School Days, — June 5, 2010 10:44 — 0 Comments

Carstands Education

Those devoted men of the Christian Brothers – in that red-brick Carstands School of a century ago – gave us a marvellous education for practically nothing!

The school fees, ranging from twopence to sixpence a week, were collected in a chalk box. As far as I know, this (and the proceeds of an annual sermon and a concert) was all the resources available to them. In that old building we read Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, Tennyson, Scott, Macauley, R L Stevenson, Defoe, Goldsmith, Addison, Bacon and Dickens. 


If there were any educational events in town, we were brought. We attended a matinee performance in the Town Hall of ‘The Merchant of Venice’. It was our text book that year. I remember for a week after at play, the catch cry would be,


‘If I can catch him once upon the hip,

I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him.’


We especially liked the French author Prosper Merimee and his thrilling tale of Corsican vendetta Columba. Both the all-boys class and the male Brothers seemed to take delight in the blame allotted to the villain of the piece, a woman!


Moliere’s ‘Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme’ was our play one year. We learned Irish from O’Gowney and Joyce’s Grammar which was liberally illustrated from Celtic literature.


Dr Douglas Hyde once came to Newry and presented prizes for Gaelic speaking to the Kirwan family. We went through four of his fine western folk tales at school and also translated his ‘Fate of the children of Usnagh,’


We read German tales too : Grimms Marchen for example; others were by Paul Heyse: The Virago dealt with a lunch-hour incident on the Isle of Capri: of this, another story of our own …


We would walk the town in groups of friends, as all youth do and one day my friends and I saw a short-story magazine on sale in Magowan’s window in Hill Street. The contents were listed on the cover and The Virago (clearly already translated to English) was one of them. 


P R Boyd, John McMahon and me ‘bunched up’ and purchased it for four pence halfpenny and afterwards used it as a ‘cog’ . 


Brother Dempsey was mystified at the fluency of our rendition of this tale to English and went so far as to complement us on our style. 


Our Irish history was by Joyce. One of our English history text-books was written, I believe, by Brother Dempsey himself. It told us of some royal bon-vivant who was drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine and of another who died dyspeptically as a result of eating ‘a surfeit of lampreys’. That history told us that King John was ‘mean, avaricious and cruel’ and that about hits it!


We also read – unofficially – Arthur Griffith’s ‘The Resurrection of Hungary’.


… more later …

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