The various aspects of life as a boarder, the tight living spaces, the food shortages, the distance from your family are always striking when I speak to current College students about the history of College. This account poignantly brings the life of boarder into view.
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Having been born and reaerd on a farm in Co. Tipperary, it would be impossible to count how many times I was asked by my fellow students how I ended up on the lay side at St. Peter's. The answer is really twofold. One reason was that my parents felt that if I were to ever learn anything I should be locked up since I was unable to apply myself to any serious student while I was attending the local primary school. The other reason why I ended up in Wexford was for economical reasons. I was quite happy attending the local national school in the heart of the Golden Vale near the beautiful Glen of Aherlow. However back in those pre-Common Market days, I was not too interested in farming as a way of life. I completed my last two years of primary education at the Christian Brother's School in Tipperary town by riding a bad bike six miles into town and six miles home each day. But I enjoyed it just the same as I had many travelling companions, some of whom were attending the Convent of Mercy which was located right next to the C.B.S. In my own mind I had expected that I would continue my secondary education with Brothers. But my parents did not see much hope for serious study if I were to continue as a day pupil. It seemed to them that I had too many other more exciting interests or distractions while going to Tipperary. So they informed my that since I did not want to purusue a farming career, the best place for me was a boarding school. Needless to say, I was given no choice in this matter. It was a case of stay home and get down to farm work or accept the fact that a boarding school was the only plae that would straighten me out and where I could give undivided attention to my studies.
But my parents had to find a boarding school that they could afford. They were farmers with a modest income. There was a saying in Tipperary that the sign of a prosperous farmer was “one who bulled his own cows and had a son in Maynooth”. My poor father did not have his own bull. He shared one with two other local farmers. We did not have anyone in the family in Maynooth. So my parentsdid what they could to seek out a boarding school they could afford.
Boarding schools such as Rockwell College, St. Joseph's Roscrea or St. Flannan's Ennis, which were closer to home were relatively expensive. In those days, the Catholic papers carried advertisements for various boarding schools around the country. Among those schools advertised was St. Peter's. After writing to many of them my parents concluded that Wexford was one they could most easily afford. The fee in Wexford was only half that of Rockwell College which was only twenty miles from my home. So without any further discussion on the matter it was decided that I was destined for Wexford. My mother wrote to the President of the College who at that time was Dr. James Browne. He sennt her a list of items I needed. Among those items were such things as pyjamas. I had to ask what those things called pyjamas were as we did not wear such type of night clothing at home.
On a sunny morning early in September 1956 after milking my usual share of cows, my father and a cousin drove me to Wexford. Both of them had hardly ever left the confines of County Tipperary in their life, so this long journey to Wexford was to be a big adventure for them. I was not one bit happy about the journey as I knew it was going to be the beginning of a whole change in my lifestyle. This was to mark the beginning of my leaving home and returning only on holidays for the rest of my life. The journey to Wexford seemed very long as my father and cousin stopped at several pubs along the way. I can remember passing over the old bridge in New Ross. This old bridge had several barricades to slow down traffic and it had a sign posted which warned the motorist that the speed limit on the bridge was 3 mph. It must have been in terrible condition and I wondered as we drove across it if it would collapse and send us all to our deaths in the river below.
Upon arrival in Wexford town we found ourselves driving along the Main Street after passing the Bull Ring. I was amazed at how narrow the street was. At that time traffic was moving in both directions with parking on one side. Since my father and cousin were beginning to feel the effects of the pub visits I was wondering how we would make it safely without ending up driving through some store window! Somehow we ended up down at the docks and we were given directions on how tog et to the College. As we drove up the avenue to the College and as I looked at that stone building I felt that higher education, especially in confinement, was not for me. Then and there I informed my father that I would prefer to go back and sepdn the rest of my life in Tipperary milking cows and live a normal life. In no uncertain terms he told me that since we had come this far I was going to make the best of it. He also said that when I return home on holidays I might appreciate the cows much better.
After ringing the door bell we were met by the President, Dr. Browne and the Dean of the lay side, Fr. Paddy Curtis. I was to learn later that Fr. Curtis was in his first year on the staff. This meeting with Fr. Curtis was to be the first of many. Later meetings with him took place in his room for discipline purposes while he was Dean of the lay side. Further meetings with him would take place some years in the seminary on “Black Saturdays” when he was Dean of the Seminary. But on the first day of my arrival in Wexford, I felt that my stay in St. Peter's would be very short. The fursthest thought from my mind then was that I would end up spending eleven years there.
