Curraghs Memories

Beside you straggling fence that skirts the way,

With blossomed furze unprofitably gay,

There in his noisy mansion, skilled to write,

The village Master taught his little school:

(The Village Schoolmaster - Goldsmith) .

The fence straggles, the furze and privet are still gay but alas the mansion is no longer noisy. The wind that blew through the branches of the gaunt fir trees, now has a lonely sound. The crows that perched in the branches, patiently waiting for tasty after lunch pickings, have long since flown to other feeding grounds. The mansion itself seems strangely smaller than we remembered it.

A short wait repays one and soon out of the silence the once familiar sound of learning and play comes drifting back. That chant of Tables being recited aloud by the Assembled classes "Two-ones-are-two, two-two’s are four" The longer prayers being recited aloud especially in the hectic last minute preparations for the Religious Examiner. "I confess to Almighty God" ...... The ten Commandments, and the precepts of the Church being belted out with the same gusto.

Memories of the rooms are flooding back. Infants, first and second were in the small desks upstairs, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh, downstairs in the larger desks and the long bench by the front wall. (Each desk was designed for two and had its own built in inkwell which was topped up from a black pint bottle with a goose quill through the cork).

Pictures hung over the fireplace; the 1916 Proclamation in a silver frame with pictures of the signatories around the border, the multi-coloured butterflies mounted on card and behind glass, for safe keeping, the Ordinance Survey map of the area, the teachers rostrum, the counting frame and the blackboard perched precariously on its easel.

In Winter time, and depending on the quality of the turf, a fire burned brightly or smouldered in the grate. Rows of milk bottles fronted the fire as pupils sought a warm drink. Bottles were of all shapes and sizes and the corks a miracle of improvisation. Failure to loosen the corks resulted in an explosive cocktail. Gathering “Cipíní” and lighting the fire was an important post of responsibility for senior pupils.

The arrival of the lorry of turf in September was a major event. Classes ended early as pupils began to draw it in and stack it under the stairs, but, as in the nature of youth, concentration was not maintained and soon the sods and cioráns began to fly. Many a pupil returned home with watery eyes and indeed a few bloody noses, the result of swift retaliation.

Leaning on the schoolyard wall we could watch the world go by. Carts of many shapes and sizes, pulled by ponies, donkeys and skittish jennets, trundled their way to and from Johnsbridge Creamery. Milk churns of many designs bounced in the carts and their owners, perched on the setlocks, gave us a cheery wave as they passed by. People in horses and traps passed on their way to town, others cycled past on their Raleighs, Humbers and B.S.A.s - the ladies, straight backed and sedate looking, on their High Nellies’. The odd motor car could indicate the arrival of the dreaded Inspector.

Big plough horses, their huge hairy legs in need of new shoes, were led over to the forge with its collection of old machinery and pieces of iron scattered around it. Inside, the fire, fanned by the large bellows, glowed in the shadows as the blacksmith, beat out his distinctive music on the anvil. The smell of burning hoof was in the air as the red hot shoe was pressed into place to ensure a perfect fit.

The School Meet of the Duhallow Hunt was a special occasion. We watched dashing gentlemen in their vivid red coats and elegant ladies perched “side-saddle” converse in grand accents and partake of the “Stirrup Cup". The colourful spectacle then moved off in a welter of excitement, the hounds already "giving tongue" in anticipation of a wily fox in Ballybane or the Leaca. We returned to our classrooms, cursing our luck, and had to content ourselves with playing “foxes and hounds” in Jack Thades field at lunch time.

Who remembers the first visit of the school Dentist? Who could forget it? The upstairs room was turned into a make shift surgery and we waited downstairs. At first there was safety in numbers, but as the group got smaller and howls of pain and stamping on the floorboards came from above, tension mounted. The dreaded moment arrived too soon and we were confronted with the sight of the chair and an enamel pan full of teeth, blood and an assortment of oral debris. Dentistry, in those days, seemed to operate on the general principle of “Leave nothing to doubt, pull it out". One able—bodied young man was reported to have skinned his heels kicking the floor as the nurse sat upon him. There were no high spirits as we returned home that evening. We travelled silently like “Brownes Cows” in a broken line, each with thoughts blacker than hell as far as the future welfare of dentists was concerned. Solemn vows were made to look after our teeth in future. Not surprisingly, the next visit to the School Dentist was cancelled due to shortage of patients.

