Leaving for the Brothers was probably the
greatest ambition for fast growing boys at new St. Joseph’s. The annual
passing out parade was carried out with due ritual. At the end of every
June, two senior lads were dispatched from the Brothers to escort the
hundred or so new boys from St. Joseph’s and see them safely on the
short journey up the Station Road.
The nuns made a major event of it. All the
younger classes were lined around the lawn in front of St. Joseph’s,
beside the massive statue of the saint. Hundreds of little hands waved
as the big boys set off in formation for the Brothers.
Our class was in ‘babies’ when we saw the
new St. Joseph’s opened by the aged Bishop Keogh in 1960. Now in 1964,
we were moving to a school which had been blessed by him as a young
bishop. But the wear of intervening decades had taken its toll on the
First impression of the CBS was that of a
big, grey “E” shaped building. It was evident that this was very much a
man’s place. The bicycle shed was dark and dusty. There was hardly a
blade of grass in the field. Many of the wall clocks had not been wound.
The wooden floors were well worn, a complete contrast with the highly
polished tiles so assiduously minded by the nuns. The toilets also were
old fashioned. Heavy wooden desks had seated generations of Carlow boys.
Names carved into the tops were proof.
The new arrivals of 1964 comprised two
groups. One had finished second class with Sister Finbarr; the second
had just completed first class — they’d now be going to Mr. Beatty and
forever they’d be known as the “B” class.
Our first teacher in the Brothers was Bro.
Kenny. He was nearing his Golden Jubilee and had the rare experience of
having been in Carlow for almost twenty years. Small, grey and thin, the
top button was forever missing on his soutane and his shoulders were
always covered in chalk dust.
Bro. Kenny never lost his Dublin accent, or
wit, and was a natural storyteller in the style of Jimmy O’Dea. Last
class each day before lunch, he couched himself into the corner of the
middle windowsill, wrapped the two ends of his open soutane round his
legs and proceeded to tell endless yarns. It was the Christian Doctrine
period so most of the stories must have been about religion, but the
chatty old man sent us happily home to our lunches.
But whatever happened to him during
lunchtime, the mood was invariably different after dinner. Writing and
compositions were normally scheduled, and he could be terribly cross.
This change of temperament was difficult to understand. In retrospect,
age was creeping up and perhaps he wasn’t able for the long day or the
It was a huge class. At least fifty two in
it, possibly more.
Most of the classes were that size. It was
the boy’s school in the parish and there was about four hundred pupils
on the rolls at the time.
Break-times were bedlam. The yard at the
back of the school was divided in two by the assembly hall. While boys
in their hundreds played tig, stage coach, football or simply fought,
teachers - engrossed in conversation - paced up and down the yard.
Bro. Rodgers was headmaster and he was
joined by three other brothers. Doyen of the lay teachers was Aidan
Murray. Three other Carlovians were on the staff — Ted Brophy, Tom
Mooney and Pat McGrath. Tom Beatty and Gerry Darcy completed the team.
Times were changing and the schools were
part of what was happening. The biggest development during our first
year in the Brothers was the introduction of the English Mass. The
impact of all the Council activity in Rome was now being felt. With
great enthusiasm, Bro. Kenny taught us all the new responses.
Our new teacher in fourth class was Aidan
Murray. He took us all aback on our first day by unashamedly announcing
his age. He was fifty four and had been teaching in the Brothers for
Occasionally, Mr. Murray asked pupils to
give “lectures” to the class about their fathers’ occupation. He knew
more about our families than we knew ourselves.
He was able to tell Brendan Doyle his father
had been privately tutored at home and didn’t attend primary school. He
could explain to Paul Rea the details of Bridewell Lane and Brewery
Lane. When Brendan Deere’s turn came, teacher recalled the marvelous
shoes once manufactured by Governey’s and how, with minimal repairs,
they’d last for years.
Mr. Murray’s piano looked as though it had
been in the classroom for all of thirty years - but he made it sound
magnificent. He took pride in the huge repertoire of songs, which he had
personally inscribed on big paper scrolls for easy transcription. They
were largely, as the cliché had it, the songs our father’s loved. Songs
that have hardly been heard since the Northern troubles erupted.
