Friday, January 20, 2012

What's it all about, anyway, 10?

Self-Knowledge and Compassion versus Self-Obsession

There's nothing as bad as a person who is self-obsessed or narcissistic, or even egotistic.  These posts are of the self-knowledge variety I hasten to add.  My preoccupations throughout this week have been work-related mainly and with preparations for the Vincent de Paul Party for the local old folks.  I have also been moved by the tragic loss of life to the sea, internationally and nationally, firstly of the people on a cruise off the coast of Italy due to the silliness of a Captain who should have known better and secondly of the Irish and Egyptian fishermen lost tragically to the vagaries of the sea here at home off the coast of Cork.  One could not fail to be moved by the media reports and the on-line testimonies of the survivors and relatives of those lost to the unforgiving sea. Also, I helped some students with big problems during the week which ranged from depression, consequent on the suicide of a close relative, to OCD and on to a session on grief counselling with a group of four young men who had lost their fathers over the last number of years. 

All of these things help to keep me real, lest I get lost in any form of self-obsession or even be touched with a little egotism.  As well as that, a former Deputy Principal of our school who has cancer and has had his left hip and leg removed from it, arrived into the school with €100 for our Vincent de Paul Party.  This man has never succumbed to his disease nor has he given in to riding in a wheelchair.  He still goes around on crutches and drives his automatic car.  How could one not fail to be touched by such wonderful kindness and such wonderful strength.  I've always loved Shakespeare's words which he places in the mouth of Miranda: in The Tempest, Act V, Scene I:
O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world!
That has such people in it!
I always feel like reciting these words when I am touched by all these wonderful as well as tragic events that occur in the wonderful, if at times cruel and painful, world.

Back to my Personal History

John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890)
Over the course of the 54 years which I have lived on this earth I don't think I have ever planned out my career with any definite specifics.  I always knew the direction that I would travel in, never the particular road.  Teaching, whether at second or third level always attracted me, never at primary.  I have done a little lecturing over the years on a very occasional basis at Third Level mainly in classroom practice and other school-related activities.  While working in the library in Orlagh, the Novitiate house of the Augustinian Order here Ireland I discovered the wonderful works of the great John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890).  I read his Oxford University Sermons, a must for any theologian or philosopher, and especially for any student of good English.  The beauty of Newman's prose is a joy to read and a singular pleasure to read aloud, even to oneself.  This is a habit I have long had ever since a child.  I used always read passages aloud from my schoolbooks if I liked them!  My late father used always laugh sympathetically at this peculiar habit of mine.  Another book I particularly relished, even though I admit I struggled through parts of it, was his wonderful Grammar of Assent.  I was equally enamoured of the great Cardinal's The Idea of a University which is a must for any would-be educationalist.  Consequently, the subject of my S.T.L. thesis would be the philosophical/theological thought of this great Victorian scholar.

Minor Break-Down, Minor Break-Through

Self, around 1985, some six months before I left the Augustinians
It's always the way; when one least expects it the body speaks.  While I was studying for my Master's I got sick several times with the flu or, at least with flu-like symptoms.  I also spent periods of several weeks sleepless.  Then somehow the sleep would return.  I went several times to the Doctor and was sent to a neurologist when my G.P. suspected something akin to ME at least or MS at worst.  However, our neurologist could find nothing wrong with my nervous system.  Concomitant with the rebellion of my body went a spiritual rebellion.  My student master noticed that I was considerably out of sorts and recommended that I take a break in a centre city parish where I had been happy previously during some pastoral experience.  While there I visited the sick and dying several times in the local flats.  Needless to say this was deeply moving work.  In the evening time I once again, as is my wont, escaped into the world of reading.  This time, as a break from more academic reading I read novel after novel, until one day I picked up the book The Last Battle about the fall of Nazi Germany at the hands of the Allies and the Russians.  It was written by Cornelius Ryan, (1920 – 1974) who was an Irish journalist, born in Dublin and who went to Synge Street School, another famous Christian Brother School.  He was a war correspondent and author mainly known for his writings on popular military history. 

