For it is not every day of the week that a Conlethian alumna has a book launch! We joined Catherine Prasifka (2014), brother John (2011), Mr. Seamus Gallagher, parents (Sunniva and Bill) and friends (such as Michael Coleman (2011) at Hodges Figgis to celebrate the publication of None of this is Serious, Catherine’s debut novel which is currently garnering rave reviews and rocketing up the charts. Catherine was back with us just a couple of years ago, teaching creative writing to our Juniors and gathering inspiration in the staffroom for some of the odder side characters in her novel. And last night, Catherine was as polite and charming as ever. The sudden fame and fortune have yet to turn her head… but do check back with us soon, as rumour has it Hollywood may come calling!
It is never easy following older siblings into a school: teachers invariably make repeated, glowing references to the senior members of the clan and implore the new arrival to ‘measure up’ to the family legacy; often these comparisons are nostalgia-tinged and fuzzy, owing more to the teacher’s futile attempts to stop the march of time than any real accounting of the decline of civilisation and the great houses of the past. But please do pity the Prasifka because in Catherine Prasifka’s case, she was following in the footsteps of William (2008) and John (2011), two students whom teachers were well entitled to wax about, poetically. Masterful debaters, stylish squash players, avante-garde musicians, trademark hair-flippers, budding political theorists… the Prasifiki (masculine, plural) left indelible marks on St. Conleth’s College: what more could the Prasifka (feminine, singular) do?
Well, in a phrase that she could especially appreciate, Catherine did indeed ‘catch them all’. Yes, that includes the 721 Pokemon that were in existence in 2014, but also so much more: Catherine established herself as a world class debater in her own right and, taking a more subtle tact than her firebrand brothers (on opposite sides off the barricades but both wielding Molotovs), she became her year’s resident writer and creative. Whether it was winning laurels at the Classics Speech Competition or consistently pushing the moribund composition ‘titles’ of LC English past papers to new, exciting places or taking home the venerable Woods Bowl for Anglo-Irish Studies on graduation night, Catherine did indeed follow in the family tradition, but she also extended it. And Catherine returned to spread the love of the word, teaching Creative Writing to a new generation of Conlethians and one who badly needed it: the Gameboy and the DS screens had mushroomed into something monstrous and Catherine was there to bring the kids back to the simple joy of creating something completely new by putting words on paper.
And, now, news is in that Catherine’s own papered words have gained publication and renown. Ellen Long, our Alumni Affairs correspondent, goes into detail with Catherine about her debut novel, None of This Is Serious, which has already earned rave notices in the literary press. We know that this means Catherine is now writing for bigger audiences but we are also sure that she will remember us at St. Conleth’s and look forward to the triumphant return of the published Prasifka.
Transition Year Siobhán Fitzgerald is once again making waves with her poetry. Along with the works of several nationnally known established poets, Siobhan’s poem ‘Much Too Young’ is featured in the anthology Empty House, edited by Alice Kinsella, which has been launched by the Doire Press. Siobhan featured prominently in the official, livestream launch of the book last Thursday and we can see and hear her read and discuss her poem below (starting at the 22nd minute mark).
With the Covid crisis (hopefully) passing, our attention should return to the more perisitent problem of climate cgange and wider environmental degradation, and it is this issue which Siobhan and her co-contributors address in the collection. As Doire Press says: Empty House is a multi-genre anthology of Irish and international writing responding to the climate crisis. The leading challenge facing our world today, here writers share pieces that address what it is like to live in a world imperiled by climate chaos. Interpretations vary from celebrations of the natural world we are at risk of losing, anxious prophecies of the Earth we may soon live in, to constructive hope of how we can prevent environmental catastrophe. Together they form a rallying cry of human responses to a systemic problem.
One of the unexpected effects of this series of lockdowns is a tendency to be more tolerant of schmaltz. Easy listening ‘gems’ of the 70s and 80s, which previously would have prompted a quick skip or turn of the dial, are now listened to in their entirety, prompting wistful, melancholic smiles and maybe even a tear… Well, Bette Midler was referencing a more celestial watcher but her time-tested sappy chestnut of a tune can serve as the theme song of our new way of learning: from a distance, indeed. Both St. Conleth’s Junior and Senior teachers have hit the ground running (literally, in Mr. Lonergan’s case) as they have shifted education on-line but carried on with same professionalism, enthusiasm and care and concern for their pupils as always.
And to be fair to the students themselves (and the accommodating and ‘nudging’ parents), it has been a continuation of the partnership that has made the in-the-flesh version of St. Conleth’s such a great place to learn over the years. Attendance has been near 100% and the variety of teaching methods and adventures has been impressive, from PE activity diaries to ‘Zoom Pet/Cactus Day’ in Classics and as gaeilge to spontaneous dress-up English classes to traditional classroom note-taking and discussions. Yes, we would prefer to be in the same classroom, but until that is possible, St. Conleth’s stays together… from a distance!
Transition Year Siobhán Fitzgerald did not spend her lockdown gorging on the latest dark Danish Netflix sci-fi series. Okay… maybe she did a bit of that, but she somehow also found time to finely hone her already impressive creative writing skills, to the point where earned two separate, national commendations! One of her poems, ‘Much Too Young’ has been accepted for publication in an anthology on climate crisis edited by poet Alice Kinsella which is forthcoming from Doire Press in Spring 2021. Her poem will sit alongside works by such established poets as Claire Hennessy, Jan Carson, Rick O’Shea, and Paula Meehan.
Siobhán was also chosen as a Runner Up in the Post-Primary Junior Category of the Trocaire / Poetry Ireland Poetry Competition 2020 for the same poem, ‘No More’. She read her poem at the awards ceremony during Culture Night on the 18th of September. Here is her award letter and below you can see a recording of her reading. (Skip to 20:12 if you just want to hear Siobhán!).
As part of the award Poetry Ireland will also organise an author visit to St. Conleth’s: another reason to look forward to the ending of the covid conditions. Well done to Siobhán, a great example of what students can achieve under their own initiative. We encourage all our students, especially TYs, to take on similar challenges!