First Day at School

My thanks to old friend and Meadow man Mark Byrne (formerly of Ballinlare Gardens, now living with his wife (daughter of Peter and Phyllis McCann of Derrybeg Drive) and children in California, who sent me an encouraging email this week.

In response, I offer the following early Meadow recollections. Mark is a full generation younger than me and in the interim the Meadow school, St Patrick’s, right outside his door, was built. And not a nun in sight!


What is your earliest memory?


Well, I could be mistaken, but I seem to have a faint memory as a child in a pram being left outside the last shop in Hill Street, just facing Andy Boyds.  (Russell Boyd, the owner passed away this week). That other is a charity shop today.

As soon as Mum vanished on her errand, I was convinced I was being abandoned forever and I instantly set to bawling at the top of my voice. This was intended to bring her running back but instead it had the most terrible effect: almost at once a constant stream of dubious-looking characters, all female, with faces made of lipstick and not much else, assembled to peer and coo at me.

Some even reached in to touch me (ugghh!!).  

‘Ah, it’s all right! Mummy will soon be back’, they assured –

as if THEY knew!

I can tell you that when she DID return, I let mum know what for: I didn’t quit my roaring until we were safely back in The Meadow. That taught her!

My next memory is of my first day at school, that being St Joseph‘s Primary School in Edward Street. Yes, it IS a girls’ school but then the Abbey Primary was still new and catered in Primaries 1-4 only for the male children of the South Ward. We of the West Ward – and indeed the generation of boys before us from our side of town, and some of the following generation too – had to serve an apprenticeship of four years in Edward Street before transferring to the Abbey to prepare for the 11+ (I had John McEvoy as teacher there in Primaries 6 and 7, thank goodness, for with a lesser teacher I’d never have passed that exam to gain entry to the Abbey Grammar).

The Primary 1 teacher in St Joseph‘s was a reluctant nun (as most of them seemed to be) who despised children. Even today (and even among her surviving fellow nuns) she is known as the hair-pulling nun: if your hair was too short, she made do with an ear-lobe.

Our class was known as ‘baby infants’. That moniker didn’t restrain her one bit in her hair-pulling activities!

I do not recall the name of the Primary 2 teacher (but anything was an improvement and my lack of recollection bodes well for the lady [they were all female]): then there was Biddy Magee (Primary 3) and finally Sister Mac Cool Lata.

She was an enormous, fierce tank of a woman in flowing black robes who sported, about the place where her ankles should have been – if she had ankles, that is –  a fearsome-looking cross at the end of a rosary chain that was suspended from her midriff (she had no waist!).  She never actually used it against us children, that I recall, but you were certain it was there as a weapon of last resort! 

‘Cool’ she certainly wasn’t!

But I was telling you of my first day at school.

Mum must have remembered the earlier time I had embarrassed her in the town for she failed to accompany me on my first day to school.

I was unceremoniously pushed on to an enormous green bus just a few yards from our home, with a leather satchel that was much larger than me and that contained a lunch (jam sandwiches – ‘you can drink the water in the toilets’).

I was on my own …


…. more later ….

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