Golden Memories – A Leaving Cert student of 1966

                                  

               Aoibhinn beatha an scoláire, Bhíos ag déanamh léinn

                Is follas díbh, a dhaoine, Gur dó is aoibhne in Éirinn

The unknown author of that famous Gaeilge poem could not foresee what the life of boarding school students in a financially starved West of Ireland college in the historic year of 1966 could be like. That being said, we survived and now a teacher of 2016 telephones and asks, Do you remember much about Colaiste Éinde or St Enda’s College in 1966 ?   Will I ever forget it says I !

Nationally, 1966 was a year of great celebrations as the Irish State celebrated the Golden Jubilee of the 1916 Easter Rising. It was truly a historical occasion. History on a much lesser scale was created by the 30 students who sat the leaving certificate examination of 1966 in Colaiste Éinde.  This was the first ever class to undertake and finish the five year cycle in the College. The forty three students who enrolled in 1961 were augmented in later years by students enrolling in 2nd year, 3rd year and so forth. The group was subsequently divided to enable a leaving class to sit the exam in 1965 after only four years preparation which was similar to the system operated by the college prior to 1961 when it was a preparatory school for trainee teachers.  Of the 104 boarders in Colaiste Éinde in our maiden year, 48 were natives of Co. Donegal with 10 of us from that county enrolling in 1961.

Being one of the aforementioned 30 students of 1966 and 50 years later trying to recall some of the happenings of that historic year in Colaiste Einde, is quite an arduous task. On a very personal level, my primary memory of 1966 was sitting the Leaving Certificate exam while suffering from a severe outbreak of shingles which I was expected to treat by myself with a wad of cotton wool and bottle of Calamine Lotion prescribed by the visiting doctor and provided by the College nurse. Ironically enough, my five years in Colaiste Éinde was bookended by medical issues as my first term in 1961 ended as a patient in Galway Regional Hospital where I spent my first Christmas away from home suffering from Rheumatic Fever undoubtedly caused by some severe drenching I endured. I did not return to Colaiste Éinde until midway through the last term of 1962 and if I had not returned to College then, I would have forfeited my Gaeltacht scholarship.

That care or perhaps the lack of it by those in loco parentis may surprise the students of the 21st century but in reality it was probably the norm in the midst of the 20th century. Such is my initial recollection of college days but that being said, in hindsight the time spent on Threadneedle Road was quite enjoyable, made everlasting friends, abiding memories and can genuinely say fifty years later, I carry no bitterness or any great regrets about the years spent in the City of the Tribes. 

1 Rang 1961

Needless to say, when recalling anything about 1966, focus will always be on the Golden Jubilee of the Easter Rising. The celebration of 1966 within the college was a low key affair as far as memory serves me.  Although history itself was a very important subject in those years, I can’t recall Colaiste Éinde giving any exceptional emphasis to the story of the 1916 Rebellion or its Golden Jubilee. That being said, I recall an tAthár Ó Laoi, the then President of the College visited the various classes on a number of occasions, debating, and explaining the meaning of the proclamation. A vague recollection says that a new framed copy of the proclamation was obtained and formally displayed in the College. Another recollection is that some form of pageant or tableau about the Easter Rising was being prepared in the College. As I can’t recall any of our class being involved in it, I’m convinced that it must have been undertaken by the boys of Scoil Éinde primary school who were then located in a wing of Colaiste Éinde, while the new building on Dr Mannix Road was being built. Another reason the secondary students would not have been involved is that we would have been gone home for the Easter holidays.

A celebrated occasion in the college was a visit from the Bishop of Galway. When Rev. Dr. Michael Browne came in to the College for prize-giving day in late May 1966, we were all made turn out in our finest attire. Presenting the prize of best student in each subject for our class was rather repetitive as Ruairí Ó hEidhin and Micheál Ó Ceannabhán shared them all except when the now Retired US Major Oliver Muldoon stepped forward for the music award which really could not be denied him. My own prize, a book, was for being a member of a question time team that represented the College in a Radio Eireann quiz. I must have really coveted the award as the prize which was a book entitled ‘Maraíódh Sean Sabhat Aréir’ by Manchín Seoighe is still in my possession. 

Of course, other notable events occurred in 1966 such as Ian Paisley becoming a household name due to his utterances about Terence O’Neill, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland who had the audacity according to Paisley to visit Dublin, The Taoiseach Sean Lemass and the hated Irish Free State. Nelson’s Pillar, which we visited the previous year on a school tour, came tumbling down following an explosion in March of 1966. That news item was given to a student by the college caretaker who broke the news as he cycled into work early the following morning.  Between that caretaker and the day students we were far more enlightened about outside affairs than those who preceded us. Of course, the availability of newspapers in the college was a rare commodity although now and again a Sunday paper (Sunday Independent or Sunday Press) appeared for our perusal. Mind you getting to the sports pages before they disappeared was an art in itself.

