Don't tell your secrets!

It's been more than 30 years since Derry woman Frances Gallaugher stood up in front of a classroom to give a good telling-off to one of her mischievous pupils.

But as Frances prepares to celebrate her 90th birthday later today with family and friends she can still remember with a chuckler her glory days of teaching, a profession she dedicated her life to.
“I have many happy memories of my classroom teaching days,” said Frances. “In particular I remember what devils the children could be when they were in a mischievous mood.

“My job was to ensure the children were ready for college and I did that by being tough on them and making sure they learned their lessons.

“I think a lot of the pupils thought of me as a “Big bad wolf” because I was so strict but that was the only way I could make them study and get good grades. They could be very naughty at times.
“Contrary to what most people think, we didn’t use the cane back then. It wasn’t allowed. I would have been sacked if I had tried it.

“In my opinion a sharp tongue is as good as any cane. And the punishments were harsher than the cane, such as detention of extra homework.”

And with a smile Frances tells us her tongue is as sharp as ever and we mustn’t get the spelling of her unusual surname wrong.

Frances was born on August 30, 1912, daughter of the late Mr and Mrs Sam Gallaugher, Monglass, Bogay, County Donegal.

“I was part of quite a large family,” recalled Frances, “with five sisters and one brother. I grew up on a farm in the countryside which I suppose is a very happy childhood.

“From the beginning I was a very studious child and from the moment I walked through the school doors my parents encouraged me to read and revise as much as possible.

“In between times my sisters and I helped out on the farm doing our daily chores. I mostly helped my father with his herds of cows and helped out with the dairy produce. The only thing I refused to do was milk the cows, I couldn’t stand them.”

Frances’ first school was Crossroads Primary however, she later moved on to Londonderry High School at the age of 11 to improve her education.

“My sisters were boarders at another school but I chose to remain living at home and travelled to school every day for my lessons,” she said.

“My parents were an instrumental part of my education and were always on my back making sure that I learned my lessons well.”

In fact Frances’ education progressed so well that she ended up being one of the few women of the 1920s who secured a place at university.

“Looking back I can see that I was very lucky to get a place at university when so many other young girls had to go into the shirt factories and earn money to help support their families,” she said.
“But at the time I didn’t look at it like that. I was just a girl who wanted to please my Mum and Dad and they wanted me to go to University.”

Frances spent several years studying languages in Magee College, Derry before moving on to prestigious Trinity College, Dublin where she took her final exams.

“I studied French and Latin at university,” said Frances. “During my college days I was lucky enough to meet many people who had travelled from Britain and the Republic of Ireland to take classes.
“It was hard work but we always made sure that we left enough time to enjoy ourselves. Once the revising and homework was done, we went into Derry for the dances.

“Unfortunately because I lived in the country I always had to do a Cinderella act from the dances and leave when my lift came.

“Derry was very different back then and the young ones didn’t swan about in cars like they do now. We had to rely on people we knew with cars to get us home before our curfew expired.”

However all that changed when Frances moved to Dublin and lived in student accommodation in Trinity where she finally got her freedom to attend all the dances she wanted to.

“I got very interested in sport during those times as well,” she said. “ And learned how to play tennis and badminton. I kept these sports up for a large part of my life. Even in those days I knew that exercise was good for me because I spent so much time sitting down during the day.”
Frances left Ireland in the 1930s to take up a position as governess to the Marsden family in Yorkshire.

“The family I worked for were quite rich,” she recalled. “Instead of sending their children to school they preferred that they should be educated at home. Their children were lovely, John and Joy.
“I didn’t live with the family but with their great aunt. She was very lonely and they wanted someone to stay with her to keep her company so that duly fell on me. Every day I would walk to the house to teach the children.”

During World War II Frances decided to return home because she missed her family and sisters.
Back in Derry she quickly secured a local job as a governess for the Crawford family in Ardmore House.

Later she taught at Bangor Collegiate school before taking up a post at Coleraine High School in 1956, a position she held until taking early retirement in 1971 when she returned to live with her sister Veda at Aberfoyle Crescent.

Now living in Edenballymore Lodge Frances says she has lived a very happy life and is delighted to still be “alive and kicking to recall it all.”

And her secret to a long life: “I don’t tell my secrets,” she said.

Courtesy of Derry Journal
August 2002