Daily Archives: February 26, 2008

My unhappy schooldays!

Ian wrote about ‘Unhappy school days. It rather opened an old wound for me. So far I have skirted around those years trying to convince myself that I was over them.

Primary school was normal enough I think, apart from all the days I was kept at home to open the door and allow the doctor in to see my mother, unfortunately her health was not the best at times. Among other problems she had a serious heart attack when I was ten. I was also needed to prepare meals for the family. I remember my first attempts at making dinner involved going upstairs to find out from mammy what to do at every stage. The meals were cooked on the gas stove or in the oven. I avoided the grill as I considered it dangerous. My father and brothers would consume at least five potatoes each without those for my mother, sister and myself. Peeling the potatoes and vegetables took an hour each day. I became quite adept at making stews and casseroles. My eldest brother helped when food was cooked and pans and dishes were hot. No way as a slight small 8-10 year old was I capable of lifting them. Daddy NEVER entered the kitchen and expected his food on the table as usual! Homework! Why would I need to do that, when there were men to be fed!

At secondary level I went to a new school (3 years old) run by the order of Nuns that taught my mother. We had to sit a written examination to gain entrance. Our class of thirty whittled down to 15 after Intermediate Certificate. We were constantly reminded that it was a College (this allowed them charge higher fees) and that they did not teach us – they educated us! Their main priority was to reduce the debt incurred in building the school. We had a wonderful Gym, equipped with bars, ropes, horse, mats etc. It was the envy of many another school and we used it only as a supplementary examination hall! The pupils’ parents were bombarded with books of raffle tickets on a weekly basis, at least 12 books at a time. I refused to take them home – I was the only one with nerve to stand up and say so.

It was the early 60’s and I was one of 6 children, my father had spent almost a year in and out of hospital. Daddy was diagnosed with Addison’s disease, a visit to the library told my eldest brother and I that it was fatal. At that time there was no cure. My reading of the situation at the time was that if my mother handed out money for 12 books of raffle tickets to me each week then she would have to do the same for my 5 siblings. At that point there were three of us in Fee paying schools. No way was I going to ask for £12 a week.

No allowance was made for late developers, slow learners or difficult home situations. Pupils were told which subjects they were allocated, there was no such thing as choice. Abuse both physical and mental was employed on a daily basis. If you didn’t keep up you were lost from the radar. Pupils not thought to bring glory were encouraged to leave. I was considered a rebel and not at all bright.

Reading was not a priority in our home. Latin and French were difficult for me, Irish was a torture. The fact that if you failed Irish you failed the whole exam in those days, added to my burden. Back then Irish was not standardised and in one school year alone we had four teachers. They happened to come from the four provinces, Ulster, Leinster, Munster, and Connacht, each with their own dialect. To my ear they were four different languages. I never really recovered.

Maths I managed but science was not offered to me. Art and Domestic Science were on my programme and I actually knew more about cooking and hygiene than the teacher. She knew little about sewing, but a sister of my father’s took me under her wing and nurtured in me the love of the needle.

By now you all know my level of English! Elly constantly corrects my grammar and spelling. The fact that I am borderline dyslexic adds to the problems. Reading justified text, or light print on a dark background is torture. There are many blogs I would love to read, but if I have to struggle to find the content in amongst the flashing lights, bells, whistles and distracting adverts, well I walk away. Am I the only one to do so?

The nuns did try to move me out. Mammy stood her ground; she had to leave school at 16 in favour of her brothers’ education, so she was determined to let me go as far as the boys. I passed my leaving certificate with a couple of honours thrown in, much to everyone’s surprise. I was glad to leave school and never returned for any of the reunions.

My best pal was at school with me. Despite distance, family and other commitments we are still close and in touch on a regular basis. She has been a second mother for Elly, and her sons the brothers Elly never had. As I often say some good came out of those dark years!