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My entrance exam was on a Saturday. It was in the three halls where study is usually held. The walls along the side of each hall were opened up so we were in a big huge hall with all the 1st years, 130 of them. I was sitting up against the wall on the left, which was also where all my friends sat. It was quite a big exam which lasted all morning. Mr Ryan was looking after my end and he answered of the question I had - only the not so important ones. There were three exams, English, Irish, and Maths, which were all long hard exams. I was so glad when these exams were over as they had been putting a lot of pressure on me all year.
Once we were told what class we would be in, we were invited into the school to meet the teachers and meithal leaders and to see the school. We first met in the same hall that the entrance exam had been held in. First Mr. Campbell explained the different policies in the school. Then Mr Quigley spoke to us about respect and so on. We then went up to Mr Cleary’s old hall where we waited for what could have been half an hour. Then we met the meithal leaders. We got so much support from these guys and they taught us more about the school than any of the teachers ever could. They showed us around the school, showing us all the different things they had learned during their 5 years in the school.
The first day of school was probably like any other day for all the other boys except the first years. We were on the bottom floor, and I learnt very quickly where all the other years were. The most obvious one was the top floor which is where all the second years were, so I tried to avoid going up there. This has also turned out to be where all the 2nd years are this year, so if anyone going into Peter’s asked about the school, the first thing I would have told them was to stay away from the top floor. Iwas really nervous on my first day but I was lucky because I had 4 friends from my old school in my class. The base hall was great and we just stayed there through lunch that first day. It really helped us get used to our surroundings.
There is a lot to get used to in first year. The change between primary school and secondary school is huge when you go from a class with one teacher to 13 different subjects and teachers. It also takes a while to find your way around Peters as it’s such a big school - I had come from the Gaelscoil which was quite small in comparison. The teachers made a good effort to help us those first few days but they also certainly made us work hard from day one. There are plenty f sports to try out in Peter’s - both the teachers and the meitheal leaders were good at encouraging you to try out different sports and the great selection made it much easier for me to pick. The ref was a whole new experience for me and its great. I always go there and it’s a great place to hang out and meet other people. The food is good value and they always have a great selection.
Now that I am in second year I realise that first year is actually quite tough as there are so many new things to get used to. So far I have found Peter’s enjoyable and challenging. I enjoy the mix of people there and the many subject options that I have. I think Peter’s is a much nicer place now than when my Dad was here.
Memories of St. Peter’s College in the 1970’s.
I entered St. Peter’s College as a 12 year old boy in 1971. The 1970’s were a renowned period of austerity and poor public spending in infrastructures such as secondary schools. The Peter’s College that I entered was certainly a grimmer, colder and more poorly equipped version of the lovely school that exists today. This was the era of long hair, boot boys, Radio Luxemburg, and Top of the Pops on Thursday nights. When I started in 1971, there was no uniform, and so dress code varied widely. This was also the time of 6 school day week with a half day Wednesday afternoon and classes every Saturday morning till 1 pm. This was mainly as a result of St. Peter’s being predominantly a boarding school at that time with approximately 200 day boys being outnumbered by about 400-500 boarders. This large mob were effectively controlled within the school by strict discipline which frequently consisted of corporal punishment. I have many memories of being ‘slogged’ for misdemeanours varying from mild to moderate. There was also the diocesan training college on the “Far Side” and these students helped run the school, especially with evening study every day. When I came across Gary Larson jokes of the Far Side many years later, I always suppressed a smile as my initial impressions of the Far Side were far different to Gary Larson’s. These students for the priesthood were third level students and added to the variety of Peters in the 70’s. They helped in organising the school, especially in supervising the two study periods each evening for boarders. The first period went from 5 pm till 7.15 pm, and the second period from 8.15 pm to 9.30 pm. Day boys frequently stayed back to avail of these facilities. Many of these students are now priests of the county and are friends of mine to this day. The seminarians put on a Light Opera each Christmas, where they were the male leads, and where the first year boys, whose voice had not broke, were acted as girls for the female chorus. To my eternal surprise, I was in chorus for my first year which was Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Trial by Jury”. This was the height of my singing career. I was definitely a one hit wonder.
There was not the same pressure on results as today’s students are under. However, the Leaving Cert was still quite competitive and stressful. Prior to 1975, Irish was a compulsory pass in the Inter and Leaving Cert, and a failure meant a failure in that whole exam. I always felt that this was quite unfair, as we had many in my class who were excellent at everything and poor at Irish, failed their whole exams. Uniforms and a 5 day week were introduced in 1973. It was the same uniform as now, and was designed by Dr. Tom Sherwood, who was the president of the “Far Side” at the time. He died suddenly a few years after I left, and is buried according to his wishes, in the ground in front of the College Chapel. Whatever about now, the uniforms were not well received in 1973. There was always a strong emphasis on hurling in the 70’s, and to a lesser extent football. I was very fortunate to be in my second year when Peter’s won the All Ireland Hurling Competition in 1972 under the guidance of two great Peter’s characters, Fr Paddy Curtis and Mr Ned Power. One of my fondest memories of my time in Peter’s is being in a convoy of about 12 buses driving the length and breadth of Ireland on that great run towards winning the All Ireland. Bus journeys were also part of that era going to ‘hops’ in FCJ Bunclody, debates in Carlow and Kilkenny and the occasional football match.
