The Master Looks Back
Ballygraddy school was a noted landmark for me for many years before I was appointed Master there on the 1st April, 1946. I often passed it on my way from Liscarroll to Kanturk. Townlands, such as Lackeel, Castlecor and Ballyheen, en route were familiar to me. Many relatives of mine lived in the parish of Kilbrin. My grandfather was born in Ballyhest. On that fine April morning, as I wheeled my bicycle into the muddy gravel strewn yard, I was the cynosure of many young eyes, awaiting, of course for a glimpse of the new master. I was like the poet Raifteri, " 'gCeart lár mo dhaoine ".
The attitude of the pupils appealed to me. They greeted me with warm innocent eyes, and, as I climbed the stairs on the way to my classroom, they stood aside from me in a graceful manner. They were letting me know by the dignity of their action, that I was sincerely welcome as their new Master.
Miss McDonnell, who was to be my assistant and confidant for many happy years, gave me a hearty Céad Mile Fáilte. She showed me the roll book and other records belonging to the school. When I sat on the master’s chair behind the desk I noticed, that, some of the pupils were standing. When I asked them why, they answered quietly, “We were not in before you Master". I was very impressed by the way they spoke to me and I took to heart, from that very first meeting, their gentle reserved personalities. The twenty-six years I spent in Ballygraddy were the happiest years of my teaching career.
It was over a century old when I began teaching there. It was a typical country National Primary School, lacking the select conveniences that are common to the primary schools of today. Still, it had an aura of natural comfort, which was enhanced by the conduct of the pupils and the kindness and friendship of the parents.
The building, on account its age, had some drawbacks. For a time it was rat-infested and very often the playground was flooded. When I commenced teaching there, the enrolment was less than sixty pupils, but, it increased, rapidly reaching, eventually, the hundred plus enrolment. This made matters very difficult for a staff of only two teachers, until the school reached the average yearly attendance of ninety pupils, when a second assistant teacher was appointed.
We had many visits, of course, from School Inspectors. The children always impressed them. "What lovely children" was a remark made by one of the Inspectors. They also praised the school atmosphere, where the shared responsibility of the staff was a great asset to the disciplinary and academic, standards of the school.
Once, I was offered a teaching post in Dublin in the school, where I began my teaching career - a very well known school indeed, but, in spite of certain advantages attached to the offer, I decided not to leave Ballygraddy. I stayed with my roots, and with my many sincere friends in the parish of Kilbrin. My present home by the Lee has the name Kilbrin written, in bold lettering near the doorway - a tribute to the wonderful, happy memories of the years I spent there.
Before I conclude, I must mention the following episode re the school. Almost five years before Scoil Eoin Baiste, the new central parish school, was built in Kilbrin, I happened to visit Ballygraddy school on a Saturday. As I entered my room, I was shocked to behold the room in a semi-wrecked condition. The floor was covered with mortar, cross beams and broken rafters. The century plus aged timbers had, at last succumbed to its perished state. As I gazed on the unharmed picture of the Sacred Heart hanging over the mantelpiece, I muttered a simple Deo Gratias that the crash did not occur during school hours. Of course, the wreckage was cleared away and certain very vital repairs were done to the building, making it a safe and sound school once more.
Today, the old school house is silent. No more can be heard the hum of learning, or the laughter of children. It stands as a memento of the past. Let me say again - Thanks for those blissful memories of the days I spent under its roof as the Master.
Pádraig A. O'Riain
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