I spent five, very happy years, as a boarder in the 60’s, far away from home, in St. Louis Convent Kiltimagh, Co. Mayo. Our maths teacher Sr. Fidelis – was a formidable woman, a ‘serious mathematician’ who wasn’t too tolerant of giddy students like me who were – to put it mildly-allergic to Maths! Despite all that, I enjoyed her strange, quirky ways and although we had many a ‘run in’, looking back on it now, I realise that “her bark was worse than her bite”!
Every day, as Sr. Fidelis walked into our classroom she would declare in her loud, melodic voice “girls, girls, girls, get writing Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam” as she commenced to write the large initials: AMDG at the top of the blackboard. This was the signal for us to write those same initials at the top of our copies. “Never forget girls, that everything you do, everyday, is for the honour and glory of God”. That task completed; the maths class begun in earnest.
One summer’s morning, I happened to look out the window and observe the convent gardener gathering up a large bundle of spring onions or scallions, in the nun’s garden. Now I just love onions: raw, sautéed, boiled, fried, pickled! The sight of those scallions in the gardener’s arms made my mouth water and at the same time, was a stark reminder to me that one of the many things I missed about home, was the freedom to eat whatever was in the fridge or cupboard at any time -and that included spring onions!
Later, as we students were outside during the 11 a.m. break, a sudden urge came over me! Suddenly, I found myself clambering up the 6ft garden wall while in the distance I could hear the lyrical voices of the nuns at prayer. “Ah, I’m safe” I thought as I got down the other side with some difficulty and lots of enthusiasm. I proceeded to quickly gather 6 or 7 scallions, peeled them and ate them, there and then, with the same gusto and delight that Eve must have felt in the Garden of Eden! As I struggled to get myself back over the wall, the bell rang for the next class – maths.
Somewhat dishevelled, but satisfied after my morning feast, I made my way back to class.
Sr. Fidelis breezed in, in her normal fashion and proceeded to write her usual AMDG on the blackboard. Suddenly, in midstream, she briskly turned around and declared “I smell onions”! Has somebody been eating onions” she asked rather crossly? There was a deadly silence. I froze in my seat. What was I to do? If I stood up and told the truth I would “be killed”. “I will ask once more” she declared. Again, a stony silence! Then the unimaginable happened! She proceeded to slowly march around the classroom sniffing each student, in her effort to find the onion ogre! As she got closer to me, I could feel myself breaking out in a cold sweat! Eventually, she was beside me and stopped! “Teckie, have you been eating onions”, “Yes Sister”. “And where did you get them”? “In the nuns garden Sister,” I replied, as the class began to titter! “Who gave you permission”? “Nobody, Sister, but I just love onions and I felt hungry”. By now, my classmates had exploded into laughter but my forever friend Renée, quick as a flash, miraculously saved the day by courageously declaring “Ah Sister, she was hungry, and she only took them “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam”! Sr. Fidelis was – for probably the first time – momentarily dumbstruck, as she tried to contain her laughter while finally stating “Well Thank God ye are learning SOMETHING in this room, even if it’s NOT maths”!
Memories are surely made of (school) days like this!
Teckie Brett. 23/2/2021.
Memories are made of this.
In 1957 I started my teaching career in Kilpatrick N.S. Helen Lynch was my co-teacher. She had been there a couple of years and knew the area and the families well. I was the greenhorn straight from the Training College. I had visited the PP at Easter looking for a post for 1st July which was essential if I wanted to get paid for the summer holidays. He said he would hold the principalship for me, put in a sub and all was well. No interview!
The conditions in a small country school in the fifties were primitive. We had no electricity, running water, maps, teaching equipment or any facilities. I had a desk, a cupboard, and a blackboard. Oh we had running water, a stream ran by the top of the playground. Two boys went to Byrne’s well every morning for drinking water. We had a galvanised bucket of water and one enamel mug for the whole school. The people of the area were the salt of the earth and the children were very well mannered. I bought powder to make ink and a pen nib cost a halfpenny as did a piece of blotting paper.
We both cycled to school – eight miles for me- brought a few sticks to light the fire and some children brought a sod of turf for the two open fires, which gave as much heat as a candle. We developed a knack of lighting a fire with wet sticks.
I don’t know which worked better an odd prayer or a few curses. The coal was the cheapest available, even though the best coal in Europe was six miles away in The Deerpark. We were young and healthy and like the pupils were immune to all bugs and viruses. My Principal’s Allowance was £38 a year and my monthly salary was £22. This meagre salary necessitated summer work in London, Wales or Scotland.
In 1959 we both purchased scooters, so travel to school was easier except on snow and ice. The back wheel might suddenly do a dance. We decided to travel on the one scooter. In time we came up in the world, each of us bought a car and shared on alternate weeks.
After some years, electricity was installed in the school and we got one 100 watt bulb in each room. Such extravagance!. Changing a bulb was a feat of gymnastics. You stood on a chair on top of a table and prayed. Replacing a pane of glass in a window and mending a broken desk leg were done by the teacher.
The big boys whose pockets were like treasure chests had a motley collection of nails, bits of wire, twine and all the requirements for light maintenance. At lunch time we put the children’s bottles of tea around the fire. The cork was a wad of newspaper. If we forgot to turn them there would be an explosion and tea all over the floor. Some children travelled a couple of miles over fields to school.