Anyway, this wonderful book, The Last Battle  (1966) is about the Battle of Berlin.  It contains detailed accounts from all perspectives: civilian, American, British, Russian and German. It deals with the fraught military and political situation in the spring of 1945, when the forces of the Western Allies and the Soviet Union contended for the chance to liberate Berlin and to carve up the remains of Germany.  One evening, as I was tiring of reading, I left the book down just to muse on what I had read, and the following thought, which is as clear now in my head as then, occurred to me: "What am I doing here in Religious Life at all?"  When I took up the book to continue with the sorry saga of the fall of Berlin, I had already decided that I was leaving that way of life for good; that it was not my spiritual home at all.  As I have already written in a previous post, drawing on an image from the famous twentieth century sociologist Peter Berger, that the person is truly integrated who has found himself to be truly at home in his own mind.   Unfortunately, I wasn't at home then, at all, in my own mind. I realised on that fateful evening, while reading Cornelius Ryan's wonderful book, that I, too, had fought my last battle in Religious Life.  Nothing remained for me, but to go forward into different pastures, continue on my personal journey to God knows where.

From this distance - some 26 or more years later - I realise after much reflection and discernment that during my last year with the Augustinians that I had undergone a minor nervous breakdown, that what I was suffering from was clinical depression, with which I would be diagnosed years later at the significant age of forty.  However, minor breakdown that it was, it was, also, a minor break-through into the deep down world of the soul.  As I have learned in the years since then, it often takes the body to speak loudly to us in order to hear what the soul is saying at all.  And sometimes those who fail to heed the soul are often hit with the most weighty of crosses.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

And what's it all about, anyway, 9?

Moving On

Life is about moving on, if not physically, at least emotionally and spiritually.  Indeed, one of the central metaphors used for life is, of course, that of making a journey which is a central motif in all cultures and religions.  Our lives have many beginnings and endings before the final and ultimate one that marks our exit from the world.  We all know when we have out-stayed our time in a particular place or job.  Now, given that there are no over-riding circumstances like family commitments, unlikely hope of getting a job etc., we can all "call it a day"  with any particular job and move on to other gainful employment.  In January 1983 that was how I felt.  I was not at ease in O'Connell School, mainly because I still felt I was a mere boy and a mere pupil because most of the teachers who had taught me were still there.  Admittedly this was my problem, not theirs at all.  It was I who still felt "inferior," and no doubt I was lacking in confidence.  It was time to move on and I knew it.

The Call of Religious Life

Self bottom right on day of reception into OSA - days of innocence and Hair!
It does not surprise me that I felt drawn to the Religious Life as I was always a spiritual sort of person anyway.  As well as that I was highly idealistic and I loved working at shared tasks.  All of these things meant that it was the sense of shared ideals in a community setting that attracted me.  I had never ever been keen on being a diocesan priest.  In fact the things a priest did like saying Mass or administering the sacraments were not necessarily things that attracted me in themselves.  What attracted me was the spiritual journey towards God made together in a community setting.  If this involved doing all those priestly things, then so be it.  Anyway, I did a weekend with the Jesuits and another with the Augustinian Order, and I chose the latter because of its family emphasis.  Indeed the Augustinians spoke traditionally of the Familia Augustiniarum, or the Augustinian Family.  The Jesuits were more individual in orientation and emphasized study.

During my time in this order, some three years, I spent two in preparation for entry into that lifestyle - a period of time called the novitiate or noviceship.  These two years were spent mainly in prayer and reflection and study.  We also had to do community based work like cooking breakfast and tea, and only on rare occasions dinner.  We also had to look after the guest rooms, wash the dishes, do one's own laundry and so on.  As well as that we worked outdoors - collecting apples in the orchard, fixing fences, gathering up the fallen autumnal leaves and more besides.  All of this allowed me to read widely in Theology, Spirituality and English.  It was also then that I began to write my own poetry in English solely. (I have since given up penning poems in English, preferring to compose solely in Gaelic these days.)