On the day of my arrival the word seemed to have spread quickly among the student body that I was from Tipperary. Being from another county made me appear somewhat like a foreigner. I aroused a lot of curiosity. Students kept asking me how many sisters I had. Later I was to find out that this was common among the student body. Lay students were always interested in how many sisters the other students had. I felt such information would not be of much use since we were all locked up in a boarding school. It may be possible to arrange “pen pal” relationships if one was willing to risk the mail being censored. In the study hall I was seated for the rest of the year next Eamon Doyle who I believe is now a policeman in Kilkenny.
The first night on St. Patrick's Dormitory was indeed a new experience. In those days there were no cubicles. It was quite an adjustment having to sleep in the mdist of so many snoring young boys. After lights out I can remember the Prefect, Aidan Kavanagh, walking up and down between the beds until all was quiet and all were asleep. Next morning the bell rang at some unearthly hour and Aidan Kavanagh emerged from his cubicle at the top of the dormitory and walked up and down between the beds, this time at a faster pace than the previous night pulling the clothes off those beds in which the occupants were not responding to the bell. Speaking of dormitories, the most notorious dormitory I slept in was one we used to call “Home Rule” which was underneath St. Patrick's and which I occupied in my second year.
Eating in the Refectory was also quite an experience. The food was so scarce I could not help but wonder if that was not the main reason why the fee at St. Peter's was much cheaper than some of the other boarding schools! It amazed me to so many men eating in the Refectory who wore “round collars and soutanes”. The sight of so many “priests” made me conclude that one would not get away with much in this place as there would be priests hiding in every corner. Later I found out that all those fellows were not priests but just “clerical students” preparing for the priesthood. It certainly did not occur to me then that one day I would be dressed like that and eating in that section of the Refectory.
I have many happy memories of the lay side and some unpleasant ones too. In my first year one of the more unpleasant memories is that of the First Years having to pick up papers each Sunday morning supervised by the Seniors. It was far worse than picking “spuds” or pulling turnips back home in Tipperary. One of the more amusing memories I have of the lay side are of what Fr. Paddy Curtis (Dean) referred to as “airlifts at the back gate”. This is the back gate at the lower end of the playing field located at the rear of College farmyard.
If my memory is correct, it seems that the student body had to assemble in the large study hall underneath St. Aidan's Dormitory each Sunday morning for a report on the state of affairs within the College. This report or “telling off” was given by the Dean. For quite some time, the airlifts were sure to be mentioned with a severe warning of the consequences that would follow for anyone caught in the act.
During study time, Fr. Pat Doyle, Dean of Studies was sure to pay a visit each evening to the various study halls. The Dean of Discipline was also likely to pay a visit and administer discipline to various students. Once he left, there was an obvious atmosphere of relief expressed among those whose names were not called out. With the departure of the Dean of Discipline or the Dean of Studies, the presiding prefect had his work cut out for him trying to have the students settle down. I must refer to the prefects who supervised the study halls and the dormitories. These were men usually from the Fourth Divinity year on the Far Side. Like our teachers, they were all good men and they had a lot to put up with from the students. In later years when I was in Fourth Divinity, I was not a prefect, but I did act as a substitute prefect from time to time. It was not until then that I realised how much those prefects had to put up with. I enjoyed being a substitute prefect as it was a change from the regular routine, but I amcertainly glad I was not one on a full time basis. A prefect's own personal study was impossible while supervising a study hall of young boys. For that reason I always tried to avoid being a prefect on an evening prior to my own examinations. So my sympathy goes out to all those who were full time prefects. I have met some of those men from time to time at our re-unions. I take this opportunity to salute all of them and I appreciate their kindness and patience.
In June 1961 our class from the lay side did the Leaving Certificate. Over the years I have lost contact with most of them. The only ones I have any regular contact with are those who became priests. But to those I have lost contact with, I take this opportunity through Petrus to send you greetings and hope we all meet some day. This is one of the great values of Petrus in that it provides a link or source of contact with our past and helps to recall our friendships.