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An Appreciation

Eamon Agnew 1940 - 2015

The St Andrew’s College community was saddened to learn of the death of Eamon Agnew who passed away on Saturday 6 June after a long illness.

Eamon taught in Belfast and in St Gerard’s School in Bray before he joined St Andrew’s in 1978 as a teacher of English and music. He quickly established a reputation as an exacting taskmaster. First Year pupils discovered to their alarm that Mr Agnew expected all margins in copy books to have a uniform width and colour (one inch wide and red). Those who had come from primary schools that favoured group work and relaxed class discussions learned that he viewed such pedagogical innovations with suspicion: for Eamon, a hard-working class was generally a silent class.

As pupils progressed through the school they gradually discovered a softer person, gifted with a sharp wit and gentle humour. In Belfast, he had organised school debating and his love of robust debate enlivened many of his Fifth and Sixth Year classes. He enjoyed attempting to defend opinions that were often indefensible for the sole purpose of encouraging pupils to speak out in class and challenge him. Occasionally, classes were asked to address themselves to frivolous debate motions: one of his favourites was simply ‘That this house would draw the line…’  By the time his pupils had reached Sixth Year a bond of respect and affection had been established, the strength of which could be measured by the large number of past pupils who attended his barbecue parties. As Eamon got older, he derived enormous pleasure from the many letters and cards he received from his former pupils, occasionally commenting with a certain pride on their excellent standard of penmanship and punctuation.  

If Eamon was demanding of his pupils, he was no less demanding of himself. His concern for syntax and phrasing made him a natural choice for overseeing school documentation and preparing accreditation reports. The effort he expended in scrutinising each comma, semi-colon and full stop became the stuff of legend and eventually the process of submitting a letter or document to Eamon for proofing became known as ‘eamonising’. No official school document was released until it had been fully ‘eamonised’: superfluous adjectives and wayward prepositions were mercilessly eliminated; sentences were reworked again and again until they finally met his uncompromising standards. Eamon continued happily in this role long after his retirement from teaching until ill health finally forced him to hang up his red pen only two years ago.

English was not Eamon’s only interest. People were sometimes surprised to learn that he was an obsessive snooker fan and that he would put everything on hold when important tournaments were being televised. In moments of weakness, he would also admit guiltily to being addicted to Judge Judy. Music, however, was his great passion. He played the organ at assembly for many years, ran a small staff choir, conducted the carol service on a number of occasions and rehearsed tirelessly with the Sixth Years so they could give a stirring rendition of Vivaldi’s Gloria at their Valedictory in 1992. The last event he organised was in 2012, many years after his official retirement, when he succeeded in persuading the celebrated Whiffenpoofs of Yale University, a world-renowned a capella group, to perform in the College.

Eamon made a huge contribution to the life of St Andrew’s College and he will be missed by colleagues, friends and past pupils. The College extends its sympathies to his sister, Marie, his brother-in-law, Brendan, and his nieces and nephews.