Feeling Needed

Me at Christmas dinner, 1983.
There is something deep within us - a really deep personal need to be needed by others.  I was 25 years of age when I left teaching to join this new way of life and I was 28 when I left it.  While there I did many rewarding things and I learnt more in those three years about myself than I had done in the seven years previous years I had spent studying at third level.  There were eight or so other students in the house, mostly all in their late teens or early twenties.  However, one was older than me, a former solicitor who was trying out religious life like myself.  This gentleman was a wonderful man called James Scally, who left after three years also, joined The Red Cross for a number of years, did some service with them overseas and eventually became a District Court Judge.  Unfortunately Jim died all too young in May 2009 at just 66 years of age. (A tribute can be read here: Argus).  I ended up being the main driver for my fellow students going to college and for other sundry trips.  I also looked after one old Augustinian who was ill and I was often tasked with taking him to the Doctor's surgery or to the hospital.  All in all I enjoyed the camaraderie of my fellow students, the spiritual direction of my Novice Master who was himself a trained psychologist.  We would have had to see this person once a month, and it was then, in a sense, that I got used to being, if you like, "in therapy."

After two years in the novitiate I went to the student house which was then in Ballyboden.  I decided that given that I had already got a degree in theology that I should go on and inscribe for the degree of S.T.L. (Sacrae Theologiae Licentiatus or Licentiate in Sacred Theology).  I met with the wonderful scholar Fr. Martin McNamara, D.S.S., Ph. D. the then Dean of theology.  Martin was/is a wonderful scholar, a linguist and exegete of international reputation especially with the Targums. [A targum is an Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) written or compiled from the Second Temple period until the early Middle Ages (late first millennium)].  Needless to say he would know all the Biblical languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek as well as being fluent in Gaeilge and German.  He was keen that I inscribe for the S.T.L. and he even remembered having taught me at Mater Dei some five years previously.  It was also through Martin that I got my first experience of lecturing.  He invited me to talk on The Book of Job and the Literature of the Absurd for his evening Gaelic lectures at Milltown Institute.  And so I prepared a long two-hour talk called in Irish, Leabhar Iób agus Litríocht na Díchéille, the Irish version of the English title given in  the previous sentence.

Being a man of humility who wore his learning very lightly Martin showed up at my lecture and listened quietly.  At the end he said to me that it was of such a good quality that it should be published in Irisleabhar Mhá Nuad, which indeed it was sometime in 1987.  This was my first major publication in the Irish language.  I will always be thankful to this learned and humble gentleman for encouraging me academically and for getting me into print in Irish.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

And what's it all about, anyway 8?

Wonderful Lecturers

Self with Noel Brosnan at a debs in 1977: we were both in 1st Year, M.D.I
We had many wonderful lecturers but the one who stood out by virtue of his passion for life and for his subject as well as for his erudition and eloquence was the late Denis Carroll, D.D.  Now Denis was a priest at the time, but he later left to marry a woman he had met in one of the parishes in which he ministered.  He was a brilliant theologian who in later life and as a layman lectured in Trinity College Dublin.  He also wrote several books in the areas of both theology and history, and many learned articles.  As well as a brilliant theologian he was an able historian.  He also had a mastery of languages: German, French, Italian and Latin.  Needless to say, he was widely read in literature, too.  He was the first to introduce me to the writings of Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768 – 1834), the German theologian and philosopher.  He also did courses with us on evolution and how through the work and thought of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ (1881 – 1955), the French paleontologist and mystic this could be reconciled with Christian thinking; on Bernard Lonergan SJ, another formidable Catholic thinker and a memorable course of lectures on the theological thought of yet another brilliant Jesuit philosopher and theologian Karl Rahner (1904-1984).  However, it is his series of lectures on the thought of the French Catholic philosopher Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973) that really inspired me to go on to read other works by this great philosopher.

