I went to Scoil Oilibheir, Dublin Hill, for primary school and then on to St Finbarr’s College, Farranferris, for secondary school.
Scoil Oilibheir was, and I’m sure still is, a big, busy, diverse school, with as much love of music, art, and sport as of books. Working on my book, The Double, memories of us all, waiting in the school halla for the likes of Tomas Mulcahy, Teddy McCarthy, and John Fitzgibbon to visit, came flooding back.
Memories of class-made, red-and-white flags, teddy bears in Corkjerseys, and those paper caps you’d get at matches are very vivid.
A mad school trip to Barcelona was a standout memory of secondary school. The airline went on strike the day before we were to fly, so the teachers — fair dues to them — got us to Wales on the ferry, across to Portsmouth, and then, after a second crossing, to some French port. We said we’d go into Paris for a look around and from there head down to Barcelona on a big coach, watching a video tape of ‘Oasis: Live At Maine Road’ over and over again.
We stopped in Figueres, Salvador Dali’s hometown, and were encouraged to go into the famous artist’s museum. I remember lads sat outside it, eating ice-cream and comparing the nudey playing cards they’d procured somewhere.
As we came down the hills to the Catalan capital, a good few ‘Wonderwalls’ later, our brilliant teacher, Niall Ahern, stuck a cassette of Freddie Mercury’s ‘Barcelona’ in the tape deck and the whole bus was cheering.
It was fairly daunting, pushing open the old, heavy doors of Farna on the first day. It’s a beautiful, red-brick building and the corridors are lined with heavily-framed portraits of past presidents, bishops, and successful Harty Cup teams.
My memory is that our first day was 24 hours after the ‘five-minute final’ and a large chunk of our introduction to the science curriculum was a discussion, with the teacher, on Offaly’s win over Limerick. He reminded us that the first day back is always the day after the All-Ireland hurling final. It said a lot about the place, that time was marked in that way.
The marker doesn’t apply now, as the All-Ireland final has been moved in the calendar and, more importantly, the school was closed some years ago, which is a huge pity. It was an amazing school, on the northside of Cork city, for well over a century. For me, in my six years there, it was serious craic and you got a great education, if you wanted it.
I’m sure I was a quiet child and got on with things handy enough. I probably annoyed teachers, due to my lack of punctuality. I was probably thought of as one of the more academic kids in primary school, but when I got to secondary, I quickly realised I was far from the top of the class and coasted along.
I loved English and History and had some great teachers.
Farna was a boarding school, as well as having day boys, as we would have been called. There were lads from West Cork, farmers from the Limerick border, people from all over the city, and it opened my eyes to a lot of different types of people and backgrounds and we all got on grand. I think that’s important in any workplace or organisation and schools made up of one kind of demographic are poorer for it.
Explicitly or not, I think there was a culture of independence; you were expected to get on with things and drive it on yourself, though we were often reminded that we had to look out for each other, both then and when we got on with life.
There were great teachers, like Sean Murphy and Niall Ahern, who treated you like an adult and whose classes were always rewarding. My old English teacher was a big influence. Tim Horgan is the leading expert on Cork GAA, having written several brilliant books on the topic and he was a great help again for my effort, The Double. He shared research and encouragement, which was much appreciated.
During school, I was offered a week’s work experience in the Irish Examiner, but not for the scheduled week, when we were instructed to do so. I approached the school president, Fr Noel O’Sullivan, as he watched the crowds filter quickly back into classrooms after lunch, to ask if I could take a week off. He acquiesced, advising that if I hated this first taste of journalism, at least I’d know after the week away from the school and could knuckle down... and get a proper job some day.
Adrian Russell is the author of The Double: How Cork Made GAA History, published by Mercier Press, and available for €17.99.
He will be signing copies of the book at Waterstones Christmas event on December 6, from 6pm on Patrick’s St, Cork.