Ballygraddy in the Forties

The forties were my years of scholarship in Ballygraddy. They were the war and post-war years, times of scarcity, cold comforts and plenty of foot-slogging. Money was scarce — we were fortunate if we had a penny or tuppence in our pockets.

In those days, anyone who could produce a tanner was rich, If you had a bob, well, you could almost buy out all the Blackjacks or Bullseyes at Bob Mac's or Molly Baker’s. There were few comforts and no luxuries, just the basic necessities of life - warm clothes, a pair of strong nailed boots, a few slices of home-made bread and a bottle of milk in the bag and that was it. Of course the summer sun saw the boots discarded and we tripped along lightly on bare feet. Great pride was taken in being the first to appear barefoot, that was the signal for the others to follow suit.

Of course, there was no electricity, no central heating and no running water in those days. At school, there was just the fireplace in each classroom, which was carpeted over with moss during the milder seasons. In winter, it gave out just enough heat to defrost the teacher’s toes and take the cold sting out of the bottles of milk, that stood around it like sentries on guard until it was time for lunch.

My route from Ballynoe to Ballygraddy was partly "to school through the fields". It was through the fields from Ballynoe to the Kilbrin road. Then from there to Ballygraddy via the Glibe field and Connell’s Glen field. These were short-cuts when weather permitted and the going was fair to middling. There was no shortage of company on the way.

We had the Sullivans all the way from Corbally — Maggie, Bill and Seanie in my time. Theirs was a long-tailed family like my own, except they were at the end and I was at the beginning. Then we had Noreen and Eileen Hartnett, Kathleen Murphy (before she got the bike), and the three Dennehys, Tim, Pat and Breeda, from down Dromineen way. We had Mary Jones and myself, Denis and Eily and the other Riordans, who ‘came on stream’ from Ballynoe. On top of the hill we were joined by Joannie and John Joe and a little later the Breens. There was a bit of a gap until we came to the graveyard where Noel and Mary Corkery joined us. In those days, my young mind could never fathom how they could sleep in a house right up against the graveyard, but I’ve no doubt they did. Next, we joined the troops from the Slate Houses, - the Connells, Heffernans, Mahonys and Donie Singleton and that, more or less, completed our company. On we marched, passing Mrs. Roche’s house at a brisk pace and looking the other way, in case she would be on her way out and invite someone to walk with her.

At the school, we were joined by scholars from east and west. From the east came the Cushins, the Hayes’ and the Fields; from the west, the two Higgins from Ballyheen Piers, the Duanes from Clash, who were the envy of all, because, they were the first to come on bicycles. Maybe Kathleen Murphy was before them, but, she was wise enough to park her bike at Nora J’s - the boys of Ballygraddy would be only too happy to road-test it for her! From that side also came the Haugh s, Pat Murphy, the Bucks, the Grendells an then the Greenhallers - Jimmy and Mary Neenan, Mary and Kathleen Moriarty.

I’m sure I have forgotten many. The old memory fails at times. But, I take a great relish in just recalling these names. After all, school is more than just a place. School is children, youngsters who are joined together by a very special bond of friendship and loyalty, a bond that somehow lasts forever, even though, ways may part and some may never see each other again.

During my time in Ballygraddy, three classrooms were in use, the two upstairs and one downstairs. Mrs. Roche was principal, when I started. She taught the senior classes. Her teaching career ended when I was in third class, — to the joy and delight of at least some of the scholars. Looking back from an adult perspective, I’m sure most would agree that she was an excellent teacher. But, she was also a product of her time, when corporal punishment was ‘par for the course’. Her favourite weapon, a half pointer, was in pretty constant use. So, pupils emerged from her classes with ‘good marks’, if not on paper, definitely on hands, buttocks or legs !!!!!

She was assisted by the ever-faithful, dedicated and long-serving Miss McDonnell. She taught infants, first and second classes. I remember her with affection and gratitude.

Other assistants came and went during my school days. We had Mr. Hickey, Mr. Murphy, Miss Mackessey and others.

But, I must give pride of place to ‘The Master’, who succeeded Mrs. Roche as Principal, - the man from Lios Ui Cearrabhail, tall, dark and handsome, spitting out the Gaeilge like a ‘Cainteór Dúchais’, interested in everything Irish and in all that pertained to home and family life in rural Ireland, an tUasal Pádraig O'Riain. He started in Ballygraddy in my time and came to be revered and loved as ‘The Master’, both in school and in the community, for almost the next forty years. It was during his time as Principal that the school moved from Ballygraddy in the valley to the village on the hill.

But, Ballygraddy remains my Alma Mater. The school building still stands, now looking rather decrepit and forlorn, almost hidden beneath the overhanging trees. Every time I pass that way, my mind takes a trip down memory lane. I like to remember the scholars of my time, - those I sat beside in those classrooms and played with or fought with in the school yard. Thankfully some of them are still around. Others have moved away to God knows where. A few have, already, completed life’s journey and have been called home. May they all rest in peace.

Now, as I look back on those days with more than a touch of nostalgia, that old saying, which no child can ever believe, seems to be true. ‘School days are the happiest days of your life’.

Success to the reunion. Special greetings and good wishes to the scholars of my time. Sorry to miss meeting you all.

May I conclude with this true story. Let’s call it ‘The Cigire’. One day when I was in first class the Cigire came to examine us. His name was Mr. Wall - I remember it well ! He approached me and said, as it sounded in my ears. "Go down to the blackbird”. But I didn’t move. He repeated it two or three times, but, I remained glued to my seat, while Miss Mac made threatening faces from behind his back. Eventually he gave up on me and moved on to someone else. But as soon as he left the room Miss Mac, brandishing her stick, made straight for me.

Why didn’t you go out to the BLACKBOARD when the Cigire asked you ?" "BLACKBOARD, BLACKBOARD !!!" It was only then that it registered in my poor mind, but too late. The stick was already in action - two on each palm !!

I’ve often wondered what would have happened if I had got up and left the room.


Fr. John O’Riordan C.Ss.R.

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