There were other wonderful lecturers from those years like Rev.Michael Paul Gallagher, S.J., then a lecturer in English literature in UCD.  He did both English and Theology with us.  He gave us a series on lectures on the novels of Saul Bellow, D.H. Lawrence and E.M. Forster, all novelists whom I really loved reading.  In the area of theology he covered modern unbelief upon which he had written his doctorate in Queen's University, Belfast.  He has a lovely site on the Web, which can be viewed here: MPG.  Of course, there was also the wonderful and unassumingly clever philosopher, Rev Patrick Carmody, M.A., M.Phil., about whose influence I have written on many occasions in these pages.  He had a wonderful mind and was widely read in philosophy.  It was he who introduced me to possibly my most favourite author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Physical Fitness

I had better make at least a passing reference to physical fitness.  I had never been good at team sports.  In fact I was atrocious at them.  One of the reasons I could never read a soccer game properly when I was playing was because I was short-sighted.  At primary school I was always a substitute player and one that never got called on to play.  Once when I did play, I remember a Bro. Casey, who reffing the match, calling me a "jelly bean."  What he meant by it I don't know, but I took it to refer to my awkwardness.  However, luckily I always had some ability at racket sports and was able to play to play, and did play for a short number of years tennis, badminton, squash and table tennis.  In fact I was tolerably good at badminton and table tennis.

However, I remember a fellow Mater Dei student, one John Cunningham, a strong and gifted footballer, encouraging me to at least tog out for training with the Mater Dei soccer team, which was singularly lacking in men in those days.  Over the four years I think I may have played at most two or three times when someone was badly injured.  However, the twice weekly training did mean that I got fit.  In fact I enjoyed it and it did manage to keep my sinusitis somewhat at bay.  As an educator I have always subscribed to the concept of "mens sana in corpore sano."

These days I try to get to the gym twice a week in order to keep down my weight as I am on medication for my blood pressure and my cholesterol.  Thankfully since I have reduced my weight by a stone my blood pressure has come down indeed.  I am also fully conscious that I need to shed at least another half stone. 

The World of Work and More Study

Self with Mum and Dad when I was conferred with my B.A., 1983
It was indeed good to get to work after four years of study.  Being always work-driven and something of a dedicated student, I also inscribed for a B.A. degree at night in UCD.  How I did that, I don't know.  But I was young, a mere 22 years of age.  An old Christian brother said to me, wisely, "Listen lad, Religion is a hard subject to teach.  You'll never spent a lifetime at it.  Go out to UCD and do Mathematics and Irish in the B.A."  And that's what I did.  I had always been at the top of my class in Gaeilge/Irish so studying it was never onerous.  I was a fairly good C Honours student - never A or even B mind you - and I had to work hard at the Maths.  However, after three years I did manage to obtain my degree at Pass level - as no Honours degree was then possible at night time.  In those years there were two separate courses at UCD for some reason (indeed in all the NUI colleges, I believe) - a Pass B.A. course and an Honours B.A. course, and they only ever offered the pass degree at night.  Nowadays, it is the one degree course and you either honour it or pass it, which makes perfect sense to me at this distance.  I never did now why this early differentiation of courses was made.  Overall, I was a happy man as I now was qualified to teach Religion, English, Irish and Mathematics all to Leaving Certificate standard in Secondary School.  I was even qualified to teach history to Junior Certificate, given that I had taken History in first arts in UCD.  Seven long years of hard work and study, but very well worth it as I had a very broad command of general subjects.

