A new bench has been dedicated in memory of Ballymurphy activist Frances Smith on the first anniversary of her death. 

The bench is situated on the grounds of Bunscoil an tSléibhe Dhuibh where Frances worked. She was one of the founding parents of the Ballymurphy bunscoil. 

Principal of Bunscoil an tSléibhe Dhuibh Pilib Mistéil said the bench is a “lasting memory for someone who was and is very much part of the school’s history and social fabric".

 

“Frances was one of a small group of parents from Upper Springfield who took an enormous step and sent their child to the first ever Bunscoil in the area," he said. "There were already two other bunscoileanna in Belfast at that time in 1993. Bunscoil an tSléibhe Dhuibh opened its doors on 1 September 1993 and took children from Naíscoil an tSléibhe Dhuibh and Naíscoil na Móna. Later, Naíscoil na Móna was able to open its own Gaelscoil which continues to grow to this day.

“The young parents had a lot to take on. These days Iontaobhas na Gaelscolaíochta is the organisation that buys land or rents accommodation for Irish schools. In those days it was up to the parents and the local community. They had to raise funds for all of this and on many an occasion, the wages and bills were paid from their own pockets. This was a similar story in all of the Bunscoileanna that started from 1972 to 1990.

The launch of the new bench at Bunscoil an tSléibhe Dhuibh
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The launch of the new bench at Bunscoil an tSléibhe Dhuibh

The bunscoil head praised Frances as "a pioneering woman" who was an active parent.  "She also worked in the canteen and then as a lunchtime supervisor. Frances loved being around the kids and they all loved her and her ready smile.  Later still Frances became a grandparent to our own Daithí Mac Gabhann and campaigned tirelessly on his behalf on the issue of organ donation. Frances was a very committed Christian and this belief led Frances and her family to cook food for those less fortunate, even on Christmas day. 

“Frances now has a bench in our school yard, a cathaoir cairdeas, where children who feel a bit lonely or anxious can sit and this is a sign to others to come over and sit with them. This brings a lasting memory for someone who was and is very much part of the school’s history and social fabric, as all of our families are.”

Frances son Mairtín Mac Gabhann spoke the incredible person that his mother was both personally and within the wider community.

“It’s my mummy’s anniversary on the 1st of October which is during organ donation week. She sadly passed away a year ago. My mummy was one of the founding parents of the bunscoil and worked in the bunscoil. 

“She was always doing something within the community whether it was raising money for families in need or during covid her and my Da were two covid champions getting shopping and meds for everyone.

Frances family at the new bench in her honour
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Frances family at the new bench in her honour

“Sadly, coming out of covid she got cancer. She was given the all clear and then a couple of months later she died unfortunately. It was a big shock to us when she died. Since she died we’re able to look at all her achievements in life.

“Last year on her birthday because she was given blood transfusions, we did a blood drive as a family, just a few weeks after she died. I think around 60 people were saved because of that.”