Comment: A chance encounter (we were both pursuing cultural food on Culture Night 2019 at King Johns Castle, Limerick) with Anita Hawkes/Lyons led to giving that very nice lady a commitment to share a few memory fragments from my days at St. Mary’s, Askeaton during the mid-1950s.
I’ve had a browse through the web-site and it certainly cleared out a few of the memory pipes that were badly clogged. No matter how dim the brain, however, there have been two blazing figures in my head for the past sixty-odd years – Nora Hawkes and Mrs. (Polly) O’Mahony. What an indelible impression they must have left on all who were fortunate enough to go through the doors of St. Mary’s and have their education fostered and managed by those two wonderful educators. And how different they were; Polly projecting knowledge, empathy and patient understanding with that melancholic humanity that stayed with you forever, and then the force of nature that was Mrs. Hawkes, who entered every situation with a dervish energy guaranteed to rivet whatever group or individual it was intended for until it gradually faded and morphed into precise and utterly focused teaching.
With that kind of leadership how could anyone resist, you may ask. Well, I did and in fairly spectacular fashion. I arrived at St. Mary’s on the back of having won an entrance scholarship that my father helpfully suggested might have been given in error! (such was his proclivity for never praising when a put-down was to hand). For whatever reason I had zero interest in education and every interest in anything even vaguely hedonistic. Life was to be enjoyed and its pleasures consumed at the cost of everything else.
We cycled from Pallaskenry winter and summer and that alone did little to stir the intellectual juices. Occasionally Willie Fitzgerald driving P.J. Downey’s lorry to Askeaton gave us a lift and this would get us to the school well ahead of schedule. This time was then used to dream up some disruptive caper and often with regrettable results. One morning we were ensconced in the front upper room when the local pupils were arriving. I sort of fancied Helen Collins so I devised a cunning way of getting her attention. As she entered I dropped a small lump of coal in her path but unfortunately my timing was off and it landed on her head causing damage that drew some blood and general opprobrium in my direction. Needless to say, Helen was not impressed but I should add that Helen and I have known exch other in Limerick city for the past forty years and we’re the best of friends.
I am sure I was a fairly destructive influence on anyone that took learning seriously as I can honestly say that I made zero effort to engage with that particular activity. Billy Casey was a classmate and was the resident (if eccentric) genius. Apparently he got my regular attention at the beginning of most days as if by feeding off some of his considerable knowledge I could close the gap between what had not been worked on the previous night and the prospect of unthinkable but justified consequences – a sort of touching the hem idea! It didn’t work, as I recall.
We had other teachers, some for short periods, others more long-term. Mr. O’Regan was a man of substantial stature and projected all the chemistry of a middle-aged, committed bachelor while gently trying to penetrate the rural minds of the small people around him. Miss O’Neill possessed a quiet and slightly defensive personality as if she was aware that this was an institution that had strong leadership and she wasn’t part of it or likely to get in its way! As I drifted towards 5th year a Miss Elizabeth Sheehy was employed for a short period. She was local and extremely attractive. Suffice it to say that something akin to the Macron syndrome took hold!
As to extra-curricula activities the one that stays with me were the occasional (male) football excursions to Foynes and other far-flung venues. We had, without doubt, the worst football team in Western Europe post-primary education. We had nowhere to practice and no one to even tell us in which direction to run but we got on with it in the knowledge that if nothing else it was a break from education. I do not recall who our opponents were – might have been Shanagolden Tech or the girls from Mount Trenchard, I’m not sure!
After 5th year matters were taken in hand and I got a free transfer to Adare CBS. This probably arose out of a parental analysis that indicated a higher level of discipline might be expected from the good Brothers, which always seemed to be the prescribed medicine for proper adolescent development. By way of an update, things didn’t go any better there and I slid through my Leaving Cert to very subdued cheering!
So here we are, sixty-four years, marriage, seven children, eighteen grandchildren (and good health) later and I only have warm memories of that storied institution that was