Looking back on my life, my first three years teaching were a trial for me.  I was young and inexperienced and far too idealistic.  As well as that, I had too many irons in the fire to be a really good teacher - spending every evening travelling by bus - two buses at that - out to UCD for lectures and not getting home until at least 11.00 p.m. after a hard day's work in the classroom.  In those years I found discipline quite a hard task.  In hindsight ,I believe I was a poor teacher then, but on the plus side I learnt much from my mistakes.  I have known a few people in my time in the various schools in which I have since taught never to have learnt much from their experiences, as they went on unhappily making the same mistakes over and over again.  Teaching is a profession which requires the teacher to think about how to handle classes, to reflect on where he or she went wrong in handling student X, Y or Z, and it is also a job which means that one must try new approaches all the time as the world changes its emphases.  It also requires one to "connect" with the class - never an easy thing to do.  However, over the years, I have watched those teachers who had the art of "connection" and have learnt from them.  Another way of saying this would be to say that a good teacher has "presence," or indeed "fills" the classroom to put it metaphorically.  These days I feel at home in my classroom and I like to feel that I "fill" it.  Also, it does help if the teacher has a sense of humour as young people like that, and also it is a good tension reliever which can defuse possible conflict situations.  Lastly, it pays to have a command of one's subject, to know what you are doing, to know the curriculum and examination system inside out.  Now, after some thirty years or so in the classroom, I do some preparation for class, though not the level to which they expect it on H. Dip. Ed. or P.G.C.E. courses.  However, I have always believed in preparation as the old adage puts it: I have long believed that if we fail to prepare we prepare to fail.

I taught in my first school, Scoil Uí Chonaill (where I had been a pupil myself) for a period of three years.  I taught mostly Religion, but I also taught one class Mathematics and another Junior Certificate French.  I had always a facility with languages, French and Irish having been two of my highest scoring subjects in my own Leaving Certificate.  The Headmaster, the wonderful Bro Loughran, CFC, knew I had been a good French scholar and asked me to take that class to Intermediate Certificate level.  I truly enjoyed the experience.  This would not be allowed today as a teacher is not allowed teach a subject in which he or she is not qualified, and rightly so.

Teaching in O'Connell's (Scoil Uí Chonaill) was a good experience professionally, though personally it was rather trying for me because I felt as if I was still a pupil as all my old teachers were then still on the staff.  I know it was my own personal problem insofar as that was the way I felt, probably being way too shy, and not at all self-confident enough to really call my former teachers colleagues.  And so I moved on after three years at the bosom of my alma mater, feeling a somewhat neglected child who never did get quite sufficiently well fed at her all too cold breast. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What's it all about, anyway 7?

Starting Out on Life

Self upon graduation, October, 1980
I was eighteen years of age when I entered college to study to be a teacher of English and Religion.  A four year course stretched out ahead of me as I entered the hallowed gates of Mater Dei Institute of Education in 1976.  I remember remarking to myself that I had a long way to go until I would graduate.  When one is young the years always appear to drag, but now that I'm older they appear to fly.  A friend of mine remarked at a recent gathering for the New Year that this was quite logical because after all when one is four years of age a year is a quarter of your life, but at fifty a mere fiftieth.  This was not a surprising comment for Joe to make as he is a mathematician of distinction and an engineer by profession.  On reflection, this was a singularly good observation.

During my first month or so at College I got offered a job as an Executive Officer in The Irish Civil Service, having attained the marvellous distinction of coming 32nd place in that exam in the country.  I remember my father encouraging me to take this job as it was paid well and had great promotional prospects.  However, as I had always dreamed of being a teacher and as I really loved the college where I was, I decided to stay put and study.  I felt that a third level degree would give me a better, or at least a more personally satisfying start in life.

