Times past with Brian Gabriel

Memories of a School-going Era Sportswise, Vicarstown School had a small involvement in Inniscarra hurling affairs – no interest in football in the parish in those days – but the areas of greater activity appeared to be at the other schools of the parish, such as Cloghroe, Dripsey and Berrings as, perhaps, playing facilities were a little better at those locations. I can remember an Inniscarra official calling to the Vicarstown School on one occasion and requesting two or three under 12s to travel to the pitch near Tower Bridge for some practice. A few days later the boys were part of an Inniscarra team that took on Ballincollig but the match result brought no joy on the night. Still, I take great pride in the fact that the school was later to produce some wonderful hurlers and I mention in particular a senior challenge match involving Cork and Waterford – or was it Limerick – at Fermoy when three former Vicarstown students – Phil Duggan, Newcastle; Denis Murphy, Ballycraheen; and Tom O’Riordan of Gort – lined out for the rebel county. Our school summer holidays came and went and there was no escaping some work on our medium sized farm in Upper Cloghroe such as milking cows; helping our dad take cattle to the fairs at Rathduff and Ballincollig; guiding a donkey, plus cart and two milk churns, to the creamery at Ballyshoneen; and drawing water from a well in the corner of a nearby field as there was no running water to the home or outbuildings. Neither were there such luxuries as a motor car, a tractor or, indeed, electricity and obviously the word ‘television’ had not entered anybody’s vocabulary. These were the sacrifices of parents at the time and it is remarkable, in our case at least, that not alone were they encountering such hardship, year in year out, but they also had to feed and clothe ten of us. Did we ever repay them, I ask myself. One of the most exciting events in summer time was ‘threshing day’ when people from the neighbourhood would assemble in the farm haggart and perform the various tasks involved in bagging the grain – be it wheat, barley or oats – and constructing ricks of straw. A few weeks earlier, our father would have used a scythe to cut swathes close to ditches to prepare a path for the reaper and binder and it was our job to gather the corn and prepare sheaves for stooking. Briars were a big problem and these had to be removed before each sheaf was secured with a makeshift knot. The wearing of gloves did not dawn on us and, certainly, health and safety had not entered the equation as thorns drew blood from fingers unused to such work. It was all part of a ‘save the harvest’ operation when family members were expected to make some contribution. The national school years were to pass by pretty quickly, and I am sorry to say that I remember very little of the preparations for the sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation. I have some recall though of the Confirmation ceremony at the parish church in Cloghroe, when all the schools of the parish were represented, as somebody gave me an ice-cream which I discovered was not to my liking. The problem was that it started to melt in my hands and I was afraid to throw it away, lest I be seen. However, I must have got an opportunity to free myself from my group as I made my way to the roadway across from the present day Cloghroe Stores and slipped what remained of the offending article into a nearby stream – since diverted in the interest of house-building considerations. At this stage also, and being the eldest of the family, my parents were making arrangements for me to sign on at the North Monastery School in Cork, a stronghold of my favourite sport of hurling. A bus service to Cork was most convenient, being only a few hundred yards away, but fate intervened when a neighbouring farmer in Upper Cloghroe – Jack Hennessy – arrived on our door-step. He was canvassing support for his sister-in-law, Mrs. Peg O’Connor, who was planning to introduce second-level education to Blarney and district. With no sign of a building for such a venture at that point as the idea was only in its infancy, nevertheless my parents were convinced that Blarney, and not the trek to the city, would be better for me. And so it came to pass in September 1952 that I was presented with a bicycle for the five-mile journey to Meán Scoil Mhuire Gan Smál and while awaiting the construction of a new secondary school at Station Road, around 25 youngsters from local and outlying areas were directed to the Emer Ballroom on the Waterloo Road to begin their studies. To say that the experience was eventful would be an understatement especially when it was revealed that the Intermediate Certificate examination would be taken in two years with a further two years for the Leaving Certificate test. The school needed some early examination results in order to boost attendance figures, we were told. If that timescale was not demanding enough, subjects were to be taught through the medium of Irish as bonus marks were available by following such a method. As time went on, that daily return trip to Cloghroe, uphill and down dale in all kinds of weather, proved quite challenging, and the situation was not helped when the bicycle chain slipped off the front sprocket with the result that when I arrived at the school with dirty oily hands, the teacher was not at all pleased. Depending on the mood, one could be told to stand at the top of the classroom for a while – not a new experience of course as the same punishment was meted out if homework was not up to expectations. Still, we made the best of the situation and really enjoyed school breaks such as the visits to Fota House, the tour of the Opera House, a film show at the Savoy Cinema, the rare hurling challenge match against Farranferris, participation in Cór Fhéile na Scol, the school tour to Mount Melleray and Killarney and, of course, participating in the drill display at The Square in Blarney as part of An Tóstal celebrations in 1954. Attendance at the secondary school also provided me with the opportunity to join the Blarney Athletic and Cycling Club which had its clubhouse at the site of the Muskerry Tram terminus close to the entrance to the famous castle. I enjoyed some great days there, in the company of outstanding athletes and cyclists, and was delighted when I contributed on occasion to team successes in the cross country arena. The Leaving Certificate examination brought down the curtain on my secondary school days in Blarney and the ‘leaving’ was one test of the educational process that I will not easily forget as I misread a word in the Irish essay paper. We were asked to write on Tionscail na Scannán in Éireann but, failing to read the exam paper in a careful fashion, or perhaps overcome by anxiety, I wrote instead about the herring industry – tionscail na scadán. In the review that followed of the day’s proceedings, the teacher was not too surprised at my mistake, given my study record, but I must have got some marks for that particular Irish composition as a pass followed when the results were announced. Water under the bridge now as I went on to enrol at the Cork School of Commerce and two years later, having written to some 30 other firms regarding any vacancies that might arise, I was fortunate to get work placement at the then Cork Examiner and Evening Echo and spent over 40 years, in sport, news and picture departments, with the Crosbie family’s newspaper firm in the city’s Academy Street. I am not sure if a Past Pupils Union exists at Scoil Mhuire gan Smál but I do get an opportunity to attend at the school – at its new location overlooking the coursing field – when the Blarney and District Historical Society present their varied and most informative programme of lectures and slide shows every year. I pause for a few moments as I walk along the corridor and look at some of the old pictures so well displayed on a wall of memories. Back in 2002, I was delighted to have been invited to the school’s golden jubilee celebrations when our Country’s President Mary McAleese bestowed such an honour by her attendance. That wonderful occasion afforded me the opportunity to meet up with many of my school pals of 50 years earlier and share in the stories and experiences of the time. I may not have appreciated it in those days of youthful exuberance but the education I received at Blarney, and at Vicarstown earlier, was to prove invaluable in the road ahead, and for that I am truly grateful.

The above excerpt was taken from a much larger article titled ‘Memories of a School-going Era’ by Tim O’Brien and published in Issue No 10 ‘Old Blarney’ Journal. A limited number of ‘Old Blarney’ back issues are still available by contacting 087 2153216, bg1@eircom.net  or www.blarneyhistory.ie   or at the Monthly Lectures.