St. Joseph’s N.S.
Celebrating 40 years.
Journalist JOE O’BRIEN, a native of
Barrack Street, Carlow and the current Agricultural Correspondent with
RTE, was a pupil at St. Joseph’s from 1960 to 1964. Here Joe, a former
staff journalist with The Nationalist recalls some childhood memories
from those early school days.
“One of my earliest childhood memories is
watching St Joseph’s being built early in 1960. I was only four years
old but can vividly recall the slates of the roof being laid by a
“I had already started school in nearby
Old St. Joseph’s. I sat beside Francis Moloney and our first teacher
was Sr. Scholastica, recently deceased. I was the sixth of eight boys
and she had previously taught several of my brothers.
“There were about fifty of us in ‘babies’
class. Already the ruler had been mildly introduced to enforce
discipline. After a few months, the new school was completed and off
“The official opening was by Bishop Keogh
on a sunny Sunday morning. We were all lined up class by class waving
pennants in the bright new concrete schoolyard as he strode across
blessing with Holy Water.
“There was an instant feel of adventure
about the new school. Instead of a century-old building, we had
sixties best! Cloakrooms with coat-hangers and metal boxes for shoes,
long bright corridors, and parquet flooring in the classrooms which
meant we had to wear slippers to protect the high polish.
“One day we saw what looked like a coffin
arriving. After a few hours our curiosity was satisfied when it was
screwed to the wall as a plant holder in the reception area, beside
the rocking horse which travelled from the old school.
“Sr. Finbarr was the principal, and though
the atmosphere was generally happy, the place ran with precision.
“The winters were overhung with the smell
of cocoa which was given free to children in plastic mugs in the new
sheds. Anyone who wanted could also have slices of bread and jam - no
Highlight of the school day was break-time
in the spacious schoolyard. The games were simple, 'stagecoach' and 'tig'.
There was many a fight too; but bloody nosed rows were years away yet.
“After ‘babies’ we moved to ‘high babies’
when we were taught by a novice with a white veil, Sr. Bernard - now
Sr. Dolores of the Cathedral parish team. She seemed to be always
smiling and enthusiastic and radiated confidence about her choice of
Sr. Euphrasia prepared us in First
Communion class. We were so pure that year that even the desktops were
Formica white. “Breakfast on the Big Day was in the Mercy Convent
itself where the suited boys with white rosettes enjoyed jelly and
buns. 7/6d was about as much as lads collected during the course of
that day in 1962; a fortune then but pitiable by today’s standards.
“I missed making Communion with the rest
of the class through illness, but instead Sr. Euphrasia gave me ‘high
tea’ in the convent, and presents of sweets and holy statues.
“Another annual piece of excitement was
the May Procession. We all had to assemble in the school on a Sunday
morning with our white sashes, and join with all the other schools and
sodalities for Benediction on the steps of St. Patrick’s College. The
nuns wore special garb that day in addition to their wimples, belts,
beads and veils. Out came their extra-long sleeves and white capes.
“Every now and then the class got a
chances to play with the band instruments. We were given drums,
triangles, maracas and tambourines to experiment with. The noise was
terrible and we knew it even then.
“When we went to Mother Carmel in first
class, the tone became a little more serious. The fun seemed to end
and instead arithmetic, Irish and spellings loomed in our lives.
“The arrival of television was having a
huge impact on everyone in the early sixties. TV aerials were put on
every chimney in town. As I recall it, television had no greater
impact than on the sport of boxing. Those were the days of the big
fights involving Floyd Patterson, Sonny Liston and Cassius Clay - and
the schoolyard fervour was palpable.
“Historical events like space travel and
the Vatican Council were underway , but we were more fascinated with
more tangible innovations such as the new ride-on lawnmower with which
Joe ‘Jugger’ Brennan was cutting the school lawn; the new electric
floor polisher, and the ‘mod’ music scene of the Clancy Brothers and
“Second class was our last year in St.
