4 celebrities recall their favourite school teachers

As students across the country return to school next week, some of our famous faces recall the teachers that changed their lives. Clodagh Finn reports.
4 celebrities recall their favourite school teachers

Ryan Tubridy, Broadcaster

Fr O Brolchain at Blackrock College was the first person to put a microphone in his hand.

WHEN broadcaster Ryan Tubridy started as a student at Blackrock College in Dublin he was, as he puts it, “a puny but positive young boy” and feared he might feel out of place at a school renowned for its prowess on the rugby pitch.

“But,” he recalls, “Fr Cormac O Brolchain [then principal] spotted me and said, ‘We are doing a school talent concert and you will be co-host’. He saw that in me.

“I bumped into him again a few ago weeks ago at Dun Laoghaire library. He tapped me on the shoulder and asked me how I was.

"I said, ‘Do you realise that you were the first one to put the mic in my hand? You created all this’,” he says of Fr O Brolchain who is now spiritual director at Blackrock College.

He’s full of praise for his former school: “It was a rugby-playing school that could produce the likes of Brian O’Driscoll but it was also an arts school that produced people like Bob Geldof and Ardal O’Hanlon.”

It was also the place that gave the RTÉ star an enduring love of reading, words and history.

He recalls Latin teacher Miss Fitzgerald with great admiration.

“I was a ‘C’ grade student with an ‘A’ grade love of the subject. I loved the togas and the scandals, the columns, buildings and daggers.

"Her approach and passion for Latin gave me a love of the subject and a love of words.”

He also remembers her advice to this day.

If you find it gets too hot when travelling in a foreign country, she told her students, always seek out a church or cathedral rather than a fast-food restaurant with air-conditioning.

It will be cool and far more interesting with its layers of histories and stories in every brick.

The teachers who told stories were the ones who captured the imagination of a man who would go on to weave people’s stories into the fabric of his daily show on radio and The Late, Late Show.

English teacher Mr Clarke at Blackrock College was a great storyteller, he recalls.

At primary school at Willow Park School in Blackrock, Miss Whelan gave him a good grade for a book review, which set him on a book-reviewing course, while Jack Redmond – or “Mr Redmond as everyone was ‘Mr’ then; that was a final lash of the Victorian whip!” – was a favourite in fifth class.

He took his pupils on wonderful ‘detours’ that weren’t on the school curriculum, including a surreptitious reading of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, which he hid inside another book.

“One tip he told us was not just to look at things at eye level. When you are walking along a street, look up.” Ryan tells his two daughters to do that now.

“I love teachers. I love the profession. I admire them so much.

"I have a chat show for a few hours on a Saturday night but it takes some skill and passion to do that all day. But teachers have a big responsibility too, they have to make their subject interesting.”

Rosanna Davison, Model and nutritionist/author

The passion and positivity of a primary school art teacher instilled a lifelong love of art.

Former Miss World Rosanna Davison has lots of strings to her bow – she’s a model, an author, a healthy-eating advocate and a charity ambassador, to name a few.

But you mightn’t know that she also has a passion for art and art history. She studied History of Art at University College Dublin and is a regular visitor to art galleries.

She attributes her enduring love of art to Olivia Uhlar who taught her in primary school at Aravon School in Bray, Co Wicklow.

“I’ve had plenty of very knowledgeable and talented teachers and lecturers, but if I go way back to primary school, I did have a fantastic art teacher.

“Of all the teachers I had had up until that point and subsequently, Olivia Uhlar was the one that instilled the most excitement and passion for the subject.

"She was really creative and full of energy, which had a big impact on us as students,” Rosanna recalls.

She says one of the things that made her art teacher so special was that she always encouraged her class and never criticised them.

“I think that type of positive feedback always inspired us to work harder in class.

"I went on to take art for the Leaving Cert and then I studied for a degree in History of Art in UCD, so I really believe that she first drove my passion for art and art history.”

Art still plays a big part in her life; she goes to galleries here and when abroad and, most recently, enjoyed the Leonardo Da Vinci drawings at the National Gallery of Ireland.

