I recently came upon this memoir of an Irish exile from Moortown, Tyrone settled in Canada. It is of special interest to me as the author may be of my extended family – my own grandfather came down the Newry Canal a century ago from Moortown. It was thirty years later that the family concerned left Ireland for Canada. I am confident that his writing will strike a chord with our many reluctant exiles in North America and perhaps Australia too.
If not I shall desist after this entry: if so, you can have much more!
‘The only school in the district was a one-room elementary protestant school two miles from our house. I think our parents were somewhat reluctant to send us to a Protestant school but keeping up with our ‘larnin” was considered more important than religious persuasion, so off we went, Sally and I!
My first impression of the school was not very positive. Stuck in the corner of a section, surrounded by seemingly endless fields of wheat, oats and barley and without another building in sight, it appeared small and insignificant in comparison with the school in far-off Moortown. I felt here at last was something I could brag about because up to now Canada‘s vastness had dwarfed everything in my previous experience.
The most important lesson I learned here was not from textbooks. I was taken aback when the first thing the class did in the morning was to stand and recite the ‘Our Father’, or the Lord’s Prayer, as they called it. I had always thought it the exclusive property of Catholics and moreover, this was the first time I had heard it recited by anyone who was not kneeling! The class however did not make ‘the sign of the cross’ (we’d say ‘Bless themselves!’) or recite the Hail Mary. For the first few mornings I crossed myself at the commencement of the Pater Noster but as this gesture attracted a lot of curious glances, I soon gave it up.
My teacher, a novice herself, was young and in her first school. Miss Munroe asked what grade I had been in in Ireland. I told her we didn’t have grades in Ireland. Every head turned as if to denounce such a retrograde system! It might have been my Irish accent as well. I explained in Ireland we went by ‘forms’ and I would have been in fourth form there. I felt important standing to deliver this little speech. It was the first time in my life I was the centre of attention and aware of it. I enjoyed the feeling and the fact that I was imparting knowledge that no one else present knew. The teacher said she had no idea what stage of development fourth form represented but I seemed smart enough so she would start me off in fourth grade.
I thought she was nice and that we would get along together.’