On 5 December 1985, thousands of teachers filled both decks of the Hogan stand and part of the Nally stand at Croke Park. The protest left a million children across the country without classes for the day, as 9,000 teachers went to Dublin. The joint effort between members of the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI), the Teacher’s Union of Ireland (TUI) and the Irish National Teacher’s Organisation (INTO) unions, campaigned for pay increases and improved working conditions for teachers.

The strike was almost as big as that of the children’s climate strike protest on the streets of Dublin last year. However, it was during that period of teacher’s strikes in the 1980s that Mary Magner, a farmer’s daughter from Castletownroche in Co Cork, joined the INTO.

The 1985 Croke Park teacher's rally. \ INTO

“That’s how I became involved in the INTO – we were campaigning for better conditions and employment rates. They were rolling strikes for three days at a time. My interest in fair play and fighting for worker’s rights started way back then,” she tells Irish Country Living.

Mary became president of the INTO in April 2020. She says that over her career she will have seen three recessions, and they all have had an impact on the teaching profession in some shape or form. In 2011, the Government imposed a pay cut on new entrants to the public sector. For teachers, those who entered post-2011 were subject to a 10% cut on the scale and new entrants reverted to the start of the scale. In 2019, the Government agreed to plans for two increment increases for new entrants under a new public sector pay deal. While this measure effectively equalised pay for 2015 entrants onwards, the 2011-2014 cohort continue to face future losses of up to €19,000 depending on when they entered employment. A moratorium on ‘posts of responsibility’ was also introduced. This meant new teachers weren’t able to secure leadership roles in their schools.

President of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) Mary Magner.

“There were recessionary times during the 80s, again in 2008 and now there are indications that there will be another one, post COVID-19.”

The salary issue has resulted in a lot of teachers moving abroad for work, Mary points out.

“Many of our highly educated teachers left our shores and still haven’t returned. It does need to be rectified. Two colleagues working side by side, doing the same work, delivering the same curriculum – it is a huge injustice that they would be paid differently due to a year in difference in graduation.”

The 1985 Croke Park teacher's rally. \ INTO

Mary’s daughter Marie is one of the many Irish teachers working abroad as a result of the pay gap in teaching. Mary says she can see the attraction of working abroad but it is hard as a mother to see your children pushed into finding a better life on distant shores.

“Marie graduated in 2012 and has been teaching through English in a private school in Dubai for five years now. Nobody wants to see their children being forced to work abroad,” says Mary. “The pay inequality problem is still there. Restoration has been given but it is not completely equal yet. The Government has given a commitment that there will be pay talks but it’s all up in the air [due to COVID-19]. I would imagine once that is fixed, teachers will return from abroad.”

Dubai is an attractive place to teach because while your gross salary may be less than it is in Ireland, it is tax free. According to a 2019 Irish Department of Education and Skills circular, teaching wages range from €36,953 to €69,407.

“The cost of housing and the lack of availability is also an issue. We have substitute crises particularly in Dublin where graduates cannot afford to live and work.”

Teaching at home

Since schools were closed in March this year to help stop the spread of coronavirus, the way teachers communicate with their students has undergone such a radical change that it is almost unrecognisable. In terms of timing, Mary says it is fortunate that quite a lot of the curriculum would be covered in primary schools by March and hopefully children will not be too far behind in their education. The closures also incorporated the two-week Easter break and St Patrick’s Day when children would have been on a break from school.

I know teachers are working hard creating distance-learning activities

“In relation to primary schools, I know every teacher in the country would love to be back. I am so proud of primary teachers at the moment. They have reached out to families, especially vulnerable families who have children with special needs, to see that they are coping with the new routine,” Mary tells Irish Country Living. “I know teachers are working hard creating distance-learning activities, keeping a continuity in learning as much as possible. In some cases teachers will be minding their own children at the same time. They have their own family stresses like everyone else.”

Activities that children do at home during this time such as baking, writing and general life skills are all part of the learning process and Mary says she believes a lot of good can come out of the lockdown.

“Children will become self-reliant and independent learners. They will become more resourceful and as a result their resilience is enhanced.”

However, she says that teaching will not be permanently changed because of coronavirus.

Our curriculum is 20 years old and it has served us very well

“Face-to-face learning cannot be replaced with technology. Primary education revolves around active interaction with our pupils, facilitating differentiation, enabling them to reach their full individual potential. Our curriculum is 20 years old and it has served us very well. Irish students are hotly sought after by international companies, like Google for example. I do believe that primary education should never be touched by cutbacks. Education is the key to coming out of a crisis.”

That said, the primary school curriculum is currently under review and Mary says that technology will be a skill that every pupil will need in the future.

It will be interesting to see if there will be a shift in the workplace towards working from home

“What this emergency has highlighted is that some schools have had to post out work packs to their pupils where broadband is not available or sufficient enough. I have no doubt that this coronavirus emergency will be reflected in the new curriculum. Technology is a skill every pupil will have to have in the future. It will be interesting to see if there will be a shift in the workplace towards working from home. That will have to be reflected in the education system.”


Mary’s first love was farming. She grew up on a mixed farm in Castletownroche and says she remembers milking the cows in the morning, running in to change her clothes, before her father would drop her to school on the way to the creamery with the milk.

“Growing up we would look forward to the sheep dipping days. It was all hands on deck walking the sheep to the local dipping tubs in Castletownroche.”

My mother was a great believer in education

When Mary’s mother saw her spending so much time on the farm, she quickly enrolled her in boarding school in Loreto Convent, Fermoy, for her Intercert. “My mother was a great believer in education,” says Mary.

Despite studying at St Pat’s in Dublin and beginning her teaching career in inner city Dublin at St Gabriels National School, Aughrim Street, she returned to the green fields of Cork when she got married.

“I secured a permanent position in St Gabriels but took a career break to go travelling for a year; to America and Asia. When I came back in 1988, I had to resign my teaching position to marry a farmer who wasn’t going to move to Dublin! So I ended up in Killavullen, back home, just four miles from Castletownroche,” Mary laughs. Mary and her husband John have three children; James, Sean and Marie.

She has been principal at Scoil Chroí Íosa, Blarney, since 2014. Between her involvement in the INTO and her role as principal, Mary says her activity on the farm at the moment is limited to “summers only and standing in the gaps when we’re moving cattle”.

We are as anxious to be back in the classroom as much as families want to see their children return to school

She says she is looking forward to getting back to school when the lockdown is over.

“The Minister for Education Joe McHugh has complimented the teaching profession for the work they are doing. We are as anxious to be back in the classroom as much as families want to see their children return to school. Children are missing their friends and social interaction, as well as their teachers.”

About the INTO

The INTO represents 40,633 teachers at primary level in the Republic of Ireland and 7,086 teachers at primary and post-primary level in Northern Ireland. Total membership is 47,719 (August 2019).

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