In those days, there was always a great day out once a year when all students who had passed all their house exams the year before, were brought by Peters for a day out to the Spring Show in the RDS and usually to a musical show afterwards. The Spring Show is now gone, but if you think of the National Ploughing Championship, you get the idea of what the Spring Show was like. There was also a great sports day every year held in Wexford Park, with prizes of household good that were proudly brought home to parents. In my last year, I fancied my chances of winning a few races, but was gutted to discover that the sports day clashed with the Civil Service entrance exam. The CAO had just started, but we all still signed up for every exam that was going including the Bank entrance exams, the army cadets, Civil Service and the Third Sec in the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the list goes on. We did them all in the hope that something might just work.
The priests and teachers worked with very limited resources and with large groups of classes. I now realise how difficult it must have been to teach us as there were some who were interested in studying and some who were not. There were many priests and teachers who went beyond the call of duty in ensuring that we got the best opportunity that was available to us all. From my viewpoint, Emmet Cullen got me interested in cross country running and drove us to many events all over the country in his free time at weekends while we represented Peter’s. We won quite a few regional races, and didn’t disgrace ourselves in national races. This started a lifelong interested for me in sport. My only link from the past school days with the present set up is Phil O Sullivan, who tried in his free time to get a rugby team going. This proved impossible with the GAA teams getting first call on the best players. Jim Golden was always great at helping us find our way in the outside world with his organising of “Hops” with girl’s schools. Jim also organised the Grad ball each year, and as a result of this, one of his more difficult tasks was to develop our dancing skills in preparation for the ball. There were many other teachers who also went out of their way to help us and did their best to make our school days better. It must have been hard and frustrating at times when you compare the resources available to today’s students.
I must admit that in general, I did not enjoy my school days in Peter’s. There was a lot of conflict in the school, and bullying was rife at that time. As is now well known, there was a dark undercurrent of abuse that existed then, and most of us were aware of what was going on. We did not want to believe it was happening, and when the events were subsequently revealed many years later, most of us who were there at this stage were not too surprised. There was an air tension and stress which I found made it very hard to enjoy my education. These memories had kept me away from Peters for many years and made me reluctant and anxious about sending my sons there now. However, after the initial introduction to the school by Mr. Pat Quigley, and subsequently being shown around by Cathal O’Gara, I was frankly amazed and incredulous at the changes that have happened to the school in the intervening years. There appears to be a much more positive air with the students being obviously happy and content. There seems to be a much more open relationship between the students with each other, and also between teachers and students. The facilities are obviously vastly improved and it’s very obvious that the pupils respect the facilities. I am still amazed and incredulous at the lack of graffiti around Peters now. I am now proud that my son is going to Peter’s and that his brothers will follow him this year. The present success of the place has helped settle many ghosts from my past, and even allowed me to join the parent’s council this year. It has been an amazing journey, and congratulations to all who helped in that transition.
David Curtis 1971-1977
Student life in St. Peter’s College 1942 - 1947
On the 4th September 1942 as I was leaving home to go to St. Peter’s College for the first time, Fr. John Butler of Newbawn, later Dean of Discipline in St. Peter’s, and much later, Canon Butler of Ramsgrange, called to see me. It was the 12th Anniversary of his first day as a student in St. Peter’s and he called to wish me well. He had come home across wartime Europe, from Rome to Lisbon, where he boarded a small Irish cargo boat. When in Rome as a student, he had on one occasion been in touching distance of Hitler and Mussolini, on one of Hitler’s visits to wartime Rome.
We set out for St. Peter’s, wearing my first long trousers, like all my contemporaries, in a pony and trap. The first year intake in 1942, doubled the number of boarders to around one hundred. At that time there was compulsory tillage to produce more food and the extra cash generated in agricultural Wexford enabled more boys than previously to be sent that September.
Space was limited. In St. Aidan’s the 2nd and 3rd floors had been vacant since the clerical students had moved to the “Far Hall”, which was completed, I think, in 1936. Three beds were shoe-horned in to each room in St. Aidan’s, along with three stands for enamel basins. The older dormitories beside the Tower and adjacent to the Priests’ House were unchanged. The Square behind The Priests’ House on that dormitory, named “Piccadilly”, and the area furthest from the Square and the Prefect’s cubicle, named “Home Rule”, were unable to accommodate the intake that year. There were wash basins in “Piccadilly” and two toilets. There were two toilets on each of the floors in St. Aidan’s. These were adequate, usually. However there was a problem on certain nights, when episodes of mass dioarrhoea - the feared “jollops” occurred. There was a strong suspicion amongst the victims that the tea had been spiked in the kitchen the evening before. The outdoor toilets sufficed during the day. Subsequently an extra floor was added to the old dormitory and the attic in St. Aidan’s was also fitted out as a dormitory.
