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The Best Of Times




By Bernard Mulkerrins

One fine morning back in 1982, my mother got me out of the bed early and took me to the play school in Gort.  My education was about to begin.  Try as she might though, there was no making me stay. So off we went – me mighty pleased with my victory – back to the car, and home again. Or so I thought! of course Mammy had another trick up her sleeve.  We stopped at the big school in Peterswell and I was deposited with a lady teacher called Mrs. Gleeson – no protestations accepted this time!  At least my big brother Enda was there – could have been worse.  A kid called Stephen Quinn started that day too – buddies ever since.

I was to spend the next nine years in the school.  Every morning, we’d be the first to arrive – around five to nine – dropped off by my mother on her way to work.  Next in would be the Keely’s.  Niall and I would chat away until the rest of the lads arrived.  We’d kick a ball around or have a few pucks of the sliotar.  If we had neither, we’d just walk around the school talking rubbish.  We must have done a million laps of that school.  Other boys would start arriving and join us.  By the time 9.30 came, there might have been 15 of us in a procession.

The master would arrive at 9.30 on the button.  Quick clap of the hands and we’d all pile inside to start the day.  We were lucky to have great teachers – though we didn’t appreciate it then! Many a happy hour we spent with our colouring books or the Márla (everyone’s favourite) in Mrs Gleeson’s room.  Funny the things you remember.  Mrs Healy would get us to put up our hands with the answers to questions.  All the boy’s would have their hands up, chancing their arms.  Sure if she picked you, “An bhfuil cead agam dul amach” would get you out of it!

I remember the singing mostly from the Master’s (Mr McGarry’s) room.  He would pull out the aul recorder and start to play.  The words would be on the board, so no excuses. We’d all have to belt it out, crows like myself included.  “The Rising of the Moon”, “Will you go lassie go”, “The wild Colonial Boy” – We learned them all.  And I bet they’re still stuck in everyone’s heads – as they are in mine.

But it wasn’t all singing.  We learned a lot too.  There wasn’t many in the schools of Gort or Loughrea who knew their Tuiseal Gindeach or their Módh Coinníollach better then the Peterswell gang.

We would have a break at 11:00 and lunch at 12.30.  The games were great.  We played Red rover, statues, cowboys and Indians (no one wanted to be the Indians!), hide and seek and lots more.   The girls would play hopscotch while the boys played soccer in the yard.  Those pillars in the shed made great goalposts!  Two captains would pick the teams.  Hope they don’t pick me last!

I started serving Mass in 1st class.  All the boys (no girls then) would be split into groups of two or three, each having their own week.  I started with Enda and Declan Deely.  It was great hanging out with the “big lads”. We loved serving – unfortunately not only for religious reasons. The hour off school in the morning was great too.  And then there were the weddings and funerals.  If one fell on your week, you were in the money!  Two or three pounds on a good day – a fiver if you were really lucky.

I started off slow on the “easy side” of the altar, eventually graduating to the “hard side”. As you went up through the ranks you’d do the water and wine, then the bell, then the paten.  The big targets were carrying the cross and the touarbel, or the gong at funerals.

I remember the special days at school.  The days when the snow came, and everyone tried to get in early to have the ammo ready for the others.  Or the sports days, when you’d boil an egg and bring it in for the egg and spoon race.  And your father would give you a sack for the sack race.  We’d get out the aul iron hurdles as well.  Then there was the Christmas party every year.  Everyone brought in their toys.  If you had something cool, you were Mr Popular for the day.

On Friday afternoon’s, it was time to clean up.  Everyone got a job.  Clean the blackboards, stack the desks and chairs, sweep the floor.  The “big lads” got the best jobs – the fire and the bins.  When I joined their ranks, I even got a go with the bins.  The fire was an important job and we were warned to be careful – especially after Michael Howley set the whole hedge on fire.

When school was over, Daddy would pick us up (if he didn’t forget!).  He would arrive in whatever mode of transport he was using at the time.  The tractor with the transport box, or the aul land rover maybe.  We’d all pile in.  The girls would feign embarrassment – but they loved it really.  Grandma would be waiting for us at home.  She would have the dinner ready – pancakes, real chips from spuds, whatever.  She had us spoiled!

As you got older, you got on the school hurling and football teams.  We had big footsteps in which to follow.  Sure hadn’t Peterswell won more county titles than most?  My favourite football memory was the day we beat Kiltiernan down on the pitch.  We thought we were world-beaters, at least until we got hammered the next day by some crowd called Gortanumere.

But hurling was number one in Peterswell.  Our hero Anthony Cunningham was winning All-Irelands like they were going out of fashion at the time.  And hadn’t he gone to our school, if he could then maybe we could too?  Our best day, in my time, came the day we beat the much feared Ballinderreen after a great battle.  It was one over on the Kilchreest boys who had lost to them a couple of weeks before!

We started training in the evenings after that match.  Donnie Lynskey was our trainer.  And was he passionate!  National school team or not, we were to take it seriously. He had the psychological training going with us before Alex Ferguson did in the premiership!  It was the best of craic.  Unfortunately we didn’t get much further that year, but we had set the scene for a heroic victory in the county final the following year.

It’s hard to believe the days have passed by so fast since.  My two serving mates are now engaged.  Anne Coleman and Louisa Howley ( our secret weapon on the hurling team) as well!  Classmates are spread throughout the world.  But you know, thanks to the times we had at Peterswell School, we’ll remain friends for life.   They were indeed the best of times.