Marie Hogan Pallaskenry
Memories are distant & sketchy.
My memory of Mrs Hawkes is the sweep of that black gown of hers as she came down those steps outside the school towards the pre-fabs. We would usually be trying to assess the mood in advance of her arrival in the classroom. Yes she was strict but I was fortunate enough to escape any major punishments.
Of course we sneaked off to dances and I do remember her marching up and down on the roadway outside the hall in Askeaton in case we managed to sneak out of the dance. She was very protective of our virtue.
I’m sure there were times when we all groaned when our parents and indeed every adult we encountered told us “your school days are the best days of your life”. However now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can truly say that my school days in St Mary’s were definitely among the best days of my life – so far!
I remember the squash and the squeeze as we eagerly and nervously piled into the Science Room – a gaggle of noisy 1st years. Were we scared? Of course we were – terrified. The reputation of two very formidable ladies Nora Hawkes and Polly Jones ensured that we treated our entry to St Mary’s with the respect it deserved! Did we know how lucky we were to have these wonderful women as our mentors? I somehow doubt it but we were lucky.
The first few years are a bit of a blur at this stage though I reckon I could still run through the Pythagoras theorem at a push! Mrs Hawkes ran a tight ship – she expected her students to behave themselves and to work hard. Amongst her high expectations of us as we got ready to flee the nest was that we would look after a Junior class and teach them in the absence of their teacher. She did, however, check up on us to make sure that we fulfilled her expectations. She had a great grá for Gaeilge – a grá that led me to include it in my studies in UCC. She was very much ahead of her time – a feminist who encouraged girls to look beyond the traditional expectations of marriage and motherhood. We are talking about the early 70’s here – Donogh O Malley’s “Free Education” was in its infancy and schools were struggling to cope with the sudden influx of students. Suddenly a world of opportunities opened up to Irish teenagers and in particular Irish teenage girls. We were very lucky to have the example of high achieving women to pave the way for us.
So was it all work and no play? Unlike teenagers of today our social lives were pretty limited. Shanagolden provided a very welcome outlet – with bands like Plattermen and Gimmick (featuring the now famous John Kenny!) offering a slightly edgier music than that in the more traditional ballroom in Newcastle West. Were we supposed to be there? No, no, no! Such frivolity with its possible path to total debauchery was not allowed during school term. I can still recall that sinking feeling when looking around the hall to spot the talent we instead spotted – a teacher. With the wisdom of hindsight I don’t quite know who was the most uncomfortable with the situation but it certainly took the good out of our stolen night of fun!
I mentioned earlier that Mrs Hawkes was a woman ahead of her time. Similarly St Mary’s was a school ahead of its time. Surrounded by schools like Stella Maris, Copsewood, Scoil Carmel, Laurel Hill etc all of which were religious run single sex schools we were a shining beacon of modernism – a mixed lay school with no uniform! Even though, as a mother of four boys, I hailed the existence of a uniform and, as a teacher, I welcome its ability to act as a great leveller within the school community, there is a part of me that hankers after the relative freedom we enjoyed. Is it reasonable to expect our teenagers to be independent, creative expressive individuals when we force them to look like clones? An argument for another day, perhaps but I am proud to say that I attended a school which stood out from its neighbours and I believe that my own independent streak was nurture by a school which, in some small way, allowed its students to express their individuality.
What about “in-house romance”? Sure there were some “couples” but it certainly wasn’t encouraged! And did I imagine it or did some teachers take a perverse pleasure in sending us on a totally trivial errand to the classroom where our paramour sat just as embarrassed as his/her other half?
Speaking of classrooms who remembers the two small rooms on top of the stairs, (elegant stone steps which dominate the front of the building), just beyond the staffroom? I remember reading Romeo and Juliet – still a great favourite – in one of those rooms. I also remember Hons Maths classes in 5th year in the tiny inside room – where on rare occasions we girls actually solved a problem even though the boys took credit for it. It’s not only elephants who never forget! I also remember a chair leg going through a floorboard. We were before the days of Health & Safety!
Looking back over my ramblings I get a distinct feeling of déjà-vu. Peig Sayers comes to mind (I actually liked “Peig”!) but perhaps it is more appropriate to conclude with the words of another great social historian from the Dingle peninsula – Tomás O Criomhthain. When it comes to Nora Hawkes and her contribution to education over a 60 year span in St Mary’s “ni bheidh a leithéid arís ann”. Go raibh dea-shláinte and sonas aici. Ni dhéanfaimid dearmad choice ar ár laethanta scoile i Scoil Mhuire, Eas Geibhtne.
May Enright – 1968-1973