Noirín Ní Shuileabhán is ainm dom. Rugadh agus tógadh mé in mBaile Breathnach, Caisleán Mathúna. I am the youngest of three siblings and did not start school until I was six and then the journey to school was fraught with obstacles and hazards. We mainly walked the 2km to and from school but occasionally got a lift on a horse drawn Creamery Car. On these occasions we (aged six remember) had to navigate our way through the lines of animals and tankards bringing the milk to the creamery opposite our school. No HSAI in those days!
Classes took the form of two teachers in a single room teaching boys and two more teaching the girls in another. We only met up on our way to and from school and again at our confirmation. Playground games involved a lot of imagination but little equipment. We had Hopscotch, Ring a Ring A Rosie, London Bridge is Falling Down and One Two Three Red Light. I of course kept the score, leading me on then to a life of mathematics.
For secondary school Id progressed from shanks mare to the bicycle. However with age came responsibility. My mother, a widow since I was 10, had a lot on her plate between her dressmaking business and running the smallholding, so my after school chores involved helping out wherever I could, from feeding the animals to cooking and delivering parcels of material and dresses for her. There was no time to waste. So between the work ethic this fostered and the numerical skills first developed in the national school playground was it any wonder I ended up a Mathematics teacher.
A common secondary school education in those days involved going to one of three (In Newcastle West at least) privately run schools or to the nuns in the convent. I taught in three post primary schools overall. Two of these were headed up by lay people, namely Mrs Hawkes in Askeaton, Mr Kelleher in Buttavent and the third was run by Sr. Dominica of The Convent of Mercy, Newcastle West, where I went to school myself and only retired from recently.
The commute in 1958 was a long way from that in 2008. My journey to Askeaton took me by bicycle (the same one) through a Rathkeale I didn’t even recognise to the Library on the quay first of all, where Mrs Hawkes School began. From here we moved to a different building, as student numbers grew and the school got even more established. Although by then I had abandoned the bicycle and tried a motorbike, the train from Newcastle West and eventually settled on a Standard 8 motorcar. However, Mrs Hawkes, Mrs O’Mahony and Miss Mary Fitzgibbon were of the opinion I was better off on the bike!!.Even the Students enjoyed watching me negotiate the bridge and the sharp corner on my way in to school in the mornings.
On the way home in the early days by bicycle I once inadvertently wandered into an area being blasted for stone and it was only the following day to my surprise I found out that there had been a search organised to try find me. On another occasion I bumped into a man fishing on the Deel River and was lucky enough to come away with a fresh fish for the supper. Usually the journey was uneventful and quiet, with little or no traffic on the roads. We all had to be self reliant, punctures and mishaps didn’t result in a call to the Automobile Association!!
On only my second day, still a stranger to the town, having been promised a lift by a neighbour there and back, I was left stranded in Askeaton, but I recognised Mamie Hanafin, one of my first students, outside the Post Office who was kind enough to find me lodging for the night with Mrs Sheehan, in the small square. The next issue I had was how was I to send word to my mother of my predicament. So, through making a call to the Creamery in Castlemahon, I persuaded Mary Murphy (a secretary there) to deliver the message on her own way home as she passed my house.
In 1964 my circumstances changed when I got married and began a family. The journey to Askeaton became more and more difficult and as a result I had to make the difficult decision, whether to stay on or not. It was with great pains that I left in 1966. However, when I look back now, I know that those formative days, early on in my career, where I learned the practical techniques of teaching, were a great foundation to bring with me, and those combined with my “official” teacher training in UCC lead to a happier and more successful career for both myself and my students.
Ach is fíór é gur Mór idir Inné agus Inniu dár ndoigh
Noirín Uí Chonaill