Apart from ‘Follow Me Up to Carlow’, he
relished songs’ like ‘Kelly The Boy From Killane’, ‘The Rising Of The
Moon’ etc. But he wasn’t living in the past. On prompting from Oliver
Hennessy, Mr. Murray was able to play current chart hits such as Sloop
John B and Pretty Flamingo.
Mr. Murray always began his day by giving
the class ten minutes of mental arithmetic. He reckoned it was a
progressive, modern thing to do. He was also keen on revision. Every
Friday, he conducted tests on everything covered that week. Pupils were
allowed to correct their desk partners’ tests. First in the class was
invited to present himself in Mr. Murray’s shop on the way home from
school and ask for his favorite bar of chocolate. That was a big treat,
especially for those who rarely had pocket money.
1966 was eventful in Ireland because of the
1916 commemorations. It was President De Valera’s year — a day hardly
went by but he was opening some memorial or attending some function.
Carlow had its own ceremonies, but, needless to say, neither the
President nor any major political figures attended.
Mr. Murray had us learning Yeats’ “Easter
1916” by heart, although we were only ten years old. We also knew all
the ballads like ‘The Foggy Dew’, ‘Off To Dublin In The Green’, etc.
But just at the start of the summer holidays
in 1966 we did get the chance to see Mr. De Valera in the flesh. Not
alone Dev, but Sean Lemass, Liam Cosgrave and others. They were in town
for the ordination of Dr. Lennon as bishop. That was a big, big day in
After the summer, our teacher was Bro. Ryan.
Lads never found out the first name of the Brothers. School reports
showed that Bro. Ryan’s initials were “P.M.” - more than that we never
knew. Bro. Ryan was a Tipperary man. He loved the G.A.A. and was
particularly proud of his country’s hurling performance in the
There was great emphasis on Gaelic games in
the Brothers. Street leagues were organised by Bro. Rodgers and an
outside enthusiast, Dick Shepherd. The ‘Ban’ on foreign games was still
in operation, and I can recall one of my older brothers being sent home
from night study in the academy, apparently for playing soccer.
Bro. Ryan also played a game that was new to
most of us - basketball. This he enjoyed in the Youth Centre which was
than taking shape in the old fever hospital. He seemed to have
befriended the new curate, Father Fingleton — who was beavering away at
all levels to do things for the “youth”.
By autumn 1966, numbers in the Brothers were
swelling and the new abode for my class was the assembly hall. We got
new desks, and we sat on chairs. A new principal, Bro. Farrell, arrived
to replace Bro. Rodgers.
A two classroom pre-fab was erected to cater
for the increasing numbers. Even the stage in the assembly hall had to
be boarded up in order to make a classroom of the stage itself. That
can’t have been welcomed by the Carlow Operatic Society who used the
boards of the CBS for their productions.
Progress also brought the first lady
teachers - Teresa Kavanagh, Mary Clare Walsh and Carmel O’Dwyer.
Before we went on to sixth class something
marvellous - and historic - happened. Free education was introduced. We
were the first class that would not have to sit for the dreaded
scholarship exam. It was a tremendous relief. It’s difficult to recall
now, but for decades eleven and twelve year-olds had to remain in school
until after five o’clock - and even come in on Saturdays — to swot for
There was some further good news. The
Primary Certificate exam was also abolished. We really had all the luck.
Again, we were the first group to qualify.
For some reason connected with these
advances, the “A” and “B” streams were integrated at the end of fifth
class. Half of “A” merged with half of “B”. One group went to Bro.
Mullally, the other to Bro. Ryan. I was in the latter section so I spent
a second year with Bro. Ryan.
By now we were studying Algebra and Geometry
as well as History, Geography, Irish and English.
