primary School, Lurgan. She worked in St. Francis’ from 1975 to 1976.
In 1976 she returned to Ballyhegan on the retirement of Mrs Gallagher. She served as Vice-Principal from 1976 to 1982. On the retirement of her great friend and mentor Master Rafferty in 1982 she became principal of St Oliver Plunkett’s Primary School. She acted as principal from 1982 until her retirement in June 1990.
Throughout her teaching career Joan was an active member of The Armagh Diocesean Teacher’s Guild. Through her participation in The Diocesean Teachers’ Guild she sought to develop all that was best in Catholic Primary Education, while at the same time always remaining open to the emerging trends in Education for Mutual Understanding.
Joan McKeever saw teaching as her true vocation in life. She considered it an enormous privilege to be in a position to influence the lives of the children of her local community. Joan knew the children individually but beyond that she knew their parents, grandparents and in many cases their great grandparents. Her concern for the children in her care was absolute, going far beyond the school day. She desired the very highest of educational outcomes for those she taught and drew enormous pleasure from their subsequent successes in life. At her retirement function in June 1990 Joan spoke of her attachment to the generations of children from Ballyhegan. She spoke of her great sense of pride in her community and her sense of privilege in having had the opportunity to serve her native community for so many years.
Those generations of local families from the Ballyhegan community remain deeply grateful to Miss McKeever, a teacher whose faith underpinned her every action and whose love for the children of the Ballyhegan community inspired in them the hope for a better future.
That that future of hope and increased social mobility has been achieved is testament in no small way to Joan’s work over her long career in Ballyhegan. She would have desired no better epitaph.
“Suaimhneas síoraí dá hanam usasal.
Ceol na n-aingeal go raibh ina cluasa.”