Our First Communion was an important milestone in our schooling. Preparations went on for months beforehand. Lists of sins were drawn up in order of seriousness and mock hearings were held in preparation for our First Confessions. On the day itself, we arrived in Kilbrin in our best clothes, accompanied by proud parents. The ceremony over, we were invited to the Priest’s house for a feast of lemonade and sweet cake. Our fathers in the meantime, had visited a nearby establishment and seemed in exceptional good humour afterwards. The horse was given a lively drive home. A short detour was made past Ballybane wood, where, at this time of year, the rhododendrons were a blaze of scarlet and purple. We retired early that night tired, but feeling important and still clutching the bright shillings and the odd half-crown given to us by generous neighbours.

September, apart from the shock of returning after the long holidays, was a very difficult month in school. The whine of the threshing machine, punctuated now and again by a barking sound as an uncut sheaf hit the whirling drum, drifted in the school window and almost drove us mad. Images of the excitement of the haggart haunted us, men hurrying back and forth, some picking the sheaves, others collecting the straw, filling the sacks of wheat or taking the oats and barley to the loft. Worst of all was the thought of the cases of stout and lemonade, bought specially for the occasion, being shared out in our absence. Never were Shakespeare’s words more apt than in these crisp and sunny Autumn days.

"The whining schoolboy with satchel and shining

Morning face creeping like a snail

Unwillingly to school”

The best part of each day came at three o’clock. Pupils poured out the door or thundered down the stairs, with reckless abandon. One group made its way to Brien’s Cross from where some took the "High Road" to Ballybane and other the lower road to Garrison and Lynch’s Hill. The other group split at Looney’s Cross. Part of it went down Shanavalla, past Bill Thady’s Glen which all visited in September for its clusters of hazelnuts. They travelled on across the bridge to the Line Road and Jer Ben’s shop where we sold blackberries, crab apples, rabbits and pigeons in a determined bid to create our own income.

We turned down the Lane Road past the spout, stopping at the stream, to borrow forks from Nora Mahony for the purpose of stalking the “bas luachair (a slow moving type of gudgeon) or far less successfully, the wily trout that hid behind the large stores. Sometimes, the call to the door was to ascertain whether anybody was home. This was a necessary preparation for a raid on the blackcurrant bushes. The good lady would, of course, have given us the blackcurrants if we had asked, but then of course, they would not have the special taste of “forbidden fruit”. Morning time gave one the opportunity of watching the delicate operation involved in milking the two resident goats. No friendly wisp of smoke now curls from the chimney of the little house and there are no fish in the stream.

We then passed the crab trees, the Skeheen and Loaders field with its fantastic carpet of wild flowers. Birds nests and rabbit paths were noted for future reference. We got to know every stone on the road especially when barefooted in fine weather. The largest and sharpest seemed to have a “fatal attraction" for our big toes. Sober Kerry Cows grazed the grass margins of the road. .

The “Long Acre” was a very valuable piece of grazing for those with little land of their own. Sometimes we passed a “Roadman” with strange looking goggles and leather covered palms, tapping away at his lonely task of breaking stones for road repairs. Appetites were whetted by the walk home and we tucked into our dinners with great relish.

Time inevitably passed and our class became the “big boys and girls”. The first awkward stirrings of adolescence made us more conscious both of ourselves and the world outside. As the three of us sat on Brien’s ditch and took our lunch on the day of the Primary Cert Exam, the reality of leaving loomed large and somehow our school did not seem, so bad at all.

The majority of pupils went straight into the world of work. Some went to second level schools in the local town and a few went to distant boarding schools. We soon realised that our standard could more than compare with that of most of our new classmates. We then felt proud of our little school and its dedicated teachers. We simply smiled when people said “ It was only a two teacher school".

The Class of ‘52.


Patrick Murphy

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