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By Fr Frank Larkin

“While words of learned and thundering sound
Amazed the gazing rustics ranged around:
And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew,
That one small head could carry all he knew”

These lines from Goldsmith’s “Deserted Village” depict the village schoolmaster, a person who influenced so many people who had as many opinions about him as there were of children who sat before him in the classroom during his teaching career spanning 40 years.


There were many schoolmasters in Ireland in the past.  The gender balance has now definitely tipped in favour of the female.  The relationship between teacher and pupil has changed too and it is unlikely that Goldsmith would write the following lines today.  But they were so apt in their time:

Well had the boding trembles learned to trace-
The days disasters in his morning face”

A trail through the memory box tells me what life was like in Peterswell National School – the new school – from the late 40’s to the early 50’s.  We were told so often that they were to be the best days or our lives.  We never wanted to believe that and we would be foolish if we did.  The Second World War was ending but we knew nothing about it then and cared less.  Ireland was a relatively poor country at that time, without social welfare.  People in our locality worked hard to survive.  They provided as much food and fuel as was humanly as possible, but they survived well and nobody went hungry.

After the war, food supplies were scarce and to insure a fair distribution households were furnished with Rotation Books to enable them to get a definite supply of tea, sugar and clothing.  It was not unknown for people to dry out the tealeaves and use them a second time or maybe more.  Grated carrots were sometimes dried out to provide the ingredients for making “carrot tea”, if you know what I mean.

People had the social outlet too, such as card playing in the houses – the game of “25” – pitch and toss, usually at the crossroads or junctions.  Hurling was the game that was most prominent.  The travelling film show seemed to come annually to the little field across from Sherry’s Bar.  This was often accompanied by a singing competition, an olden version of “Search for a Star” but never destined for
Europe.  The films were serialised with a view to getting you back the next night.  I remember being present when someone held his cap in front of the aperture from the projector just at an exciting moment, imagine the reaction.

The body seemed to be able to endure more then, in terms of work and walking long distances.  It was the cheapest mode of transport but you were scarcely alone at it and it had its compensations.  We walked to school initially – up across, but coming home it was always around the road – making the party last.

In the final years we graduated to the luxury of bicycles but they never got us there anything earlier, but on the return journey they were the means to many a detour.  It was great to have a carrier for books, the lunch and a bottle of milk if you had one.  In winter the open fire was fronted by milk bottles of varied shapes and sizes.  Sometimes the cork was of newspaper but overheating often resulted in milk spillage and a dry lunch that day.

The new school was lovely, clean and bright.  The classroom had the colours of the National Flag.  We learned so much there.  Visual Ads were at a premium – a map of Ireland and of the World.   Knowledge of Irish was vital because all subjects except religion seemed to be taught through the medium of Irish.  Present day Junior Cert standards were achieved in Irish and I remember having a joust with Algebra too.

A few years ago I visited a Primary School in India.  Imagine the size of our classroom with at least 60 kids inside it with no chairs or tables.  They sat cross-legged in rows looking at a worn down blackboard but the room was full of happy smiling faces.  They sang songs for us, as we did for them.Children,will always be children the world over and Thank God for that.

I often recall proverbs, old sayings, statements, and questions of my late teacher Paddy Murray RIP –

Which would you prefer? To be nearly drowned or nearly saved!
Don’t do what I do, do what I tell you.
Where ignorance is bliss ‘tis folly to be wise-
Said on the receipt of a really poor answer, and that was often.

Briseann an dúchas tré shúile an chait.
Má lubhann an chuach ar chrann gan duilliúr 
Díol do bhó agus ceannaigh arbhar


If the cuckoo comes too early it will be a poor harvest.

All we needed was a good summer and that meant being able to go barefooted to school.   The roughness of the roads didn’t seem to bother us but occasionally the “big toe” got bobbed off something much harder than itself.

School has left us all with memories, memories of people, of events and especially of the innocence of youth, which brings to my mind a statement I leave with you to ponder.

“Youth is often lost on Youth”