Personal development, important at this
stage of growth, was treated during Christian Doctrine. Bro. Ryan laid
great store on hygiene and manners, spending a lot of time on the book
Courtesy for Boys and Girls. Nothing about what we really wanted to
know. Television was becoming increasingly dominant in our lives. The
smarter lads had frequent morning after in-depth discussions analysing
the amorous scenes of “The Forsythe Saga”. More innocent chaps,
meanwhile, were content to play with their recorders from the Tayto “007
Short trousers were worn by most boys until
sixth class. Garters and braces were by now on their way out. Home
knitted pullovers were the norm and anoraks were just appearing.
The “suit” was de rigueur for Confirmation.
We made ours in 1967. Of course there was the preliminary examination in
school some weeks before. Bishop Lennon came all the way from
Mountmellick to quiz us. Father Crowley, the administrator, insisted on
listening in — putting everyone even more on tenterhooks.
Overall, facilities in the Brothers were
basic enough. There was no library, although towards the end of our time
a collection of Ladybird books was starting. Apart from singing, there
was no music tuition, anyone who wanted lessons went to Dr. Seeldrayers
or Percy McEvoy. Elocution was unheard of.
The day started and finished with prayers.
There were prayers on the hour, and prayers for the canonisation of
Brother Edmund Ignatius Rice. Membership of the Children’s Sodality —
requiring attendance at a special Mass and Benediction once a month —
ceased to be an obligation when the new liturgy was introduced. Latin
High Masses were still celebrated occasionally, despite the reforms.
Sometimes the singing was provided by the primary schools. Preparations
were always hectic. The senior classes were gathered together in the
assembly hall. Aidan Murray and Tom Beatty tried to ensure that we had
the chants and hymns exactly right. Perfection, however, was never
attained because we didn’t understand Latin and this kind of music
wasn’t to everybody’s taste.
The month of May was special for the
Brothers. They made supreme attempts to erect elaborate altars in honour
of Our Lady in their classrooms. Bro. Ryan purchased reams of blue and
white cotton and had it streaming the height and almost the width of the
assembly hall stage. Parents lent vases for the month, and amazingly
pupils weren’t embarrassed to bring in regular bunches of flowers. The
result was a brilliant display of Marian fervour.
The one overtly public role the Brothers
took on was to carry the canopy over the priest during the annual Corpus
Christi procession. For this they donned white surplices. It seemed that
the entire parish used to assemble in the grounds of St. Patrick’s
College for these processions.
Generally the Brothers lived very private
lives in the monastery, which they referred to simply as “the house”.
Pupils were seldom invited in around the house, except during the days
when waste paper was being collected by the ton. The huge baler was
right beside the monastery and all help was welcomed in collecting and
bundling the paper.
Beside the monastery was the Brothers’
garden and orchard. The beautiful apple trees were tantalisingly
inviting every autumn. But this - of all orchards - was definitely out
of bounds, for obvious reasons. The gardener was Berney Swan of Burrin
Street. He was also caretaker of the school. Among his jobs was tending
the massive coal furnace under the assembly hall. It was a rare treat in
mid-winter to get down to the blackness of the big stove and watch as
Berney shoveled on the coal.
Even in the sixties, the Christian Brothers
had to shoulder a barrage of criticism, especially over their use of
corporal punishment. They sometimes bitterly remarked that it was former
pupils who’d done well in later life who were most outspoken.
Memories of Bishop Foley School are mostly
happy and pleasant, however. Nevertheless, the threat of punishment was
ever present. All the Brothers had leathers; the lay teachers used
sticks varying from chair-legs to very swishy bamboos. By today’s
standards, slapping was excessive. By and large, Carlow CBS was probably
no better or worse than any school in Ireland in this respect.
Our days in the brothers ended in 1968. The
substitute primary exam was brought forward because about a dozen sixth
class lads were off for a month to the Ballingeary gaeltacht. It was our
first experience of the formal exam atmosphere — desks moved apart,
stencilled question papers, total silence.
My final memory of primary days is when Bro.
Ryan broke the silence of the exam hall and dropped a bombshell. Robert
Kennedy had just died. He was stunned, and so were we.
Life for another of the dynamic Kennedy’s
was over. But for us, a new era was just beginning.
Source: The Golden Jubilee Journal 1936-1986 (Michael Purcell)
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