Jo Scanlon 1968-1989



It is a real pleasure to have this opportunity of writing a brief account of my time as a teacher in Scoil Mhuire. It has been recommended to me by the powers that be, that since I am a blow in, ( approximately 50 years this 2018, since I first set foot in St Mary’s !!!) I might, initially, give a little background history leading up to my arrival there.

I was born in Kilkenny, a Cat of the  purring variety, as all will remember! I attended a Gael Scoil for my secondary education and hence my mór-ghrá for the Gaeilge ever since. It was there, too, that I was put outside the Home Economics room door for unwittingly putting a painted biscuit tin lid under my apple tart in the oven. I think it was then that I decided I wanted to be a Domestic Science teacher!  My years in teacher training college in Dublin were exacting and exciting and following qualification I headed to the Convent of Mercy in Macroom for my first teaching position. I was then persuaded by a west Limerick man, who subsequently  became my husband, to shorten the distance between us, so I moved to the Salesian Convent in Fernbank, Limerick. In a plan to shorten the said distance further, I applied for the position of Home Economics teacher, then known as Domestic Science, in Scoil Mhuire. That must have been 1968 as I was known then as ‘Miss Direen’ and the following year, 1969, I become ‘Mrs Scanlon’.

The venue for my interview was Cruises Hotel, now long gone, but it then fronted the present Cruises Street. I was, of course, well on time and expecting to see a half wizened little lady in a grey cardigan, peering out over thick glasses, coming around the corner of the foyer. Instead, in swooped Mrs H, elegance personified, head in the air and literally the total opposite to my expectations. I almost collapsed but, as the occasion called for, I soon recovered.

We talked a lot and I felt immediately at home with my soon to be principal. It was the beginning of a very special lifelong friendship. We made our plans and I ‘took up residence’ in St Mary’s in September.

There were just 8 of us teachers then in the small staff room up the stone steps and into the left. We had a one bar electric heater ( well, in fairness, possibly 2 bars ) which kept us cosy enough when not in class and which we illegally plugged in when Mrs H was elsewhere occupied. We were a true family then and the rapport outstandingly precious. We all worked together and tried to give a very varied and comprehensive educational opportunity to our students. In the room beside us somebody occasionally banged away at an ancient typewritter. 6th years were opposite, to the right of the stone steps, the fifth years further in.

The new Domestic Science classes were held in the Science room downstairs. The science sinks grumbled loudly when misbehaving carrot and parsnip peelings escaped down the tiny outlets, so very soon we had to put the covers firmly in place, to the great relief of the Science faculty no doubt and from then on we had to take our plastic basins to be emptied out in the girls’ cloakroom, come hail, rain or snow. The Burco boiler stood proudly to the side of the teacher’s desk and it provided us with hot water for the cookery classes. Early on one morning a member of the Inspectorate of the Department of Education arrived in. First unit to the left…..  ‘r  n’t those units very high’  to which my very astute student replied ‘yah , Miss, it’s a terror to be small’. I was so proud. We had the basic equipment for our cookery class, but, in particular, the hand whisks left a lot to be desired. After much toing and froing with Mrs H, we were upgraded to ‘Prestige’ variety and then our sponge cakes rose as they were supposed to, according the the instructions.  One morning we were pot-walloping downstairs and our dear Principal sent down a Leaving Cert student to TELL us to be quiet.  The student fell between a rock and a hard place, but the 6th year maturity probably helped the poor misfortunate to cope, without permanent damage being done.

Both the then students and myself and, I can safely say, also, the pupils and staff who followed, have to be eternally greatful to Mrs H for giving us the opportunity of having access to this ‘new’ subject and fitting us in to timetables already almost impossible for Mrs H herself and Mrs Meade, r.i.p. Trying to cope with each and every teacher arguing for time for their own class subjects, Mrs H and Mrs Meade, had to listen to demands for official weekly half days from hopeful staff members while everybody still needing to serve their full complement of teaching hours. Mine was always Fridays……bless them both!

Then, the sewing! We started off with a page, the forerunner to Excel, names on the side and then columns for Hemming, Running, Topsewing and Machining, all to be filled in in due course as students reached the exacting pass grade. An enterprising pupil took charge of the filling in and eventually, quite some time later, every single student’s name was ticked off in each column, sitting proudly on that list. It was a great day! It seemed like a very slow (and probably boring ) process, but it paid off dividends, for, all through the following years when the famous first year aprons, beautifully made, the skirts and blouses and dresses of the middle years and finally, some fabulously tailored suits and other elitist garments were hung up around the Science Room and later in the new Home Economics room, for the annual display, every student then realised that they were true specialists.

I’ve always strongly believed in the theory of ‘the seven types of intelligence’. From our practical subjects to the theory classes and to our Social and Scientific Leaving Cert course, my students were such a bright group of young people. They were and are to be highly commended and I thought so highly of them, each single student doing their very best in every field. And, equally so,  I thought so highly of them for their respect and exemplary behaviour and exceptional interest in what they were about.

