Photos: Ignatius O’Neill
The recently launched book ‘Coláiste Éamann Rís’ is 400 pages of the history and times of the CBS School in Callan, county Kilkenny. It celebrates 154 years and tells the story of the school from the early days and those who passed through the gates. One contributor to the book is Callan man Barrie Henriques. Over the next two weeks, we reproduce Barrie’s memories of those years.
Ah the Christian Brothers, but more correctly the Irish Christian Brothers founded by Callan man, Edmund Rice back in the days. For the purpose of this diatribe, I will reference them as The Brothers.
I was born into an Ireland that coveted its neutrality as Homo sapiens indulged in a furore of blood-letting costing the deaths of countless millions. In Tuam of my beloved Galway, my education started with “the Nuns”, but more precisely with the Presentation Nuns being that the Mercy Nuns were also ensconced further out the Dublin Road. Tuam was a great centre of learning where the Archbishopric of the Arch Diocese was centred, and where we enjoyed second level education from both Convents, the Brothers, and St. Jarlath’s College. Additionally, a very fine Technical school provided education in the non-academic field of learning. There was “plenty of learning” around the place.
On completion of the second- class semester with the Nuns, we bade farewell to all our girl- friends-including the pitiable little girls from the Bon Secour Mother and Baby home- our band of ten-year olds marched two by two up the Dublin Road to the boy’s school. Our embryonic masculinity -we were big lads- had really turned a corner.
DRESSED IN ALL BLACK CASSOCKS
Although our first teacher was a lay teacher- Paddy Quinn God Rest him- there were plenty of Brothers abounding. Dressed in their all-black cassocks, and wearing their distinctive biretta with the “three-pronged” top, they paraded around the yard in twos with menace. Even at that early age, there was an undertone perception of danger. Some carried a leather strap in the cummerbund of their sultannes. On reflection, that strap, was a Government Issue of menace and pain in the hands of many who were not averse to using it unconditionally.
My regard for the Brothers was transient. I have known some vindictive savages who got great pleasure from dishing out unbelievable pain and insult. I knew many more who were Apostles of Edmund Rice in every sense. I was honoured and privileged to number Brothers as very endearing and staunch friends. Some I remember in my daily Rosary, and who have gone to be judged.
A HARSH UNWELCOMING IRELAND
The Ireland I grew up in was a harsh, tough, unwelcoming place. Children were abused in every which way possible, but particularly in a physical punishing way. It was an on-going process. There was always “a stick” in every house. It got plenty of use, to the extent that it was often replaced. When you heard your Mother say that your father will take the belt to you when he comes home, you were in severe trouble. Violence was endemic in the Ireland in which I developed. Women were but chattels, and children were seen but never heard, and chastised; how they were chastised! It bordered on the barbaric.
But that was the culture of the times where Church ruled, the State submitted, and the poorer you were the more you suffered.
It was the culture of the times, and nobody saw anything wrong with that. And that culture was endorsed in all schools.
I hated school. I was terrified from the first day ‘till last. There were many like me. Right up to my Leaving Cert I was frightened. One or two lads took on the Brothers, but they paid an awful price. The happiest day of my life was the day I went out the gate after the last Leaving Cert exam.
Fast forward some twenty years or so. Like 60,000 of the finest our island produced every year from the 50s to well into the 80s, I emigrated. I was lucky to get employment with Aer Lingus in Manchester. Travelled the World over the twenty years or so, got married, had four children, and realised my ultimate ambition of returning home in 1973. We settled in Callan, and developed our Bar business. Initially it was a tough settling in process, but eventually I got involved in the activities of the town, and so started a culture that embraced so much to improve the town.
I was Chairman of the John Lockes Club, on the Parents School Development Committee, Callan United AFC, Racquetball Club, etc.
DREAMS OF THEIR OWN VENUE FOR GAA
Most had ambitions of making drastic improvements to their organisations. The GAA Club decided to buy their own place. The Brothers decided that their establishment on West Street did not suit the purpose, and a new school was paramount. Marvellous Committees were formed on both levels.
£40,000 – an outlandish figure- was paid for a hilly field that was developed for nearly £100,000. It stands as testament to the Trojan work of so many great people, many of whom are gone to their maker.
At a meeting of the School’s Committee, Br. S.T. O Duinn intimated that a new green field site should be found on the outskirts of the town. Cunningham’s field (present location of Collaiste Eamon Ris) was earmarked. Eventually the process was agreed, a price was struck, and the wherewithal of the money (£80,000) was now the subject of deep discussion.
The town somehow had to address a situation of how and where a cumulative total of some £120,000 could be quarried. To compound matters the Country was not in a good place, with unemployment rampant and the emigrant ships full to the gunwales.
The Department of Education of the day made the building of a new Secondary School contingent of an acceptable site being acquired in the town. Despite ferocious lobbying, the Department held tough until the site was procured. There were no options offered or even mentioned on the site issue. Others through this tome will present the History of the building of Coláiste Eamon Rís. But my involvement was centred on producing the requisite site. To that end, the dreaded “FUNDRAISING” became the password among an enormous number of people. Many, like myself were faced with a double-barrel demand. Day and night, we were on the road selling this, signing promissory notes, asking for support, sending the customary begging letters to every known contact nationally, the UK, and America. Fundraising ideas were taken on board, evaluated, and decisions were made. Farmers were asked to rear calves. Wherever there was a shilling to be made we were on it. We ran so many cabarets in so many locations, that many of our Committee were in mortal danger of alcohol fatigue. The length, breadth of the country roads were traversed, and some.
Photos of the launch of the book courtesy of Ignatius O’Neill
Continued next week