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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Christian Brothers School

"The Brothers"

Source: The Golden Jubilee Journal 1936-1986 p. 9-11 (Michael Purcell)
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The Brothers c.1942

George Fitzgerald  President, Carlow Chamber of Commerce and served on the Board of Management  of C.B.S. for 9 years.

When I recall schooldays, I cannot help but think of the poem "Wee Hughie" because it conjures up all the images of sadness and pride as parents watch their children take their first steps away from their home into a vast world where influences so wide and varied will play such a part in formulating their characters and personalities. In 1942, I was a big boy. I had gone from Infants to First Class in St. Joseph's School under the gentle and kindly tuition of the Mercy nuns. I was a Big Boy whom all the other boys in Infants class and Senior Infants looked up to. I was taking the big step. I was going to "The Brothers". So in May of that year I trooped off along with 30/40 compatriots to the Christian Brothers.


Proudly we presented ourselves for the first time to a "master". We were now in a man's world. All the pupils were men and all the masters were men - some clothed in mufti, others in the authoritarian garb of the black soutane of the Brothers. Boy oh Boy, what a shock! We of the proudly stuck out chests, schoolbags on our backs, who thought we were men, had to start all over again as we suddenly realised we were the most junior of the junior in a school catering for the educational needs of boyhood to manhood. It would take 5 long years before we could stick out our chests again and take our rightful place as senior boys once more. It is impossible to express adequately all the emotions which we were to experience while we were undergoing the process of learning the 3 R's with a smattering of History and Geography, all laid down for teacher and pupil by a Department whose concern was that we should learn - and what a difficult task it was for teachers to transmit their knowledge to pupils, some willing, some unwilling, some good, some bad, representing all facets and social standing as is the norm in a rural town. How much more difficult when some classes were as large as 60! It is inconceivable to think that the transmitting of knowledge was a one-way process - the teacher taught and the pupils listened and repeated answers in parrot-like form poetry, songs, declensions and tables, the correctness of which classified some among the upper echelons and others in the lower categories of the class, which would be the criteria by which they would be judged as to their academic prowess. Notwithstanding all the difficulties that are now apparent in the system as it was taught, many pupils attained the highest pinnacles of their professions.


In tandem with the learning of the 3 R's, our spiritual knowledge was given to us as laid down in the penny Catechism - "Who made the world? What of Adam and Eve?" all laid out in stereotype questions to be answered by a pit-pat reply. On the last Friday of every month, we were marched off to confess our misdemeanours, careful study being given to the transgressions ("hit my brother: disobeyed my mother: I cursed: and I talked in Mass"); confessed and owned up to these atrocities. A penance of an Our Father and 3 Hail Mary's was imposed to be said as quickly as possible so that the length of time taken to fulfil the penitential rite would not alarm the teacher that we had committed greater transgressions. We confessed our sins hoping that the great Master in the Sky would erase from His ledger the punishment which had accrued over the previous month and build up for ourselves a Credit Balance of grace as a buffer against unintentional but inevitable future weaknesses. The apprehension of never knowing how the balances stood helped to keep these weaknesses from assuming the stature of being mortal sins. The following Saturday, we all attended 8.30 Mass in the Cathedral, having first lined up in the Old Schools in College Street to be marched regimentally into our pews under the supervision of a Christian Brother bedecked in black soutane. The Mass and Communion being over, we were obliged to remain in our pews and repeat the standard "After Communion Prayers" for a quarter hour. No matter how angelic we all appeared, the digestive juices and rumbling stomachs rebelled against the fact that food had not passed our lips from the previous night. The following Sunday, as was the custom on each Sunday during the school year, we lined up in the Old Schools at 10 o'clock to be marched under the supervision of 2 Brothers into the centre of the Church to attend 10.30 Mass and, as we sat there, washed and clean in our Sunday best, separated from mother, father, brother and sister, we fulfilled our religious obligations. All these disciplines were to play an active part in formulating our ideals and characters for the future.


The major event in the Primary system with regard to religion was the receiving of the sacrament of Confirmation. Total concentration for a month before the great event was entirely on religious knowledge. The gathering together of Birth Certificates, Baptismal Certificates and, for many maybe, the first realisation that we had Godparents, all helped to build an atmosphere for the first hurdle - the examination by his Lordship, the Bishop, on our worthiness to receive this important sacrament, which was going to make us soldiers of Christ. Having successfully overcome the experience, of a kindly, considerate and pastoral father, we waited on tenterhooks for the Sunday when we could present ourselves at 3 o'clock in the Cathedral, bedecked in our new suits and shiny shoes, topped off by the proud display of a red rosette with a medal depicting the dove of peace. In the Church, we assembled: boys on the left, girls on the right, and, when the big moment came to present ourselves before his Lordship, a boy from the left met with a girl from the right and we marched up like brides and grooms only to be separated at the altar rails as we went in different directions to receive what would be for us a gentle clout from the Bishop knocking us into the Army of the Eternal Father. After the ceremony came the occasion where the parents and children descended on the local ice cream parlours to indulge in lemonade and ice cream covered with cordial before visiting suspecting relatives and friends to receive their congratulations and the customary monetary rewards.


Intermingled with the pursuit of knowledge, time was allocated for sporting activities comprising mainly of handball, football, and hurling, all under the auspices of the G.A.A. Next to the importance of learning the essential subjects through the medium of Irish, the participation in these athletic activities were considered to be paramount. The comradeship, and, in many instances, companionship which were to bring the pupils of different classes and social groups together were to be the basis on which many friendships were to be formed, some of which have gone on through one's adult life. The era I speak of was an era of extreme hardship, and many classmates emigrated or sought employment away from home. On the all to few occasions when we do meet the returned emigrant, how quickly the thoughts return to school and the experiences encountered, particularly the exploits shared and recalled by many, sometimes in exaggerated form, when we sup our pint in the local hostelry and comradeship is rekindled.


At these times of reflection, one certainly recalls the academic subjects, but time after time the names of "Mac", "Fallon", "Wall", "Walsh" and "Murray" are brought into the conversation with affection and good humour, and it is then that it is realised that in spite of the unadventurous curriculum how much dedication (unappreciated at the time) these men displayed in endeavouring to form our characters and personalities. These are reflections conjured up in the misty gloom of nostalgia and, as a result, I think of the time when I saw my own sons tread the same hallowed corridors of the C.B.S. in pursuit of a learning programme and an educational process which will prepare them for life in a quicker, competitive and more technological world. The formation of the Boards of Management, on which I was privileged to serve for 9 years, together with the Parents' Association, is an insurance that there is a community involvement in the preparation of our children, and this is one of the most significant milestones which has taken place. I am sure that the boys who attend the Christian Brother Schools now will look back in another 25 years time and will be able to recall with pride that they too attended a C.B.S. School which has done so much in the past 50 years for the people of Carlow.

Source: The Golden Jubilee Journal 1936-1986 p. 9-11 (Michael Purcell)

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2001 Ireland Genealogy Projects, IGP TM