Were school days the happiest of your life? It all depends on your teachers, some well-known faces tell Olivia Kelleher
Our schooldays are the most formative days of our lives.
The friendships we make and the passions for certain subjects that are ignited help shape the person we will grow up to be.
For some of the well-known people featured below school left an indelible mark. For others it was merely a stepping-stone on the journey of life.
Broadcaster Joe Duffy was a student of De La Salle College in Ballyfermot, Dublin. His favourite secondary teacher school was Mr Long who was ‘bright, effervescent and quite small.”
“Yet, patrolling the rows of old school desks he still managed to control a class of nearly fifty pupils. I was chuffed when one day he declared that I was ‘the most curious boy in the class.’ The double meaning did not hit me then; I took it as a compliment. But he instilled in us a sense of curiosity and learning that stays with me to this day.”
Joe says because of Mr Long he still relishes the unread book, the yet to be seen painting, the soon to be met stranger, the unheard piece of music. He idolised Mr Long who was very much a father figure to him.
As the school was in the Dublin corporation area students would get a free bottle of milk and a sandwich every afternoon, and a currant bun on Wednesday’s.
“The small, ice cold bottle of milk was gulped down in class as Mr Long frisbeed the corned beef or cheese sandwiches to every gagging boy in the class. He wasn’t aiming for our open mouths, but we must have looked like begging lions from Mr Long’s vantage point.”
Mr Long was always immaculately dressed in a grey suit, complete with tailored waistcoat, braces and grandfather watch. Each hour he would meticulously slick back his silver-grey hair with his neat comb, in beautifully measured strokes.
Mr Long set a quiz and a crossword for the class every Friday.
“His quiz was a robust affair. Each of us vied for his attention with ‘Sir, Sir, Sir,’ as our hands shot up with bullet like speed in our attempts to display our knowledge of the events of the week. He was a strict teacher, but he had an avuncular way about him. He gained an extra air of mystery about him when we discovered that he lived near Portlaoise, making the daily 120-mile round trip.”
Joe liked the De la Salle secondary school, but he had one serious disadvantage there – he was without a big brother.
His brother James had gone straight from Palmerstown to the new technical school on their estate.
The only fly in the ointment for Joe was one “local gurrier” who was out to get him.
“It’s hard to describe the fear this bully inflicted on me. It got to where I was nearly pleading with him to beat me up and get it over with!”
Broadcaster Tom Dunne attended St James secondary school in Dublin. He really loved secondary school and was fortunate to have broadcaster and author Myles Dungan as his English teacher.
“He was only seven or eight years older and he was a breath of fresh air. He gave us essays and we would read them out at the top of the class. Myles loved English and we read extra books. It was fabulous.”
Tom also has fond memories of a Protestant male teacher who taught them history from a different viewpoint making it less black or white.
Tom says whilst school was enjoyable he wasn’t very well prepared for getting over the line in terms of the Leaving Cert.
“I did Honours Maths and we were kind of given ten minutes at the end of the pass class. I had to repeat maths in the Leaving because there was a huge jump from our exams in school to the Leaving Cert. I was getting a 98% in maths exams in school but I ended up getting a D in the Leaving.”
Tom remembers a French teacher who “had issues” and didn’t teach them on Mondays.
He was the only person in his class to go to college and found himself to be at a complete disadvantage at UCD.
“In my first year of engineering we did applied maths. Not only had other people heard of it but twenty or thirty of them had done it in Belvidere College with the same tutor that was teaching us in college. I was at such a disadvantage. They had a year of applied maths under their belt.”
Music wise Tom shudders to remember his fondness for the Bay City Rollers and seventies glam rock.
“Punk rock saved me ! I was a little swot so I didn’t become a punk rocker until after the Leaving Cert.” Tom also has fond memories of the going to the Gaeltacht where he met his best friend for life Cormac.
“I couldn’t believe life could be so good. I remember talking to girls there. Up to then I didn’t get it. They didn’t play football so what was the point?”
Author Ciara Geraghty attended the Manor House secondary school in Dublin. She has a “mixed bag” of memories pertaining to some “caustic and sarcastic” nuns.
It was a strict school. They all walked on the right and it was a case of socks up to your knees. Ciara had indoor shoes and outdoor shoes.
Shockingly at the school the outdoor shoes were referred to as being “nigger brown.”
“Even at 12 in 1982 I thought that couldn’t be right. It was so inappropriate.”
Ciara remembers coming in a rainy morning and a particular musty damp smell which came with putting the outdoor coats on pegs.
Surprisingly given her profession Ciara didn’t excel in English.
“I got a D in honours English in the Leaving.
I remember our English teacher used to say the Hail Mary at the beginning of the class.
She would start mumbling it as she came down the corridor to the class.
My favourite subjects were English, French and Spanish.
I didn’t start writing until I was 34 and I think if I had told anyone I wanted to write they would have said I had notions.”
Author Roisin Meaney attended Laurel Hill Secondary School in Limerick. It was Irish speaking and Roisin ‘wasn’t too bad” at it as her dad was a school inspector who was keen on the language.
Roisin said she wasn’t the greatest student in the world.
“I did as little as possible. I had an older sister and there were glowing reports about her and people couldn’t believe we were sisters. I just coasted along under the radar. I wasn’t setting the world alight.”
Roisin said she has avoided school reunions which is a surprise given that her last book was about that subject.
“I have an awful memory for names and faces so I would spend the night apologising for it. My memory lets me down. I had plenty of pals but I don’t know if I’d be saying that it was the best days of my life. I had plenty of craic I suppose.”
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