Learning the hard way: The stick and the leather

Callan CBC pupils 1958 Top: T. Maher, John Joe Carroll, Eddie Comerford, Br. Thomas, Sean Kennedy, K. Driscoll, Pat Forde. Middle: Mickie Cunningham, Seamus Moore, Paddy Rochford, Michael Power, John Shea, John Gardiner, JJ Egan, Felix Somers, Tony Gavin. Front: Oliver Murphy, T. Ryan, Paddy Denny, Ronnie Walsh, Mickey Kenny, M. Ryan, Martin Keating, M. Mackey.


Part 2

Continuing the story of corporal punishment in a County Kilkenny school: previous articles and all subsequent ones can be read on the Kilkenny Observer website…

Recalling his school days in Callan Sean Holden had a vivid recollection of one teac her who struck moratl dread into every pupil.

“T’was while he was denying himself the fags that he took to using a hurley to slap us. He’d mainly use it, in fairness to him, to bang on our desks, or his own desk, to drive home some point he was making. He might go a bit lighter when slapping you with the hurley, allowing for its larger size, but it still nearly took the hand off you. I preferred to be hit with the narrow end than with the wide end designed to hit the ball.

“One day, when he slapped a pupil with the hurley, another fellow at the back of the class whispered out loud: ‘Up Callan!’ Some of the lads laughed and yer man got very annoyed, demanding to know who said it. The culprit owned up, and the teacher beat him around the room with his hurley.

“We wished to God that lent would end so that the man could smoke again and get back to normal. By normal I mean just the usual slaps but none of the really rough stuff. Sure you’d have been better off in a boxing ring than the classroom some days.

“But to be fair to him, this teacher was a great career guidance man. When lads were leaving primary school, if they weren’t going on to secondary, he’d move Heaven and earth to get jobs for them. I felt sorry for the poor man in later years. He had a lonely life, and nothing but his teaching and his vocation to keep him going. I met him at a past pupils party years later and the first thing I did was offer him a cigarette. He was still smoking like a trooper”

Philip O’Keeffe of Bridge Street recalled a “strong-boned” Callan CBS teacher of the 1930s and 40s who worked part time on a farm, giving him powerful knuckles that he used to devastating effect in the classroom.

“He was a great man with his fists”, Philip assured me, “and many a lad felt the force of his punches. He was a reasonably good teacher, he got the results he wanted, but you never knew when he’d leave the marks of his knuckles on you. It was common for pupils to leave school at the end of the day with bleeding hands or split lips.”

One teacher’s favourite punishment was to grab a pupil and shake him like a rag doll, joking as he did: “Shake well before use!”

Philip saw fellows being suspended by their hair by teachers who expected the entire class to laugh at the spectacle.

Another teacher memorably hung a boy from an iron hanger on the classroom wall close to a large crucifix, where the pupil was left hanging by his braces for a quarter of an hour. Before taking him down, the teacher turned to the class and jibed: “well now lads, was he the good thief or the bad thief, what do ye think?”

Nervous laughter greeted his witticism.

Philip emphasised that despite this rough treatment, many boys who attended the Callan CBS went on to respect their former teachers and held no grudge against them in later life. Other ex-pupils take a different view…

To be continued…


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