I went to primary school at Scoil Eoin Baiste, Lios Póil, in Co Kerry. I have a vivid memory of going on a walking tour in fourth class to see some Ogham stones and learning all about the history behind them. I was fascinated by it.
I went to CBS in Dingle until fifth year of secondary school and I remember my first day extremely well. I remember so distinctly standing in line at the bell, waiting to be shown our class, with a bag too full of books, and noticing just how big the sixth years looked! I was probably terrified.
For fifth and sixth year, I attended Coláiste Eoin in Stillorgan, Co Dublin. On the first day of my Leaving Cert, I had to travel down to Kerry for my grandfather’s funeral. I came back to Dublin on Sunday night at about one in the morning, to sit my English paper one at 9am.
As soon as I got into school that morning, my principal, Finín Ó Máirtín sought me out. He had known my grandfather back in Kerry, and wanted to have a word of encouragement with me and give me a bit of support before the exams. I’ll never forget it. He was a true gentleman.
I was an active child. I think I was good at sports, and played football and rugby throughout school. I absolutely loved music. You could definitely say that I was a bit of a messer in second year. Despite this, I was consistently a studious kid too, especially from third year onwards. I’m lucky in that I’ve always been fairly academically inclined, and I did well in my exams. I think that this helps to explain why I went on to do a PhD. My favourite subjects were probably History and Science at Junior Cert, and also English and Irish come Leaving Cert time. I was ok at Maths, but I think that I could have been better.
If I met my teenage self today I’d tell him that it’s ok to be different. It is good to have some interests that are different to your friends. That’s what’ll make you stand out in later life. I would also have a word with him about women. I’d tell him to buck up and let the girl you like know. There is no point waiting months and months to tell her! It’ll all work out well in the end.
I had a lot of friends, I was lucky that way. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I was involved with a few different crowds between sport and music. I would have only had a few close friends, though. I was lucky that my cousins were in my class, so we had no choice but to stay close! I’d consider my cousin Eoghan to be one of my best friends, even now.
As for the others, I’ve kept in touch with some and I’ve drifted apart from others. It’s just part of growing up and I think that it is good to know that that’s ok, too.
I was extremely lucky to have some great teachers throughout my school career. Eamonn Fitzmaurice, who is now principal of Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne in Dingle, was my history teacher until Junior Cert. I credit him for sparking my interest in history, especially at that age. He is a huge star in the GAA and has won the Kerry all-Ireland both as a player and a manager. We all would have all looked up to him because of his sporting career too, of course.
When I moved to Coláiste Eoin in Dublin, I had Máistir Mac Gabhann and Máistir Liam Dingle. They were two of the best teachers anyone could ask for, and we all felt like that, I think. These teachers really helped me develop, not just in terms of subjects and academia. They helped contribute to the way I think today, and my attitude towards life. I’d like to take the opportunity to say thank you so much to these men. They helped shape the man who I am today in ways they couldn’t know. Táim fíor-bhuíoch go deo.
School taught me a lot of life lessons that I hold dear today. I learned to be curious about life and not to take things at face value, which I really appreciate. I still, to this day, love learning new things, and having different interests. My time in school was great for introducing me to new things, I think. I thrived on having the chance to try such a variety of subjects, from language to literature to practical subjects like woodwork. That sense of curiosity, and also hard work, are definitely traits that I maintain to this day.
Life is hard for kids today, there is no doubt. I would advise all young people to be kind to each other. I think it’s especially important to be kind to those who don’t quite fit the mould. It’s really important to recognise that being different isn’t a bad thing. It’s our differences that make the world an exciting place to live in. Let’s encourage that.