Isabella Semple obituary

Inspirational Irish teacher who rejected sectarian politics and ideas

My mother, Isabella Semple, who has died aged 66 after a short illness, was an inspirational teacher who left a profound impression on thousands of pupils over four decades in education.

An Irish language and history teacher at Dominican College, in Fortwilliam, north Belfast, for some 40 years, Isabella played a central role in the academic and cultural life of the school. She was particularly involved in its pastoral care programme, which she took to instinctively thanks to her innate kindness and sensitivity. She regularly dedicated time outside school hours to visiting and supporting pupils dealing with issues such as illness, family upheaval, poverty and teenage pregnancy, to ensure they could continue with their education.

Her commitment to the school was such that, shortly after retiring in 2011, she agreed to go back on a part-time basis to assist with library studies, a role she continued until her death. She was held in deep regard by her former pupils, with many saying she had inspired them to go into teaching themselves.

Born in Belfast to Mary (nee Daly), a nurse, and Thomas Martin, a fitter, Isabella grew up in the Carlisle Circus area of the city and attended the nearby Dominican College. After graduating in Celtic studies and history from Queen’s University Belfast in 1975, she studied for a teacher training certificate at Aberystwyth University. Then she returned to her old school to teach.

While working for the civil service between her degree and PGCE, Isabella had met Jackie Semple, a civil servant. As they came from different religious backgrounds, at the height of the Troubles, the circumstances for their relationship were not propitious.

But their deep love and respect helped them transcend the social and political obstacles – and indeed dangers – they faced. They married in 1978.

Isabella and Jackie passed on to their children an unequivocal rejection of sectarian politics and ideas, as demonstrated by their decision to send us to Northern Ireland’s inaugural integrated primary school, Forge, in the south of Belfast – making us among the first children in the province to be educated in a cross-community setting.

Isabella is survived by Jackie, her children, Laura, Helen, Paul and me, her brothers, Michael and Thomas, and four grandchildren.

Brian Semple

The GuardianTramp

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