I can’t actually remember ever feeling cross. At times I pretended to be cross and when tears or frustration showed on little faces, my heart bled quietly behind the stiff facade.

One day I spotted some scamping going on at the back of the class. The notes were being passed around and the one I managed to grab read ‘House of Horrors’. At least the alliteration did their English teacher proud. We had our own official example with our almost weekly mini tests….’pencils poised’ …all ready to go. These tests were a strong foundation for the results the students achieved later on. It was worth all the work put in and I give full marks to all, without question.

I taught religion to all classes for years. During that time of change in thinking and attitude there was very little guidance given to religion teachers, despite our attending a bi weekly course in the city. Neither were there relevant text books, but we did what we could.  I feel, ultimately, that there may have been concern for the students’ eventual eternal salvation, so as the staff numbers increased an opportunity to ‘take on’ the good work was seized by Mrs Garvey  Bess you, Mrs Gravey!

I remember well, too,  my dedicated 2nd year English class. And then also, I held the chair of Civics for some time  and even dished out a splattering of Music    ( …..and  probably a few undeserved slaps… boys will be boys).

As our staff numbers increased further, we got our new staffroom and Home Economics room down beside the Science Hall……+  a 5th year room. We were living in real luxury, being catered for at lunch time by two 5th year students, in turns. They put the kettle to boil (….electric, please note), set up the table and then went shopping for us teachers. Crisps were always on the list ( to add the important texture to the sandwiches) and other varying special requests. (That would certainly not be allowed nowadays!)  I’m sure that on occasions, the two girls picked up bits of official inside information to later share with their friends. I wonder did they hear me putting a motion to Mrs H for permission for the female teachers to be allowed wear trousers? I considered trousers cosy, practical, modest! ……. and starting to be very fashionable. ‘Certainly NOT’ !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! But, some good time after that, during a very cold spell, our dear principal softened up and agreed to the outrageous request. No winners there, though. Personally, I actually can’t recall ever wearing them afterwards. Then, we occasionally had ‘outside callers’ to the staff room, much to Mrs H’s annoyance quite often ( but not always, of course) and when the bell rang for our return to class, she tried not to be rude, but bell was bell.

Then, the ‘DUTIES’ after school! Each year the list went up in early September. Name and duty and day and date. Prefabs in various shapes and sizes, including Mr Long’s woodwork room, full of shavings, appeared on the campus at intervals so we were a busy extracurricular group. We stayed in after school to sweep, tidy and dust, but it didn’t take very long. A foggy environment ensued, but it meant a pleasant environment for next day. One past student told me, fairly recently, that she remembers me EVERY day. My heart jumped with joy. ‘I remember you, Mrs Scanlon, every day, when I am sweeping the floor. You told us never to sweep towards ourselves, but always away from us’. It’s wonderful to be remembered anyway!!

The School Tour:  ‘ Where are we now Peggy’ (our Geography teacher) asks a teacher. ‘We are in France, John’, came the reply. Drinking hot chocolate from enormous souplike bowls was a ‘first’ for most of the students and how it was enjoyed! All this in conjunction with our educational escapades and my broken bottle of red wine that was ready for importation but sadly ‘ina smidiríní’ in the plastic bag!!Do we ever learn

Finally, I recall giving a talk on ‘life after school’ to my Leaving Cert students each year, for many years ….in very precious ‘revision time’ no less….. as they neared their final day in St Mary’s. Partly, it was a quote, by Dr John Schindler……..
‘Keep life simple and keep yourself responsive to the simple things that are always near at hand. Learn to like work  – since you have to work, you may as well learn to like it. Have a good hobby- something which turns part of your existence into pleasure and pleasurable expectancy. Learn to be satisified- it is just as easy under most conditions to be satisified as it is to be dissatisified. Like people- join the human enterprise. Say the cheerful, pleasant thing- and get up on the right side of the bed. Meet adversity- when it comes, get up and go on. Meet problems with decision – don’t keep mulling them over in your own mind’.
I can quote this because I have the original little paper cutting. I’m like the old woman in Jenny Joseph’s poem ‘Warning….when I am an old woman’ ……. ‘And hoard pens and pencils and beer mats and things in boxes’.
Well, I am obviously showing those signs and symptoms now and I have the accompanying white hair , as unruly as ever…..Miss Mc Donnell ( who used to ask for the ‘bane’ …..bainne… to be passed at tea break ) didn’t know me recently on meeting briefly with herself and Mrs Garvey.

I retired from St Mary’s in 1989 and I brought away with me the most wonderful and forever lasting memories of the very special times I had there….with my colleagues and with my students. I have been very privileged.

Time moves on and now I’m known as Jo and I will have 3 grandchildren attending Scoil Mhuire this September, 2018.

Nach gasta mar a théann an t-am thart …. ach maireann na cuimhní go deo!