Sports of all types and especially Gaelic Football was always an important issue in my life and memories of sporting occasions while attending Colaiste Éinde is foremost in my mind. Playing those   kingpins of Colleges football, St Jarlath’s of Tuam in our own ground in the 1965/66 senior championship was a memorable occasion. Although beaten, our consolation was that the 1966 Jarlath’s team led by  Jimmy Duggan went on to win the All Ireland Colleges title while Jimmy Duggan himself won a senior medal when Galway claimed their third title in a row a few months later.  Listening to some of the Galway students and indeed some of the priests continuously boasting about Galway football was quite irritating but watching Ulster win the 1966 Railway Cup in Football on St Patrick’s day on a Black and White TV in the college hall with Donegal players aboard, made some of us feel as good as the rest.

Talking about sport, brings memories of the late Fr Enda Muldoon who was a beacon of light around Colaiste Einde. It is safe to say that he made life easier for those of us who passed through the College from his arrival in 1963 until we left in 1966. His untimely death in 1976 removed a great teacher and a great individual. His love of Irish culture and all sports was quite addictive. I recall him relaying all sports results to us regularly and indeed it was him who gave us a blow by blow account of the famous fight in London between Mohammed Ali (Cassius Clay) and Henry Cooper in early 1966.

 1966

Another abiding memory is being out at St Mary’s College for the Connaught Colleges Regional Sports of 1966. This was most likely held on the first Saturday in May. The event coincided with the FA Cup final which was always held on that Saturday. A victory by Colaiste Éinde in any sporting event was rare, but on this occasion our senior relay team defeated all others. A fourth year student from Donegal, Seán Mac Giolla Bhuí also won the shot putt event with a record breaking throw. Some ‘cool’ student at those Sports must have had a transistor radio (no Walkman or Ipod then) as I recall hearing some of the commentary of that year’s cup final between Everton and Sheffield Wednesday. I had more than a passing interest in that game as Jim McCalliog, whose parents were natives of my Gortahork neighbourhood, and a Scottish international was one of the stars of that Sheffield team. I vividly recall being disappointed on hearing that Everton won, but a consolation was that my ‘neighbour’ had scored for Sheffield. 

Having previously mentioned the Black and White Television, it is worth recalling that we were allowed to see certain programmes on Saturday nights and again on Sundays. The Late Late Show which was then shown on Saturday nights was certainly one we watched but I think we were never allowed to stay up until its end. Another favourite was a comedy show whose title escapes me now but its main character was a Sergeant Bilko, a fumbling fixer in the US army ably assisted by his sidekick, Private Doberman. An added excitement of those Saturday nights viewing was that a ‘tuckshop’ was available prior to our TV love-in. Telefís Scoile also started around those years and we were often ushered in to view relevant afternoon programmes. Science and maths programmes presented by a Frank Anderson was always deemed very important.

Having made reference in the opening paragraph to a financially starved College of the 60s perhaps it is only proper that I should mention something about the food available to us in Colaiste Éinde. Generally it was okay and probably as good as we would get at home except for one item on the College menu – The Soup.  Until my dying day, the taste and smell of that ubiquitous mushroom soup will never leave me. To this day, my stomach churns with the idea of having to drink mushroom soup. The same applied to nearly all the students of that era. You did not say you couldn’t drink it or you didn’t want it. Compulsion drinking was the order of the day and therefore imaginative ideas were concocted to avoid the ordeal. The purchase of large Byrlcream jars on our monthly Saturday outing to town was compulsory spending. The container was emptied immediately of its hair-oil to be available on the following Monday, brought into the dining hall where you filled it with the hated soup before scurrying to the toilets to discard it at the first opportunity. Undoubtedly, the most innovative idea of all came from a very astute student who discovered that the tubular framed chairs were a perfect receptacle for the soup. That being said, you faced the wrath of the harshest form of discipline if caught out. Wasting good food was not seen as ideal behaviour by educated young men.

Discipline was always a popular topic in Colaiste Éinde. The Rompú Mór or the major expulsion of nearly 30 students in the mid 50s was still a live subject matter. I will narrate one personal experience. With the availability now of all sorts of contents per Social Media, it will surprise today’s students to realise that being found with the Ian Fleming book, Dr. No in 1966 was the cause for severe punishment for a group of Leaving Cert students. When that book was discovered in what was then called Suanlios Phádraig (St Patrick’s Dormitory) and no owner forthcoming, the twelve occupiers of the dormitory were frogmarched to the President’s office to be ‘court-martialled’ and arbitrarily punished by receiving twelve of the best from a thick leather strap. If we were not a senior exam class, it would be báta agus bóthar for all concerned.

Aoibhinn beatha an scoláire,  How do !!


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