Irene Hynds: 'Outstanding' RE teacher who brought out best in all around her
IRENE Hynds was 11 years old when she knew she wanted to be a teacher.
She was a P7 pupil at the little Cornagague primary school near Roslea, Co Fermanagh when she was inspired by her brilliant teacher Vincent Lennon and his passion for education.
A decade later, Irene's own passion and enthusiasm were immediately apparent when she took her first classes at St Mary's Grammar School in Magherafelt.
A teacher of religion, and later the college's assistant principal, she was loved by pupils, parents and staff in equal measure.
Irene had a warmth that drew people to her and an ability to connect with her students, speaking openly about her own faith and values in a way that would give them strength.
She could not walk down the street without being approached by a current or past pupil enthusing about some memorable classroom experience or sharing news about friends.
Her death aged 50 devastated not only her family but an entire school and parish community.
Irene was the youngest of four children of Jim and Susan Toye and enjoyed a happy childhood growing up playing with friends on Church Street in the border village of Roslea.
She was a popular student across the road at St Eugene's secondary school, then Mount Lourdes in Enniskillen and St Mary's in Belfast, before taking up a temporary post in 1990 in Magherafelt and joining the permanent staff a year later.
Her strong faith was handed down by her parents at home and in her teens she was reader and Eucharistic minister at St Tierney's Church, as well as proudly wearing her pioneer pin during weekend shifts at Ben Toal's pub in Smithborough.
She never compromised her principles throughout her life, taking every opportunity to encourage pupils to live out their lives according to their Catholic faith and not succumb to peer pressure when it came to chastity or other Church teachings.
Her message had particular resonance with the girls in the school, many of whom related to her love of fashion - Irene rarely wore the same outfit twice and kept up with the all the latest trends.
Her easy rapport and infectious sense of humour made her the obvious choice to compere fashion shows and other school events.
A nun who was a mentor in her early years described her as "an outstanding woman in every respect - a Christian of outstanding integrity, professional to a degree of excellence and a most loving human being".
Another colleague said she had "passion, laughter, a listening ear but most of all she brought out the best in those around her, both staff and pupils."
Outside school Irene's focus was firmly on her family - her husband Seamus and 13-year-old son Daniel in Ballyronan and the daily conversations and frequent visits to her own parents and siblings.
She met Seamus, a folk singer and civil servant from Ballykinlar, Co Down, after a colleague in the St Mary's RE department heard him perform a self-penned song about Sister Lucia of Fatima and declared in school the next day: "I have found the perfect man for you."
They duly met, enjoyed a whirlwind romance and were devoted in marriage, enjoying their holidays abroad and nights at home laughing together over episodes of Frasier and other TV comedies.
Seamus said her death has left him "heartbroken in a way I could never have imagined".
Irene was first diagnosed with bowel cancer in March 2017 and confronted her illness with great courage, faith and positivity.
At her Requiem Mass at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Magherafelt, Fr John Gates said she told him that her work on earth was done and God now wanted her for a new role.
"She said she would not want to change one thing about her life but would do it all again, she loved every minute. To me that says it all and sums up the sort of person Irene was."
Irene Hynds died aged 50 on April 16. She is survived by her husband Seamus, son Daniel, parents Jim and Susan, sister Geraldine and brothers Jim and Eugene.