Range of Subjects

Mater Dei at the time was very broadminded, and really did not push the orthodoxy of the Roman Catholic Church too much.  The then Director of Studies was Rev. Dr. Patrick Wallace, just recently returned from C.U.A. with his doctorate.  This man was a visionary in the true sense of the word, a sort of mystic to boot, who always maintained that asking questions was better than offering simplistic answers.  He maintained that even if one did not get a good answer, one often ended up with a better question.  The hierarchical church did not impinge too much on his intellect, his spirit or his sensibilities.  We studied many different subjects at the time, though not all to degree level of course.  We did Philosophy, Moral Theology, Systematic/Dogmatic Theology, Scripture, Education, Religious Education, Liturgy, English Literature, Drama, Creative Writing, and Rhetorical Composition (Rhetoric and Composition).  The range of subjects and lecturers was broad which led this student to appreciate Newman's idea of a liberal education.  Indeed, I believe I truly learnt how to think in Mater Dei.  Our ultimate degree after four years was called a Bachelor of Religious Science and was awarded from NUI Maynooth, the University with which Mater Dei was linked at the time.  The subjects I majored in were Religious Education, Education and English Literature.  The above list of subjects were subsets if you like of Religious Education.  Indeed one Scripture scholar Rev Dr. Michael Maher gave us an introductory course to Hebrew.  Years later I also studied Biblical Greek in Milltown Institute. Being introduced to such a diversity of subjects not alone made us think, but also made us very broadminded, I believe.

High Points, Low Points and Peak Experiences

There were several high points during my time at college.  One was being elected student representative in fourth year college when the recognition for our new degree was coming through.  We were the first class through Mater Dei to have been conferred with a degree - before that there was a diploma only.  Another was being chosen to reply to the Archbishop's commencement speech.  Again meeting various inspirational lecturers and speakers like Michael Paul Gallagher, S.J. were also high points, or even being "moved" on a spiritual retreat.  Another was being published in several theological journals under the guiding hand of our Rhetorical Composition lecturer Fr. Bernard Kelly, CSSP, D.D., D.Litt.  It was he who truly gave me the writing bug that led to my eventually publishing many articles in various journals over the last thirty or more years.  These were all high points, but there were low points too.  Other highs were the many supportive relationships we had with one another, given that the college was so small.

One of the lowest points was the suicide of one of my classmates - a lovely girl named Paulene in her 21st year.  She was quite a gifted student.  Another low was the death by traffic accident of two college students returning from a badminton match.

Some (or all) of these experiences enumerated above could be called "peak experiences" (depending of course on the depth of the person's apprehension of the experience, or religious/spiritual outlook) which is a term coined by the great psychologist Abraham Maslow in his 1964 work Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences"Peak experience" is a term used to describe certain transpersonal and ecstatic states, particularly ones tinged with themes of euphoria, harmonization and interconnectedness. Participants characterize these experiences, and the revelations imparted therein, as possessing an ineffably mystical and spiritual (or overtly religious) quality or essence.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

What's it all about, anyway 6?

On Acquiring a Course and a Compass

Self all dressed up for my debs, Oct. 1977
I have been a Bob Dylan fan for the last forty years or more ever since my brother Gerard bought his then latest LP.  The old rocker's songs run to hundreds if not thousands at this stage and each song can be read as a poem, for Bob is as much a poet as he is a song writer.  His lyrics are nothing short of brilliant.  Anyway, one of the things we desperately need in life is direction.  I have already written in a more recent post about being lost and quoted in full William Blake's short lyric Little Boy Lost.  When we are growing up, especially in our teens and early twenties, one of the pressing concerns any of us has is finding our direction in life.  Indeed, it is so easy to lose one's direction, to go off course, and worse still to founder on the rocks of our own destruction.  Anyway, I have always liked these lines from Dylan's song Like a Rolling Stone which refer to being lost:

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone ?

Existentially, I think we all know only too well what its like to be rootless, lost, unanchored - call it what you will.  Needless to say, very few of us know what it is like to be homeless in the literal sense without a roof over our heads.  Writers like George Orwell in Down and Out in Paris and Jack Kerouac in his famous On the Road wrote from personal experiences of homelessness to great effect because their reflections were based on lived experience.  But, it is to the existential sense of alienation and rootlessness that I am referring here.  What we need, then, is some kind of compass to keep us on a steady course.  We also need someone to point out to us what course we should follow.

