I was only four when I started school. I don’t remember how I got there the first couple of years (walked I suppose) but I do remember that from my very first day I was enchanted by Miss Burke and knew then that I wanted to be a teacher just like her. She made it look so easy, and years later I discovered that you had to be very good to make it look that easy.
I loved “naoineáns”. I learned to read and spell and do sums on my slate and life was very pleasant. One thing that I couldn’t seem to master however, was how to tell the time. I vividly remember the day that Miss O’Regan sent me out to Miss Curran’s room to find out what time it was. Miss Curran just pointed to the clock on the mantlepiece and, oh the humiliation of having to tell her that I still couldn’t tell the time. I was only six or seven, but the memory has stayed with me through the years.
Another one of my flaws was my inability to understand how to solve problems in sums. Oh I could add, subtract, multiply and divide to beat the band, but I must have been at home sick the day they taught the class how to solve problems. Simple problems like “Mary bought a yard of material at one and sixpence and sold it at two and sixpence. How much profit would she have made on three yards?” Questions like this threw me into a panic. I still remember the day we had to solve just such a problem or we couldn’t go outside for the last five minutes. I struggled and struggled with the figures and finally I managed to pass my brother Matt’s desk and he let me peek at the answer. He was a whiz at sums so I just copied his answer. Then I divided by two and multiplied by four and subtracted some figures until I came up with the same answer. Then up I marched with my copy. Miss O’Regan peeked at it and said why did you divide by two etc.? and, of course, I couldn’t tell her. She made me go back to my desk and there I sat in humiliation until the others came back from play. It didn’t matter that there were several others there with me. Being “kept in” was humiliating, I hated not being perfect. To this day I remember that day. I finally understood how to solve this type of problem. It was as if a light went on inside my brain and ever since I find the greatest satisfaction in trying to untangle a problem. I was terrified of Miss O’Regan, so going into 5th class, to the Master, was exciting. But oh the horror of horrors, there was still sewing and knitting, which meant at least one afternoon a week back with Miss O’Regan. I was all thumbs and I would have done anything to avoid this class, but alas, I had to learn how to top stitch, darn a heel, sew a run and fell seam and knit a sock. It was agony and I prayed for it to be over, but I must have done okay because I managed to get into Teacher’s Training College.
In fifth, sixth and seventh class there was firstly, Confirmation, then the Primary Examination and then the entrance exam for the secondary school. The Master was feared by all, even the big boys, but the only reason I ever got slapped (caned) was for being late in the morning. It was a long way from Belleville to the school and with eight kids in the family, not everyone had a bicycle everyday. I like to think that we invented jogging back then, but of course we didn’t have a fancy name for it. It did keep us all nice and slim though. I don’t remember a single fat kid in the whole school except for one or two who got fat for a while after having their tonsils out.
While going to school in the morning was a real chore, returning home in the evening was an adventure. There was always Joyce’s and Doherty’s apple gardens to raid, a trip to HcHugh’s shop for sweets, or a drink at the pump at Cahertymore. Then there was the choice of going home the regular route, or going “across”. “Across” meant climbing over the wall near Coens, and coming out near Treacy’s Cross, or if you were very brave, climbing Cnoc an tSíodhdán. How often I remember my mother warning “never ever do that again”, not because of the “fairies”, but the cross ram or bull that we might have come across. But we were young and naively assumed that we could outrun any animal, so we paid little attention.
I loved Carnaun because I loved learning and it came easily to me, and I always preferred to read a book rather than join a game. One of the reasons that I decided to go to a boarding school afterwards was so that I could spend all my spare time in the library. There were little things about the school however, that annoyed me a great deal. One was the toilets, which never had any paper and nowhere to wash your hands. Another was the lack of drinking water. When the Inspector came, Miss O’Regan had to send someone down to Joyces or Rabbitts for water and a fresh egg for his tea. Ah yes, the inspector! Nobody could strike terror into the teachers’ hearts more easily than the dreaded inspector. He was treated like a god and sometimes he even behaved like he thought he was one. It was the only thing that made Miss O’Regan lose her cool and even the Master would usually light up a cigarette just to keep him company while he was reviewing the performance.
Catechism day was even worse. There we all sat in our Sunday best “parrotting” our answers to the catechism questions and waiting for the priest to say how we were even more wonderful this year than last. The children nowadays don’t feel the pride that we felt after we’d performed well and were let home early. I loved it. I loved all kinds of tests and exams and every chance to show off what I knew. I couldn’t imagine going to school without my homework being done. I would have been happy doing a few extra pages, but I had to slow down and stay with the group. My mother had taught all of us kids long division and multiplication long before we needed to know it for school and she was always available to throw in a sentence to help with the composition. I remember my compositions as being very dry and boring. The grammer was perfect but it was just a lot of statements strung together. There was no flow or feeling. Years later, as a teacher, one of my inspectors taught me that it was okay to let children use their own words and ideas to express their feelings and that the grammer wasn’t as important then as it was at other times and that it wasn’t necessary to start every sentance with “the”.
Written by Sadie Lanthier
Published here 05 Feb 2021 and originally published 1991
Page 271 of The Carnaun Centenary Book
Sir Roger Casement
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