The Newry Technical College in the Sixties consisted of a number of different buildings scattered throughout the town centre. Sometimes while changing class the students also had to change buildings.
This entailed a walk across town to the appropriate building. As you can imagine, this was a lot of fun for the students but a nightmare for the staff. The system gave rise to all sorts of excuses as to why the students were late for class.
The girls of the Tech Pre-Nursing class B1 of 1968/9 had a secret they weren’t going to tell anyone, especially any of the teaching staff. The secret has been kept for thirty six years, but I think it’s high time the story was told. Sorry girls, but it had to break sometime!
The girls in the Pre-Nursing Group B1 were to have two classes of Anatomy and Physiology on Thursday afternoon. The classes were to be held in Victoria Buildings, Margaret Street. Even though the Technical College was always short on floor space, no other class was timetabled to use Victoria Buildings that afternoon. The Pre-Nursing Girls had the place all to themselves. Nothing unusual in that, you might say! But the strange thing was that by some administrative oversight, no teacher was timetabled to take the Pre-Nursing girls for that same afternoon. The girls were quick to catch on to this neglectful mix-up.
What were they to do about it?
Report the matter to the Principal?
They sat down quietly to read their books and discuss serious matters like the worsening situation in Vietnam post the Tet offensive, Alexander Dubcek and the Prague Spring of that time?
Like heck they did! They opened the windows, wolf-whistled and shouted down to all the young men passing by. Boy, did they enjoy themselves. I mean, we are speaking about seventeen year old girls here! The said young ladies knew that they could not persist with this behaviour as it would only attract unwelcome attention. The matter would eventually be reported to the Principal and so would end their good times.
The girls sat down and quietly talked amongst themselves about important things -like fashion and boys, make-up and boys, the Friday Night Dance, and of course, boys.
This state of affairs went on week after week and still the administrative staff at the College did not catch on. Two of these young ladies even had the brass neck to bring in a needle, thread, and other sewing implements and shorten the hem on their already very short skirts: so short did that hem end up that afterwards one of the teachers remarked,
‘M*******, is that a skirt, or a frill you are wearing?’
After all this was the permissive sixties: – the Beatles, Mary Quant and the Mini Skirt first time around.
I came to know of this situation from two of the girls who were particularly good friends of mine. They even invited me up to the classroom to introduce me to the rest of the girls, and to meet Henry.
‘Henry? Who’s Henry?’ I thought.
Were they not all girls in this class?
Henry, I concluded, must be some cool dude up there alone with all those young ladies. I accepted the invitation. This should be fun.
At that time I was the helper on a delivery truck. We delivered beer and spirits around the various pubs and clubs in the town. It wasn’t hard to convince the driver to time our delivery for the ‘Bit and Bridle’ to coincide with the girls’ time for their Victoria Buildings Anatomy class.
It was also easy to exchange with the two girls in the Bit and Bridle kitchen, a couple of bottles of Black Label Lager for a few hamburgers to take up to the Pre-Nursing girls. I mean I had to get some sort of edge on Henry! Didn’t I?
At the top of the stairs there were two girls, probably on sentry duty. They told me to go on in as I was expected. All the girls in the room were busily engaged at some task or other, brushing their hair, manicuring finger nails, or just gazing idly out the window: all, that is, except two, who were sitting down reading their books. We all sat around, chatted, ate the burgers and had a bit of a laugh. I raised the subject of Henry and asked of his whereabouts.
‘Is he not here today?’ I enquired. The girls looked amused.
‘Oh, he’s here all right. I don’t think Henry will be rushing off anywhere.’
Taking my hand one girl led me over to a corner of the room.
‘Henry, this is Martin; Martin meet Henry!’
There in the corner of the room stood Henry.
Would you believe it! Henry was the Anatomy class skeleton.
‘ Isn’t he lovely?’ said my escort.
‘Beautiful!’ I replied.
The girls all laughed.
‘Now Martin, don’t be jealous! Henry is our friend’.
I stayed a time with the girls of Class B1 Pre-Nursing, all of us talking and having a laugh – all except Henry, that is. He just stood quietly in the corner and kept his own company. After about a half hour or so, I had to take my leave of the girls. After all, I was still meant to be at work.
So it went on, week after week, unofficial free time for Pre Nursing B1. I do believe the girls managed to keep their secret and stretch the free class out, right to the end of the school year. I remember one day a few weeks after the incident I have mentioned above, that I had cause to be walking across Margaret Square. I heard my name been called. When I looked up, there were the girls of B1 waving and shouting down at me from the window of Victoria Buildings.
That was in early June, almost at the end of the School term. I am sure – and most men would agree with me – that if class B1 had been an all-boys class, then given the same situation, the lads would have almost certainly got offside. Gone A.W.O.L!
You would have found them down at the Flo or Dicks, having a bit of fun. They would have been reported, caught and the good times would have ended.
The female of the species are a lot more devious; they played it just right and kept their secret to the end.
Nice one, girls!
As far as I know, out of all the girls from class B1, two of them went on to become qualified Nurses [perhaps it was the two that were studying their books that day].
Who knows? The others, they are probably all married by now, with a family of their own and most likely scolding their own children for not attending to their school lessons.
As for Henry, he moved to the new Tech Building on Patrick Street when it opened later that year. He is most likely still there, standing quietly in the corner of some room deep within that complex of buildings now known as the Newry and Kilkeel Institute.
The Newry Technical College Buildings at that time were….
The Main Building on Bank Parade, now the Arts Centre
Victoria Buildings on Margaret Street, now the McGrath Centre.
Clanrye Building on Margaret Street, formally The Car Stands School [demolished.]
Courtney’s Restaurant occupies that site today.
The Commercial Building, Merchants Quay
There was another Building on the Downshire Road, beside the Court House
where the new Court extension has been built.
… boy soldiers …
… boy soldiers …