Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Athy Christian Brothers School

To mark the coming together of Scoil Eoin and Scoil Mhuire as one school later in the year transition year students from the former Christian Brothers Secondary School have embarked on a publishing project.  Their intention is to publish a book to mark the ending of almost 146 years of Scoil Eoin, formerly the Christian Brothers Secondary School as a boys school.  They are looking for help from past pupils willing to write a remembrance piece of their days in the Athy school, or anyone with photographs or any form of memorabilia relating to the Secondary School, it's pupils or events connected with the school.  If you can help in any way might I suggest you contact the Principal, Tony O'Rourke at Scoil Eoin, Rathstewart, Athy who will pass on your contributions to the transition year students in charge of the project.

It was a happy coincidence that within the past week I was given an old scrap book compiled between 1900 and 1906 with newspaper cuttings relating to happenings and events in Athy.  One press cutting caught my eye.  It was dated 21st April 1906 and under the headline “Athy Exiles Touching Tribute” it gave an account of a letter written by John J. Bealin, formerly of Athy, following the death of his former teacher, Brother John S. O'Flanagan.  The newspaper spelt the name Bealen but I'm aware from school records that the correct spelling was Bealin.

I had previously came across John Bealin when I had access to some years ago the house annals of  Athy's Christian Brothers Convent.  Bealin was born in Athy in 1854, the son of Mark Bealin and Margaret Brewster who lived in the house at the corner of Leinster Street and Stanhope Street which is now the shop premises Xtravision.  Mark Bealin had a successful bakery business at 2 William Street and the Bealin family included John's brothers William, Mark, Thomas and Francis  and two sisters, Margaret and Mary.  Their father died in 1866 and on the re-marriage of their mother the three older Bealin brothers William, John and Mark emigrated to America, arriving there in 1868.  John Bealin was just 14 years of age at the time, while his brother Mark was a year younger and the eldest, William, 16 years of age. 

Brother O'Flanagan was the first director or principal of the Christian Brothers School in Athy which opened in St. John's Lane in 1861.  He died at North Richmond Street, Dublin in 1906, aged 76 years and his passing prompted John Bealin to write a letter which appeared in New York's “Daily News” from which the following is extracted.

“It was my good fortune to meet Brother O'Flanagan when I was but a boy.  In the early sixties the Brothers opened their schools in my native town Athy.  The Reverend Brother O'Flanagan was the Director.  Associated with him were Brothers Holland and Clarke.  Brother Clarke was the first of that great trio to go to his reward.  He died many years since and sleeps the peace of the just in the neighbouring town of Carlow.

Brother Holland after spending many years in Athy was sent on a mission to St. John's, Newfoundland to lay a foundation of the Institute there.  He was recalled from St. John's to Ireland where for years he served as assistant to the Brother General.  He died at the Novitiate Marino, County Dublin on 5th January 1900 ... ... ... I remember the day well when my father brought me and introduced me to Brother O'Flanagan.  The good Brother was then in the prime of his life.  He was a tall man, pleasing to the eye, one to whom we would naturally take ... ... ... he knew how to gain the children's' confidence and respect.  During recreation hours he joined in their sports.  He showed us how to spin our tops, started and umpired our foot races, settled all disputes occurring in our games.  Even now in my minds eye I can see him standing at our school door pitching a ball into the air to have us romp after it and return it to him.  Our school was divided into two sections, one being known as the “Greeks” and the other as the “Romans”.  The boys who earned the greater number of merit marks were rewarded the keeping of the school banner at the end of the week.  Brother O'Flanagan would walk down to the end of the room, make his hands into a telescope, view the results of the merit marks indicated on the blackboard on either side of the room and in the manner, peculiarly his own, would jest the losing side and give the banner to the care taking of the victors ... ... ...  He was an educator of the first order, eager and anxious to know the latest and the best methods of imparted knowledge.  He was on the mailing list of nearly all the educational institutions of America. 

I left Ireland in the fall of 1868 and since then I have kept up a correspondence with the good Brothers.  Why is this so?  Simply because like begets like and love begets love.  His first letter reached me during the Christmas holidays after I had arrived here.  It contained a Christmas remembrance consisting of a religious picture and a miraculous medal.  In the letter he told me how he had missed me and how I was missed in the class by my school mates.  He advised me to keep on saying my prayers and that he himself would pray for me every day.  His last letter to me was dated February 6th 1906 and in it he said – “My Dearest John, I pray for you twice or trice a day”. 

John Bealin then concluded his letter by asking the question.  “Who could not help loving such a kindly nature?”

John Bealin enrolled in the Christian Brothers School in Athy in November 1862 when he was seven years old.  He was the 168th pupil to register in the school which opened on 19th August the previous year.  Also enrolled with John Bealin in November were John Sherlock of Moate Road, Michael Moore of Ballylinan, Laurence Murphy of Leinster Street, Thomas Watts of Barrack Street, James Murphy of Cardenton and Edward Myles of Barrack Street. 

Incidentally the first student to enroll in the newly opened Christian Brothers School was 9 year old John Anderson of Rathstewart whose father was a boatman.  52 other youngsters also joined Anderson on that first day in August 1861, including four from an address which the Christian Brother who compiled the school roll noted as “Shrew Lane”.  Presumably this referred to Shrewleen Lane.  Another interesting feature of the first days student intake in the Christian Brothers School was the occupations noted for some of the parents of the students.  A tin plate worker from Leinster Street, a sawyer from “Shrew Lane” and a nailor from St. John's Lane were some of the more unusual occupations to be found side by side with boatmen, millers, malsters, masons and shoe makers.  The sawyer of course was a wood shed worker involved in sawing wood, while the nailor was a nail maker and the tin plate worker made metal items from tin plate.  One parent living in Stanhope Street gave his occupation as a bootbinder which indicated that he was a worker employed in binding soles to the uppers of shoes and boots. 

No doubt there are many more former pupils of the secondary school in Athy with happy or perhaps not so happy memories of their school days.   If you would like to share those memories of school days in Athy why not put pen to paper and write to the Principal of Scoil Eoin who will pass any material received to the transition year students for possible inclusion in the book planned for May of this year.  They would like to hear from you.

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