But it wasn’t all hardship. We started school tours and some parents came too. One of our best was a trip to Dublin Airport by bus, on a transatlantic jet to Shannon, into Limerick by bus, by train to Dublin and home again by bus. Aer Lingus had offered us cheap seats because some passengers boarded at Shannon.” Gee honey look at all the kids” The Yanks were amazed. The captain welcomed us on board. We were Big Shots for a day. Was any other school mad enough? We ran a raffle to help our adventure. Mary Kelly and Michael Dayton got a £1 each for selling the most tickets. Both of them later became teachers.
Oh I had a Spare blackboard which I tied to a six inch nail in the wall with binding twine.
Margaret Mc Grath
A Day Like No Other
A day trip to the Burren when you’re living in Kilkenny might not sound like a good idea but, in the Summer of 2020, it turned out to be a great idea.
After an early start from Kilkenny, we were enjoying our coffee on the shores of Lough Bunny at
11 a.m. |This is a beautiful lake just outside Gort; unspoiled, tranquil, and with fantastic views of the Burren in the distance.
A pleasant drive through stone-walled countryside and along the coast took us to the charming village of Ballyvaughan. As we strolled around its little harbour, a few swimmers were enjoying themselves. A heron was waiting patiently for its lunch while donkeys grazed in the nearby fields. Nothing had changed in Ballyvaughan – we relaxed and enjoyed the moment.
After lunch, I took a walk along the green road from Ballyvaughan to Fanore. It was as beautiful as always – flowers grew in abundance, goats were grazing quietly and I immersed myself in the dramatic landscape of this area. As I walked through the rocky expanse, the views were amazing. On my right, the sea sparkled and shone, with the Aran Islands in the distance. And elsewhere the wild beauty of the Burren was all around me. Nothing had changed here, despite the pandemic.
Arriving in Fanore, where my husband was waiting for me, I had a quick swim before tucking into our picnic lunch. Afterwards we continued along the coast and into Lisdoonvarna before heading down the famous Corkscrew Hill. Our drive then took us into the heart of the Burren, along narrow country roads and past Poulnabrone Dolmen. We passed a couple of walkers doing the Burren Way and some cyclists battling with the many hills but, in general, the usual crowds were not there.
As evening approached we headed for home but one more treat awaited us; O’Sullivan’s Hotel in Gort. It was there that we had our first meal out since the pandemic had put a stop to such activities. A warm welcome, a hearty meal and a creamy pint of Guinness made my day. It was a day trip to remember.
I was so excited- an invitation to dinner on St Valentine’s night. How romantic!
I couldn’t sleep for nights thinking about it. Despite having rather eventful romantic entanglements in my twenties and a happy contented married life for a quarter of a century I had never been the recipient of a formal invitation before. Cards, yes, not the soft plushy type that wouldn’t fit in the letterbox but cards nonetheless which ensured that the day was acknowledged and gave me no cause for complaint. Now with singledom forced on me once more things appeared to be looking up, taking a rather exciting direction.
Of course it would have been the icing on the cake if the invite had included a chauffeur drive in a Mercedes but I decided to banish all negativity.
What to wear caused me hours of anxiety and near desperation but I finally settled on my red taffeta – low cut enough to appear enticing but modest enough to deter higher expectations. With my hair nicely volumized, a kiss curl at each ear and my black patent shoes, I did look elegant.
Calculating that a five or ten minute late arrival would erase any hint of over anxiety on my part I daintily slipped into my Toyota and drove towards the venue, concentrating on the traffic to banish the palpitations and the feeling of excitement.
After a last minute check of my hair, a tug at my skirt to ensure I wasn’t showing too much knee and a spray of my favourite perfume I took a deep breath, approached the main entrance and entered the foyer. Visions of elegance in pink satin and blue silk passed me by,complimented by dinner jackets and bow ties. My Don Juan was nowhere to be seen. I tried to look confident, interested and occupied, admiring the crystal bowls of red roses bedecking every alcove. The minutes slowly ticked by. I checked my watch hundreds of times. The parade of fashion slowed through the door, the foyer became eerily silent. Finally I was alone. I’d had enough. Feeling silly and abandoned I walked as slowly and as dignified as I could through the main door and then increased my speed in the direction of my car. Opening the door I threw my handbag on the front seat, kicked off my high heels and started the engine. Gears scraped, chippings flew in all directions as I exited the car park. My heart was thumping. My eyes filled with tears. I clenched my teeth. A list of words, which I dared not utter, and unbecoming a lady of any social standing crossed my mind.
The phone rang later that night. The familiar number appeared on the caller ID.
I hadn’t the courage to pick it up. As it clicked into answering mode his voice droned on “Where were you? I waited for you at the side door for and hour. Do you take me for a fool? What a waste of time! And worst of all I had to pay for two dinners and could only eat one.” The message clicked off.
Every ounce of romance seeped from my body.
In the morning I breathed a sigh of relief and thought maybe Saint Valentine sends out warning notices as well as romantic invitations.
I never saw him again but I hoped he finally met someone who didn’t cause him unnecessary expense. On reflection, I was naive to have longed to be collected in a Mercedes.