What Course should we follow in Life?

This is a hard question for anyone in life.  Some people are very lucky in finding a career which is essentially their vocation and a job they truly love.  When I left primary school as a young boy just gone thirteen years of age, I knew that I wanted to do one thing only in life and that was be a teacher.  If, good reader, you have been reading these more recent posts you will have learnt that I was lucky to have had two wonderful primary school teachers - one, a Mr. Murray and the other an equally old man, called Seán Ó Sé.  Both of them had teaching down to a fine art, and learning was so easy under their skilled tutelage.   Outside the fact that I wanted to do what they had done for me - to make learning and the love for learning easy for others - was all I knew as a little boy. 

Ireland in the 1970s was beginning to throw off, albeit slowly, the chains of repression whether of the State or of the Church or of a very conservative Society.  The Roman Catholic Church still gave/gives good guidance in social policies and in looking after the poor, though its moral teaching on matters concerning sexual issues was/is, to say the least, arcane, if not silly and injurious, especially to women.  Be that as it may, the Church did lay down good parameters of general behaviour.  At this stage in my life as a non-practising Catholic of more than twelve years now, I still admit that much of what I learned from the Church did give me a sense of direction in life, even if I did abandon it in later years.  My point here is, that as a youngster, one needs to look to others like parents, teachers, youth leaders, trainers to have some sense of a course in life.  Otherwise, one is rudderless.  As a youngster one has no other option but to follow the lights of direction given by these adults.  In the years since I have followed my own lights, but only when I had been given the stabilising assistance of my elders.  A friend of mine puts it well when he says: "I have always brought my children to Mass on a Sunday as I wished to give them some symbols in life, some sense of mystery, some sense of ritual even if they go on to reject that religion.  They have to have something to reject, I feel.  Otherwise they'll be totally lost!" 

And so you could say we were educated well academically.  I did my Intermediate Certificate as it was then called through the medium of Irish or Gaeilge, and my Leaving Certificate though English, because in 1974 the Christian Brothers no longer had enough teachers able to teach all subjects through Irish. I did well academically and learnt much under the watchful eyes of wonderful teachers.  I cannot think of one dud teacher we had at secondary.  Perhaps, the best teacher we ever had was a  Bro Martin Collins who taught us Mathematics and Latin.  Practically all us us got an A in both subjects in our exams.  To this day I owe my deep knowledge of both subjects to this wonderful teacher.  I also maintain that my facility with languages such as Italian and French is due to the fact that my knowledge of Latin was so well acquired.

I have got to admit that I did not enjoy secondary school as well as I had primary school. That was because every youngster who leaves primary school leaves the watchful and caring eye of one teacher and then is "subjected" to a system where s/he has some ten different teachers during the course of any one week, and perhaps at least eight different teachers a day.  The secondary school pupil now has some ten different captains on his ship of education, if I may use a rather tortured metaphor here.  Hence, it is easy to be confused and confounded as regards which leader to follow, which course to steer one's ship by.

Self as a student, about 19 or 20
When I was a secondary school pupil, life was painted in a very black and white way by society and by the church.  There were few options of career unlike today, and there was precious little variety of courses to follow at university.  Anyway, to cut a long story short, I did well in my Leaving Certificate and accepted a scholarship to college from the Christian Brothers to study English and Religion (Theology) in Mater Dei Institute of Education, and then return to my alma mater to teach.  I was also accepted for courses in St Patrick's, Dromcondra for Primary school teaching, UCD for Science and also for Arts and Trinity College Dublin for Medicine.  Now, I hated the sight of blood and did not want to be a doctor, so that ruled that one out.  I certainly would have accepted UCD, but given that my parents would not have had the money to pay for me there, that ruled that one out, too. Then, given that my fees would be paid for the four years at Mater Dei and that I really wanted to be a teacher, and that  I was guaranteed a job at the end of my college career, then that was the course that was somehow the only one I could possibly follow. 
To be continued