“Having a teacher that made such an impact on me as a child in primary school definitely makes me appreciate the role that teachers have in the lives of students, and often for many years after they leave school.

"Having a really positive, encouraging teacher can make a huge difference to your learning experience and love for a subject.”

Hugh Wallace, Architect

An English teacher helped to diagnose his dyslexia.

Hugh Wallace recalls Miss Smith, his fourth and fifth class teacher at Taney National School in Dublin, with exceptional clarity.

“She was great fun,” he says, adding that she instilled in him a love of learning.

Whenever he smells poster paints now, he is back in that classroom with Miss Smith.

He can still picture exactly what it was like at elevenes when she would take out her flask of milky coffee, two digestive biscuits and ask the favourite pupil of the day to pick a portion from the box of Galtee Cheese Triangles. (Remember them?)

Sadly, though, he never had that honour himself. Although he loved school and learning, his undiagnosed dyslexia meant he often struggled in primary school.

“You were just thick or you just had to repeat the lines 100 times,” he recalls.

However, that all changed thanks to Greg Collins, his “super” English teacher at Sandford Park School in Dublin. He was the first one to spot that Hugh might have dyslexia and sent him to be tested.

“Seven others that year [1972] were diagnosed and they were allowed to do part of their Leaving Cert orally,” he says.

That had a radical impact on Hugh’s results: “In a class of about 21, I always came in about 21st, but in the Leaving Cert, I was third.”

He also recalls his history teacher Michael Whelan

with great fondness and says teachers can be very inspiring and have a big influence on the lives of their students.

Having his difficulties explained with a dyslexia diagnosis meant that he felt confident enough to go on to study architecture.

“When I went on to study at Bolton Street, it was acknowledged that I was dyslexic. It did change my whole experience – I went from being someone who hated learning and who found it difficult and who was considered ‘backward’ to being just grand.

"It gave me confidence. If someone asked me how to spell something, I just said I was dyslexic.”

Joanne Hynes, Designer

Teaching is all about respect and developing a human connection between student and teacher.

Ask fashion designer and design consultant Joanne Hynes the most important lesson she learned from the teachers who inspired her and she will tell you that it is to find out who you are as an individual and then to develop it and own it.

“Don’t emulate anyone else,” she says.

One of the teachers who helped her to do just that was Patricia Keilthy at the fashion department in the Limerick School of Art and Design.

“She was incredibly inspiring and we kept in touch afterwards. When I was studying for a (very challenging!) Master’s in womenswear at Central St Martins in London, Patricia very kindly brought me out for dinner and we kept in touch.

“She is always great to talk to and very analytical but practical. We still talk every so often and she recently sent me a beautiful baby book as a gift for my fourth daughter,” Joanne says.

Professor Louise Wilson, OBE [Officer of the Order of the British Empire], from Central Saint Martins, the world-famous arts and design college in London, was also “incredibly influential”.

“Kanye West regularly asked her for advice on setting up his own brand.”

When he asked her about his chances of being a true fashion designer, she apparently said, “Well yes, I would like to be a famous black rap singer but that’s not going to happen in this lifetime, now is it?”

Joanne Hynes really valued Professor Wilson’s approach, which was to offer advice more from the sidelines rather than teaching in a direct sense.

“She didn’t explain, or guide, or hold your hand, but she sensed talent and supported students who came from working-class backgrounds.

“She disapproved of the way colleges were really only accessible to middle-class students.”

She is still in touch with Patricia — “we talk every so often — not enough!” but Louise died last year.

“I did manage to meet her for the last time at President Higgins’s dinner in London a month before she died. Unfortunately, I didn’t make her funeral at Saint Paul’s cathedral. I think of her with respect.”

For Joanne Hynes, teaching is all about respect and being able to develop “a human connection” between student and teacher. “A ‘hungry student’ will appreciate that.”

So any words of wisdom from the late Prof Wilson?

“Yes, but I can’t repeat what Louise said. She was very un-pc and renowned for her brutal honesty. Her former boss Jane Rapley described her as a ‘marvellous monster!’”

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