I attended St. Conleth’s from 1972 to 1982, starting in 3rd Form with John Joe Poole, then Martin Gavin in 4th Form, Mr. John O’Byrne in 6th Form and then on to the senior school. I guess the main reason I went to St. Conleth’s was that I had five older brothers there. Having said that, I grew up in Kilgobbin surrounded by farms and coincidentally two of them belonged to past pupils, Barry Lawless and Lochlann Aiken. Barry Lawless was a good friend of my Dad’s and our families have been close for over eighty years now. Barry Lawless’ granddaughter Gretta is now going in to 3rd Year. Lochlann Aiken’s father was Frank Aiken, Minister for External Affairs and Tánaiste. He often presented the Fáinne to pupils in the early years.
My favourite subject right throughout my time in St. Conleth’s was either English or History. I still couldn’t say which. I certainly developed my love of history under the guidance of Peter Gallagher, who was a legendary teacher of the subject. I actually went on the study History and Politics at UCD. With regard to English I had two remarkably good teachers, firstly Michael Gardner and then John Rooney. John has had two grandsons in the school in recent years. I’d actually credit John Rooney, more than anyone else, for prompting a desire to be a teacher in me. John was an amazing teacher, with a fabulous sense of humour, which he continues to have, with an eternal youthful spirit, which I try to emulate in my own teaching.
My fondest memories from my time as a student in St. Conleth’s were mainly from my final year. I had lifelong friends, including Colm Fanning, Brian Gleeson and Niall Toner and was on very friendly terms with everyone in the year. I do remember a trip that Mr. Paul Mullins and Mr. Brendan Doyle took us on. It was to the Wicklow mountains in the dead of winter, with snow on the ground and frozen marshes everywhere. The intent of the trip was to toughen us up. Nowadays St. Conleth’s pupils have the opportunity to go and expeditions to Africa or South America, while they are in 4th or 5th Year. For us the big school tour was by train to Sligo, lunch in the CIE restaurant and a few hours at the amusements, then returning to Dublin on the same day.
Who/what influenced your career choice?
I took an unusual route in to teaching. When I was 22 I was elected as one of the youngest ever members of the Fianna Fáil National Executive. My plan was to certainly be Taoiseach by now. Luckily for Martin and Vradker I became disillusioned with that. At 22 I also started working for IBM and spent nine fabulous years there. Finally I decided to exorcise a bug that has been with me since my teens, to try teaching. I went back to TCD and did the HDipEd and here I am now! But rather than going on about me, I thought I’d write a bit more about St. Conleth’s in the 1970s and now. My life has been very tied up with the school, having spent ten years as a pupil and twenty-one years as a teacher there up until now. When I started as a teacher in September 2000 I was the only past pupil teaching at the time. Now there are six of us, which is a tremendous compliment to the school.
Looking back to the 1970s, Ireland was a very poor country with a disastrously bad economy and a virtual civil war in the north, which occasionally spilled south. In 1972 the British Embassy in Dublin was burned down by protestors and in 1976 the then British Ambassador was blown up near Stepaside. As a side effect of “the troubles” two families used to arrive to school with armed body guards, one being the family of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the other that of a senior Bank of Ireland executive, due to the risk of being kidnapped. Economically there were few jobs and massive emigration. People used to joke “would the last to leave please turn out the lights”. Ireland was a foreign country that nobody growing up now would recognise. I guess in St. Conleth’s we were in the top few percent economically, but there were not many foreign holidays and certainly nobody knew how to ski!
When I arrived in 1972, it was the middle of the “glam rock” period. The 6th Years had long hair, long collars, big lapels and platform boots. You can see them in the 1973 graduation photo. In the mid 1970s Abba were the big thing. For some odd reason clogs shoes became fashionable. KD banned them in St. Conleth’s, but like today that didn’t stop teenagers challenging the rules. There was one famous incident in the class of 1978 when clog wearing Gerry Thornley (Irish Times) was playing tennis ball soccer in the yard. He took a kick and one of his clogs went orbital. On re-entry it smashed KD’s dining room window, but bounced back out into the yard. I think Gerry had to pay for the window repair, but I don’t think Mr. Kelleher every discovered it was a clog and not a tennis ball that broke his window. In the late 70s the punk rock era arrived. Doc Martens, ripped t-shirts, spikey hair and meeting in the Dandelion Market were the thing. My brother Julian and most of his class of 1977 were caught up in that movement. By my time, partially as a reaction to that, there was a mod revival, which was all about smart clothes, narrow ties and pointy toed shoes. Niall Toner, Brian Gleeson and I were tied up in that. For a time we had a band called “The Con”, inspired by The Jam and The Who. Niall was the only real musician among us and still performs successfully today. Unlike now, in the 70s fights used to occasionally brake out in the yard. Two lads would start what nowadays might be called mixed martial arts. A big ring of virtually the whole school would form around them. Everyone would be shouting “claim claim claim” for some reason. The teachers would eventually arrive and have to break through the crowd to stop the fight. The normal consequence, when the “guttersnipes” were brought before Mr. Kelleher, was suspension.
Nowadays, like Ireland, St. Conleth’s is a very different place. Between the Prep, Junior and Senior schools, there are about 450 pupils. The uniform goes from grey, to green to blue. There are girls in every year and you would be excused for thinking that was always the case. The rough edges of the school’s character, which left several disgruntled past pupils, have been well worn off. Every year at the graduation current pupils speak of the unique familial atmosphere of the school. A huge effort goes into pupil care, helping our students to stay mentally and physically well and achieve their potential.
A recent Department of Education inspection described the relationship between staff and pupils as “gold dust”. The three school principals know every pupil by name and could tell you details about each one. There are more and more children and grand-children of past pupils among the student body. Mr. Michael Murphy’s great-grand-daughter is now among us. Pupils can look at the old pictures of their fathers’, mothers’ and grandfathers’ that adorn the walls of the school. They have much more space than we used to have. The interior space is more than three times what it was in my time. There are specialist art, music and science rooms, soon to be expanded further. And for those who remember the mince and canned corn beef we used to be served, these days the canteen food prepared by Chefs Mark and Emerson, is superb. For all the past pupils out there who have lost contact with the school, please call by as you will be always assured of a warm welcome and, when Covid permits, a tour of the St. Conleth’s. Please feel free to contact me firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to visit.
Lastly I’d just like to mention two good old friends from my year, Tomás Clancy and Gordon Hogg, who have passed away in recent years. Requiescat In Pace.