of school days
“It is the Supreme Art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative
expression and knowledge.” Albert Einstein (1875-1955.)
On the 19th July, 2007, my wife and I paid a flying visit
to Co. Cavan. We called on an old friend, Phillip Fidgeon
who has a business on the main street. After catching up
on old times I enquired if he knew anyone with some knowledge
of the Killann Pipers Band that existed in the 1930s
and 40s. Michael O Reilly, Annahern is
your man replied Phillip adding, He was a member
of the band and hes still hale and hearty- just go
up to the school and ask for Marion Dempsey - shes
one of the teachers; shell arrange for you to meet
him and give you directions to his house. Thanking
Phillip, I said as we parted, this will be my first
visit to the school since I left it in 1948. Its
not the same school you attended he shouted after
me, the old one was knocked down and replaced on the
same site by a new one some years ago, Well,
I shouted back, the old one wasnt that old;
my first day there was the day it opened in 1939.
I dont know why they knocked it he called
out as I sat into the car and headed towards the school
on the Kingscourt road.
It was 2.00pm when we passed through the school gates; the
main door was ajar. In the hallway a young girl was playing
a violin, her tutor, a tall thin man standing near her,
occasionally advising her in a low voice. I asked a passing
pupil if Ms. Marion Dempsey could see me for a few moments.
Marion came to the door and following introductions I asked
for directions to the home of Michael Smith. On learning
I was an old dim and distant past pupil we were immediately
invited to meet her pupils and watch their dress rehearsal
of a play about bygone years.
We were introduced to the pupils including some immigrant
children, one little girl from as faraway as the Philippines.
I gladly agreed to answer any questions concerning my schooldays.
I enjoyed chatting with them and answering their many questions
about the old school from opening day in 1939, my first
day of attendance when I took my seat in infants class.
I was amazed at their knowledge of local history. One lad
asked why a new school was built in 1939. Because
I replied, one day during class lumps of plaster started
falling from the ceiling and the Master told the pupils
to run for it, to vacate the building as fast as they could
run. So, there was no school, temporary or otherwise, for
a period of six months while the new school was being built,
the only exception was Confirmation classes which were held
in the church vestry. Another lad asked where our
family home was situated in the 1930s and 40s.
I replied, not far from the school- just up the road
you could see it from here; the house with the railings
in front., That, he replied, was originally
Granny Fidgeons; and down from there was Vera Cassidys;
there were piggeries in the fields behind those houses,
He certainly had done his homework as the pig houses were
unoccupied in my time, and as a small boy I
had speculated as to their usage. So, sixty years later,
I got the facts! I said my older sister Gertie had also
attended on the opening day in 1939 and in 1944 she had
won the Masters prize of a half a crown (2 old shillings
and sixpence) for the following verse about the school fuel
the back of the school
Theres a big heap of fuel
Which McGruddy drew home in his cart
When the winter comes on
And the rogues come along
You will then see how long it will last.
The children showed great interest about the fuel burnt
in the schools fireplaces. I explained it was mostly
turf and sometimes timber given by an obliging farmer. I
said the big boys were happy to cut the timber into small
logs during school time; also, a few lads with appropriate
experience cut and saved turf sods in the bog adjoining
the school. The sods were great for keeping in
(prolonging) the fire. I explained that many pupils had
to walk miles to and from school in all weathers and only
the townies were allowed to go home for lunch. Also, concerning
the adjoining bog, I said that lads with appropriate skill
and knowledge had planted tree cuttings near the school
wall, and the Master at that time said that if the trees
grew, they would, in years to come, remind us of our school
days. Master Peadar Moran informed us that the trees are
there, now well matured and part of the scenery.
The dress rehearsal of the play then commenced. It was based
on an old poem about a Shercock market day of bygone years.
It was written by a Mr. McGruddy who presumably was a forefather
of the lad mentioned in my sisters prize winning verse.
The poem, entitled Fair Day of Shercock 1890, was contemporaneously
recited by a girl from Kosovo who was only six months at
Shercock School and had no English when she first attended.
Her English with Cavan overtones was excellent. It was marvellous
to witness the school drama tradition being maintained.
It was refreshing to see young pupils so confident and self
assured with enquiring minds, including immigrant children
who were very much at home. No doubt, the interaction of
different cultures benefited all.
For the first time in recent years, I realised there was
great hope for our country with pupils of such calibre.
Obviously their character and talents were being developed;
they could think for themselves. They were a great credit
to the school principal Peadar Moran, Marion, and the rest
of his staff. Obviously, there was a big difference from
the teaching methods of my day.
Recollections of School days in the
1930s and 40s
The country I grew up in the 1930s, 40s had still remnants
of the manners and habits an enslaved country. Maybe, in
relative terms, the Well Offs and reasonably
Well Offs such as, the big farmer, the big shopkeeper,
doctors, guards and teachers, not to mention the catholic
clergy just replaced the departed ascendancy classes and
their cohorts. They expected and received the same respect.
The takeover was easy, the poor and the not too well
offs had to continue to show respect for their betters
if they wanted a job, retain their credit pass book, and
keep on the inside fringes of society as it was at that
time. Indoctrination into the system started from the first
day a child attended school.
Children were taught to keep quiet, not to question and
to speak only when spoken to.
Theories of learning:
B. F. Skinner, Psychologist 1904-1990 had some very interesting
observations about theories of learning, none of which were
adopted in the schools of our liberated country at that
In regard to theories of learning, in most cases, there
was just one theory Fear: - fear of the cane, not
to mention verbal assaults. If you didnt know the
answer you got slapped; it was assumed you didnt do
your homework. It didnt matter that you didnt
know what was going on- just learn the answer or suffer
the consequences. We had to be real Irishmen and women;
this meant not telling parents about punishments; tell-talers
would be called informers and traitors like
some dastards in Irish history. Irish Freedom
seemed to be construed as licence for the teacher to use
the rod on girls as well as boys. Religion was taught; kids
spent much time learning their prayers and more often than
not hadnt a clue what they meant; In the Hail Mary
-Blessed art thou a monk swimming- was what
most seven year olds thought they were saying and of course
it made no sense. Behaviour outside the classroom was observed
and reported. That was the norm in the country at that time.
This was one means of ensuring the retention of the old
class system for the benefit of upper crusts
However, people of that era with positions of authority
such as, teachers, clergy,
Guards, big farmers, shopkeepers and politicians maybe a
much maligned lot; many of them were the salt of the earth,
who, if they could not do you a good turn, definitely, would
not do you a bad oneits just the few who stick
in the CRAW.