Joseph’s. Our teacher was the colourful principal, Sr. Finbarr. She
was elderly, lively and excitable. She loved talking about her native
Kerry. She used a special bamboo with a hooked handle for slapping,
but mostly the threat of the ‘big hard cane’ was sufficient to
“Despite that, Sr. Finbarr had a great
sense of fun and relished telling exaggerated stories. She had her
favourites. Her pet in our class was Georgie Mealey, on whom she
depended to carry out many of the chores connected with the running of
the school. “Sadly, Georgie died earlier this year.
“I recall some of the highs and lows of
that year. There was great excitement when Aidan McKeown had his
appendix removed and groups of us trooped up to visit him in St.
Brigid’s Hospital. On the other hand we were truly stunned when
Padraig Harvey’s father, the Garda Superintendent, died suddenly.
Padraig and his mother moved to Donegal permanently shortly
“Every year at the end of June, the nuns
organised a ceremony of farewell. Pupils were lined up around the
statue of St. Joseph (whose arm was invariably broken) in front of the
school to wave off the senior classes as they left the premises for
the last time and made their way to the new world of the Brothers.
“In June 1964, our turn came to say
goodbye, and we were waved off. “However, we were looking forward to
the rough-and-tumble of the CBS and we didn’t look back.
“Even though I have nothing but the
happiest of memories of St Joseph’s, we rarely saw the nuns ever
again. We took for granted everything they had done for us, and though
change was everywhere in the sixties, we simply assumed that St.
Joseph’s would be staffed entirely, eternally, by the Sisters of
“Now forty years later, the nuns are gone,
but St. Joseph’s continues - with lay teachers. The boys learning and
playing there today are forming the memories which, in turn, will give
them much pleasure in forty years time.”
Source: Carlow Nationalist on
Friday June 16th 2000
Notes from another ex-pupil:
The old St. Josephs School
building which was administrated by the Mercy Order of Nuns is now the
Citizens Advice and Community Services Centre in St. Joseph's Road,
Carlow near the Railway Station and adjacent to this is the new St.
Joseph's School, built in the early 1960s.
The original building is the first one you pass when you turn
left out of the Railway Station. It was originally a two room school
and my Father went there about 1915. When I went 40 years later it had
the two front rooms added and still had dry toilets. The Mercy
Sister's also had two additional rooms in the Bishop Foley Schools. I
can still smell the raincoats hanging on the hooks over the radiators
in the cloak rooms.
The long garden opposite the Railway station possibly still
belongs to the railway. In my time CIE had a stable there and Mr Nolan
(I Think) from Burrin Street had two Shire Horses there. They were
used to pull a float with goods delivered by rail for onward delivery
to businesses premises in the Town.
Thomas Thompson's used to send a man up to the station every day
on a "Wrigley" a small three wheeled machine with a two stroke engine.
God help him he used be plagued with young fellows coming from school
trying to jump into the back of it. He had a long rope and used to try
and whip them away.
We don't appreciate what a good education the religious orders
and their lay colleagues did for us, the very small few bad apples
destroyed the good name they had. Many of us would not be where we are
today without the effort those people put in.
There exists a school photograph, I have a poor newspaper copy
from the Nationalist taken on the day that Gerry Darcy started as
Primary Teacher there in the late 1950s. I wonder if we could tap into
the Nationalist archives, some one must have them in safe keeping. I
have sent an email to the Mercy Convent to try and find out if the old
Roll books of St Joseph's are still there.
Oh and have a look at the Mercy boarding school web site:
St Leo's, the
photographs of the facility are unbelievable. They must have been
taken during summer holidays when the girls were away. If you were
looking for a boarding school to send a child to you would not be
impressed. The place looks forbidding and scary!
PP Jan 2007
On the other hand we didn't have running water, lockers or a library in Arles
it does look very cold but clean.
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