One of the greatest gifts enjoyed by anyone is that of friendships founded on shared experiences. For most of us our first friends were to be found among the ranks of our school mates, but where those friendships endure beyond the school gate and into adulthood the bond is all the more rewarding.
Looking back on my own classmates from the Christian Brothers old school in St. John’s Lane I find that the friendships which grew in youth act like an anchor in middle age, constantly bringing one back to the glorious days when the world was our oyster. Even yesterday as I got ready to leave my office I turned to the Athy on Line page on the Internet to read yet another piece from that computer wizard Mick Robinson, now living in Australia. Mick was a classmate of mine in the Christian Brothers and a star pupil who with lots of natural talent eschewed the slogging studious methods employed by untalented individuals like myself. His contribution to the Athy on Line page confirms his undoubted talents and belies Br. Keogh’s oft repeated claim:- “they’ll hang you yet Robinson”.
Mick was never overly concerned with the future prospect of such an event and lead a charmed and charming existence as a schoolboy full of devilment and good humour. I can recall an occasion at the height of winter in 1959 or thereabouts when Mick for a side bet of six old pence from each of his classmates went for a swim in the Canal lock. This was typical of the young Mike Robinson, clearly a budding entrepreneur whose horizons were not to be limited by the road signs leading out of Athy.
Another classmate and one I had the opportunity of meeting in 1998 in Beijing was Seamus Ryan, eldest son of Mrs. Noreen Ryan of Woodstock Street and the late Bill Ryan, school teacher extraordinaire. Seamus was called to teacher training on foot of his Leaving Certificate results, coming first in the class, and later qualified as a National Teacher. After a few years in the classroom Seamus returned to University and qualified as a Doctor. He is now head of the American Medical Centre in Beijing, China and thanks to the wizardry of the computers still keeps in touch with his classmates around the world.
Others with whom I shared the rough and tumble of life in the Christian Brothers school in the 1950’s included Kerry O’Sullivan, now a dentist in England. Pat Timpson, Lecturer, Sligo Regional College and Brendan McKenna, Managing Director of Abbott Laboratories also in Sligo are two of the class who did well in their own country. It wasn’t always easy for school leavers to find jobs in Ireland, especially in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s and the opportunity to attend University, now so common, was then restricted to a very few. Of my class only one person entered University as a day student following the Leaving Certificate. The rest like myself were not financially able to do so and the height of our ambition, assuming that you did not have enough honours to get teacher training, was to apply for a job in Guinness’, the County Council, the ESB or Bord na Mona. You might dream in those days of getting a job in the Banks but really for provincial “hicks” like ourselves, such exalted doors were not then opened. How times have changed!
Nowadays students finishing second level schooling can look to a more secure future than that which faced their counterparts of forty years ago. The secondary school is now but a step on the way to a further three years or so in University before taking up a job in Ireland. Forty years ago those of us who passed through the Christian Brothers School got jobs wherever and whenever they could be obtained. Our home town offered few job opportunities but amongst the lucky few were Teddy Kelly, Pat Flinter and Ted Wynne, all of whom then and still currently work within the Tegral Group of Companies. Of the Leaving Certificate Class of 1960 they were the only ones to get employment in their own home town at a time when travel was less easy than it is today. When I took up my first job with Kildare County Council in 1961 I stayed in digs in that town as the twenty-two mile journey to Naas was in those days regarded as too far a trip to undertake on a daily basis. Nowadays locals travel each day to Dublin and beyond to fill positions which are not available in Athy. How our horizons have broadened over the last forty years.
The common bond between the schoolmates of forty years ago was not just the town in which we lived, but rather the school which we attended. Our coming together each morning and the shared experiences of the classroom and the characters it spawned forged friendships which cannot ever be laid aside. Almost like prisoners of conscience incarcerated together for years on end we forged bonds which survived into adulthood [not that the school in St. John’s Lane was ever regarded by any of us as a penitentiary].
Just a few weeks ago one of my old classmates Hilary Drennan died, gone to join Fr. Jerry Byrne who passed away at a very young age, not long after we had left St. John’s for the last time. The surviving members of the class are to be found in Australia, China and America and throughout our own island in places as far apart as Cork and Sligo. The old school closed in 1984 with the opening of Scoil Eoin in Rathstewart and the last of the Christian Brothers who founded the school in 1861 left Athy in 1994. Nowadays the school, although still known as the Christian Brothers School is staffed by lay teachers and the increase in student numbers attending the school is matched by an academic record second to none.
On 18th March next Scoil Eoin will organise a Dinner Dance in the Dolmen Hotel, Carlow featuring a four course dinner and music by Marble City Sound. The event which is being billed as a Millennium Reunion Dinner Dance has been arranged by the Parents Council of Scoil Eoin in the hope of attracting those past pupils living abroad who may be returning for the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. The School Principal, Tony O’Rourke, would like to hear from any past pupil who would like to attend and he can be contacted at (0507) 38223. I don’t suppose my school mates from Australia or Beijing will be able to attend at such short notice but hopefully the class of 1960 might yet get together later this year to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our graduating from the St. John’s Lane Academy of Excellence.