In my first year the four Ryan brothers of Tomcoole and my three first cousins and I, were housed in St. Aidan’s. We were moved to the two rooms in the Tower in our second year, when my youngest first cousin Davy Curtis joined us. These rooms were comfortable in Autumn and late Spring/Summer and had a beautiful view. In Winter they were very cold and during the famous Winter of 1947, we had to break the ice in the basins to wash ourselves. In the togging out room, there were five showers. Each evening at the start of study, five boys with soap and towels, ran to the showers and had to be back in the study hall, without fail in 15 minutes - no hot water wasted!
We had three meals a day - breakfast, lunch and tea. At breakfast and tea time, we had tea already mixed with sugar and milk, in large pots - this mixture was an acquired taste. There was adequate brown baker’s bread - at that time all bread was brown, not white, because of The Emergency. Each boy got one pat of butter, the size of two half-crowns stuck together. The pats were unequal in size and were often the cause of strife when being handed out by the senior at the table. Lunch was meat and vegetables, mostly produced on the College farm in Kilmacree and was usually followed by sago, semolina or stewed apples and custard. For growing, very active boys, there was not enough food. Those whose genes predicated low stature, did not get enough nutrition to outgrow their parents, unlike nowadays. One has to be conscious however, that there was a devastating World War in full swing. I personally witnessed the bombing in Campile by a German plane in August 1940. The stipend for each boy was £50 per year, that covered lodging, full board and tuition. In hindsight the College Authorities were great to do so well.
Four languages were taught - Irish, English, Latin and Greek. St Peter’s was a junior Seminary and those who wished to go to the “Far Hall” or Maynooth to study for Priesthood needed Latin and Greek to be accepted. Maths and Science as well as Woodwork and Drawing were taken by all.
All the teachers, except one - Mr. Nicky Murphy, were Priests. Mr Murphy taught Maths, Woodwork and Drawing. Most were very good and committed teachers and were Maynooth graduates. They were paid very badly and it was known that most of their salary was used to subsidise the students and the running of the school. Half an hour daily classes in Religion and associated subjects were given, and for those with ears to hear, these classes were very interesting and thorough. Priests and Clerical Students gave those classes. The wide variety and ability of the mentors available over the five years, gave the boys a good foundation in Catholic principles - social and religious - of the 1940’s. I personally felt they were a great help afterwards in holding one’s own in the more challenging atmosphere of University, Medical School, Hospitals and Practice, later in life. We attended daily Mass each morning, after morning prayers in the big study hall. The chapel was divided as in Pugin’s original plan, by a Rood-screen. Rood is an old Engglish word for a cross - viz Holy Rood. The Rood screen was a large ornate wooden structure, solid at its lower half and windowed in its upper half and surmounted by a large wooden cross, completely shutting off the front half of the church from the back half. The floor between the front half of the Rood-screen and the altar was higher than the floor to the back half of the Rood screen leading to the door. Because of numbers, ours was the first group to use the area between the Rood-screen and the door. Most of us could not see the altar. Years later the Chapel was changed to its present state. (Historical note - Rood-screens separated the Baptisted, who were to the front of the church, from the Catechumens at the back, in Mediaeval Churches).
Wexford was a football county in the 1940’s and had contested the 1945 All Ireland semi-final against Cavan. St. Peter’s was a Gaelic Football school and there were also some very good Handball players. Morning, noon and evening was spent walking with friends - usually in small groups, in the square or in the field in good weather and in the Cloisters in bad weather. From the field we saw the “Operation Overlord” Armada going down the Channel from the Mersey Ports en route to the Normandy landings two days later. Had Field Marshal Rommel known what we new, he would not have left France to go to Germany for his wife’s birthday at that time. The Concert Hall was used for plays in Irish and English. The boys played all the parts. During my time as a boarder Anew McMaster, the impresario and Shakespearean actor, brought Shakespeare to the College stage, when on tour with his company.
The War ended in 1945. Food supplies improved and fuel rationing eased over our last two years as Boarders. We left St. Peter’s in June 1947, toughened by our lives there and like so many boys who went to Boarding Schools, we were not too put out by subsequent experiences. I have been told that later in life, boarding school boys can cope better - even in Prison, than those who have not been through the boarding school system. Luckily I was not in a position to be able personally, to test the veractity of this statement yet! Never again did I get to know anyone on a personal level, as well as I knew my fellow students in St. Peter’s College and a more loyal group of friends does not exist. After five years St. Peter’s they sent me out trained to do what I had hoped to do and I am grateful for that.
Bart Curtis SPC 1942-1947