The front steps of No. 28 Clyde Road have always been a favourite spot for the photographic capture of significant moments in the lives of Conlethians and recently another one entered the Kodachrome honour roll of the school’s history. On a fine spring afternoon, Garrett O’Neill (Class of 1976), Dargan Fitzgerald (1975) and Richard (Dick) Barrett (1973) joined CEO Ann Sheppard and Peter Gallagher (Principal emeritus) to honour the memory of a true Conlethian, Francis John Barrett (1977), and to officially install a new tradition and debating trophy in his honour: The Francis John Barrett Plate for Maiden Speakers.
By all accounts, Francis John Barrett was a character, and it started with his name. He was known as John throughout his time in St Conleth’s but his actual name was Francis, which he had changed on arrival there, aged 12, and which he then reverted to as soon as he left school. For years afterwards he was known by either name or both, and school friends never got their heads around his “new” name, which was in fact his original. And Francis’s good friend and schoolmate, Garrett, assures us that the ‘character’ extended far deeper than the choice of moniker: ‘He was a serious student who did well at exams, particularly English which he loved. He was a great debater and was usually one of the star attractions in the frequent senior school debates chaired by KDK. He was also an enthusiastic and terrifying fencer whose favourite and most effective move was the flèche.’ (Click for the full text of Garrett’s obituary of Francis, as published in the 80th Quinquennial.)
Francis’s fleche may have been fierce but the man himself was warm and engaging… once the epee was lowered and the fencing helmet removed. In many a school debate and classroom discussion (especially during Mr. Gallagher’s legendary History classes), Francis’s intellect would shine through but so would his humour and humanity. These traits would come to the fore in his subsequent careers as barrister, teacher and trade unionist. Francis left an indelible, and positive, mark on all the places he visited and people he met.
Garrett and Dargan thought the best way to honour their friend’s memory was through sponsoring a new debating trophy and the silver salver which they presented to Ann will now be presented annually to the best Maiden Speaker in school debates. Speaking one’s mind, with freedom but also with tact and subtlety, is a skill under threat in today’s world and Francis’s friends hope his memory will inspire a reinvigoration of a longstanding St. Conleth’s tradition.