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‘The School’ brings classroom memories flooding back



Date Published: 19-Jan-2010

SOME say the acid test of a good movie is if it manages to transport you into the story itself – by that measure, The School, RTE’s new three-part series, ticks every box.

Because by the time you’re immersed in this fly-on-the-wall documentary on life in St Peter’s College in Dunboyne, those old classroom smells come flooding back – not to mention the visits to the Principal’s office, the parent/ teacher meetings, or the one-way exchanges with teachers in the corridors.

There is nothing sanitised about The School – and that’s its greatest strength. Luckily for Principal Eamon Gaffney and his staff, they don’t appear to have much to hide anyway, but it is the interfacing with pupils – particularly those in a spot of bother – that makes this addictive viewing.

The three part series follows the school year of 2009 with each week looking at a different term; settling back into school, the second term and, this week, preparing for exams.

It’s not just the producers themselves who are armed with cameras; the student cam provides an additional insight which – for those of us who are well past our classroom days – was fascinating.

And as you encounter each of the pupils profiled, you remember their dopplegangers from your own classroom all those years ago – the enthusiastic student who is putting his life and soul into the school musical, the wannabe rock star who is determined to push the parameters as far as possible, the Junior Cert girls trying to be older than they actually are.

Adam, lead singer in the band, appears to have been in more trouble than Noel Gallagher – and he’s not even out of school yet. Turning up for the school’s Open Day in casual attire almost cost Lumpy – as he’s known for fairly obvious reasons – his Leaving Cert.

But he gets a gig as understudy to Conor, driving force behind the school musical, who is fighting illness on the eve of the big event, leaving him to learn an entire score for We Will Rock You in just one week. Naturally, and it seems all too often in Lumpy’s life, Conor is back in time and the would-be rock star is confined to the wings again.

Saddest moment of the first episode was the return of St Peter’s most famous past pupil, a man who had the sporting world at his feet. But nobody was to know how quickly Darren Sutherland’s dream would turn to tragedy.

He was the epitome of a star; you could see it in the faces of the pupils themselves – not to mention the odd flirty teacher who wanted their picture taken while feeling Darren’s muscles – but he was also gracious with his time and advice and clearly left a lasting impression on those he came into contact with.

Celebrity appearance in week two came from award-winning author Sebastian Barry, who contributed to and launched the TY’s prizewinning book.

Eamon Gaffney, meanwhile, is ensuring that the Leaving Cert is made as user-friendly as possible for all students – from the high achievers to those struggled with the LCA. And clearly all are treated equally in an effort to reach their full potential.

Gaffney – a man who comes across as hard but fair – was apparently reluctant at first to open the doors of the school he built up from nothing 15 years ago.

But he felt his staff had nothing to hide, and that it was important for parents to see the commitment his staff gave to all of the students, to highlight the role they play in shaping well rounded individuals.

And it’s not all about the pupils either because the staff come out of this with reputations enhanced as well; they’re not the one dimensional shouter-of-facts from the top of the room that some of us probably thought they were.

Young teachers like Caroline Toole show that this is still a vocation, and a job they can do with a sense of humour – her early days were, she said, like a very tough apprenticeship where students spot the newcomer’s weak spots. Although it must be said that anyone who openly admits she looks forward to the buzz of sitting exams has to be slightly disturbed.

At the other end of the experience scale you have Robert Gannon, a teacher with 30 years of service, or deputy principal Maureen Murray, who seems preoccupied with students wearing their full uniform. Here’s a woman you wouldn’t want to end up on the wrong side of.

And in the end, what you find is indeed a good school with dedicated staff and well-rounded pupils – or at least as many of them as you might reasonably expect – all working together in a progressive atmosphere to restore our faith in a system that can still work after all.


Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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Archive News

Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup



Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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