A Ramble Around Athenry – My Early School Days – Easter 1998

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I started school in the Old Boys National School down at the old ball alley. I spent about two years there. My teacher was Mrs Woods. There were also two other teachers Sean King and Martin Welsh. The school at that time was in very poor repair.

Mrs Woods lived in the house next to the school later owned by Vincent Finn. In 1969 the new school was built in Swangate and we were all transferred there one Friday. It was a big day for us in the town and we were all marched up to the school. Little did I know or dream that I would later on own that school.

Martin Welsh better known as Máirtín Breathneach lived in Salthill, Galway and cycled out to Athenry every day on a big Hi-Nelly bike. This was during the war years and everything was scarce, tea, sugar, flour were all rationed. Bicycle tyres were very scarce and very often Mr Welsh would not arrive until 11. 30 or 12 o’clock much to our delight.

Mr. Welsh would send one of us across the road to Hansberry’s for a mug of hot water for his lunch and he would put in a spoon of tea into the mug and leave it in the ashes of the fire to draw. Billy Welsh who was in the same seat as me had the job of making the tea and I often saw him putting a spoon of ashes along with the tea into the mug and mixing it all up. The poor man never knew the difference.

Prior to Mr. Welsh getting the water in Hansberry’s he used to get a kettle of water up town. One day he sent Tom Dempsey a brother of Mia and Sean, up for the water and he came back with a lovely bronze electric kettle which Mr. Welsh duly left into the ashes to keep it warm. That was the end of the kettle of water.

There used to be a clock left on the window sill at the end of the school. One day one of the boys, I think it was Frank Milmow who took it. He hid it under the seat to change the time and what happened but the alarm went off, needless to say he was reprimanded.

I remember Jimmy Allen was missing from school for a few days one time. The teacher asked him why he was not in school and he said that it was because he knew everything. Whenever Jimmy came before the teacher he would say ‘this is the lad who knows everything’. When I was asked something I did not know I would say ‘I’m sorry sir but I have forgotten it’. After that the teacher would always say ‘look at that fellow down there he leams it but forgets it’.

Those were happy days but like everything else we did not appreciate them at the time. Later on, my own sons Jarlath and Enda went to the same school. Mr. Welsh was a great teacher and did not spare the rod. If you did anything wrong you were slapped hard on the hand.

Donal Kennedy, Mrs Meehan, Mrs Angela Connolly taught in the school after my time there.

There were a number of characters in the town when I was growing up in the forties. One who comes to mind is a man called Parley. He always wore white sand shoes and was always to be seen on Lady day, Galway Races and at the Show. He sold catalogues at the Galway Races, programmes for the Show, I can still hear him shouting ‘get your catalogues’.

Pat Linnane came from Gort and used to live around Athenry doing odd jobs and he was very well-liked. Another well-known man at this time was Pat Finnerty from Ballygurrane, better known as ‘the Wrecker’. He was known as the ‘Bell man’ as he used to attract attention going around the shouting out notices.

Bill Fallon, who lived in a little green house behind where the new ball alley is now, was related to Fallon the poet.

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About this record

Written by Jimmy Somers

Published here 23 Mar 2023 and originally published Easter 1998

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