Colehill N.S. Remembered – With Great Affection !

“There in his mansion, skill’d to rule, 

The village master taught his little school” 

- Oliver Goldsmith, “The Deserted Village”




Fifty-two years ago, at 24 - the age when young men know everything! - I became Principal of Colehill National School.


I held that position until September1968 when I emigrated to Ghana, West Africa 

to teach English. Principals before me were, Sean O’Curraoin for a short period and Master Quigley for a very long time; after me came Michael Ward, Mary Orohoe and Brid Glynn, the current Principal. Hopefully, we’ve all “made a difference”.


How I got the post was unusual. Happily teaching with my father in Cootehill, I saw 

a Principalship advertised and applied – though not having sufficient service, I was ineligible! Seeing my class out of St.Michael’s B.N.S. early September afternoon, Fr Mc Cormack, PP Carrickedmond and Manager of Colehill school, was waiting at the gate and offered me the job!  It transpired he had known my father and mother in Mullineachta, where my father was Principal (and I was born) in the Forties. 


I declined the offer, but a few weeks later, following my local PP’s refusal to allow myself and a Kerry friend, Michael Donnelly, to conduct the UNICEF “Penny Appeal” at the church-gate - from the pulpit, he berated locals for having money for “all kinds of nonsense, like musical instruments” – I had started a School Band - I rang Fr.McCormack and asked if the offer still stood. It did. “Right” I said, “I’ll be with you on 1st October”, and handed in my resignation.


My Colehill “rule” was brief, but packed with enormous vitality and enjoyment, vividly remembered now with great affection. I made good friends in Carrickedmond, many surviving to this day. Jimmy Stewart at the local P.O. was one - I got my daily “Irish Times” there- the local Rector was the only other I T reader in the parish! 

The McGoey’s of Abbeyshrule and the Murray’s of Taghshinny; the local GAA club 

(I joined as a playing member); the drama group (I directed a play, “The Wallpaper Hangers”, with Brendan Quigley and Peter Mullen, Marcella’s father in the cast.)


Fr. Pat was regarded as a hard man, a difficult manager to work for, but after two brief “encounters”, he and I got on famously. He was a big Dev man. On a visit to the school when my two Assistants and I were having lunch, he spotted the Irish Times on the desk, “Ah, why don’t you read a good paper, the “Irish Press” – “do chum Gloire De agus Onora na hEireann” I explained the I T had an important Economics article by Prof Garret Fitzgerald on Wednesdays– I was doing Economics at UCD and the article was helpful re exams. Fr Pat was unconvinced, so I concluded, “You read the I P, Fr. and I’ll take the IT and we’ll both be happy.” Poor Mrs.McGoey and Mrs. Kenny were mortified, but Fr.Pat dropped the subject and departed. 


Then, one snowy morning, most pupils absent and heating off, I decided to close the school, “You better get the Manager’s permission first”, Mrs McGoey and Mrs Kenny advised. “I’ll call round and tell him we’re closed”, I said. Housekeeper, Lily took the message and I headed off to Dublin to find out what was likely to appear in the Deg-ree exams.I had no further problem with Fr.Pat – or he with me! - in fact, when I was leaving, he offered to keep the job open for me until my return from Africa! 


I had the 4th 5th and 6th classes – Mrs Kenny the Middle division and Mrs McGoey the Naionain and First Class. I enjoyed my teaching enormously. There were many talent-ed pupils, boys and girls, and I tried to bring all along at their own pace. I devised a varied timetable, systematically moving from one class, subject and activity to the next, alternating oral and written work. The “Library” - a trolley with books! - was a big item – when pupils finished set-work, they were free to select a library-book and read. Prayer & Religion, Music & Singing were “common/shared” activities and the choral work was impressive – “Oft in the Stilly Night”, “October Winds”, “Baidin Fheidhlimidh” . . . 


The new swimming-pool in Longford featured in our “curriculum” too– up to 8 boys & girls piled into my VW Beetle for lessons. Despite my poor instruction, children learned quickly. At a past-pupil’s 60th birthday-party in Ursula McGoey’s recently, 

I met many past-pupils who remembered the swimming-lessons with appreciation.


We all enjoyed the breaks, na sosanna.- Keegans, Geoghegans, Cahills, Courtneys, Johnny Campbell, Philip Butler, Martin Costello, Maura Geoghegan, the Murtaghs, Liam and Tomas, Rose Dowler, the Farrells, John and Camillus, Marcella Mullen. In Summer, I’d join the footballers out the back. Local CC, Fr Brennan was a golfer – we played in Mullingar; With Fr.Quinn, nephew of Patrick Kavanagh, a musician I visited Dundalk’s Maytime Festival, we met PK at Mucker en route home. We devel-oped a School Garden and Flower-bed.out front. Once a year, pupils were marched up to Dr McGivney for Medical Examination. He also did the Medical for my African job – “you’re not 5-8½ “, he told me – “and you’re overweight for your height!”


When I first arrived, I lodged with Mrs McGrath at Clonfide – a classmate of mine, Vincent Leek, had stayed there when Principal in Clonfide school. Ms.Patsy Curran,

Edgeworthstown was Principal there in my time – we often swopped notes & shared ideas, difficulties and yarns. I remember Mrs McGrath’s generosity – especially the big dinners! She would tell me all the “local news”, sometimes saying, “I had some-thing to tell you, Master, but I have it forgot” Kathleen, Pat and Hugh completed that happy household. Because my father was called “Master”, I found it strange to be addressed as such – I’d look behind to see who they were addressing!


At Murray’s pub in Taghshinny, Ned was the boss, with Mrs Murray a significant and warm business partner. I played football with their “hit-one-hit-all” sons, Sean, Martin and Eamonn, sadly all gone now. Once when Fr Pat’s VW car broke down between the Church and Taghshinny, Ned was called. While examining the engine at the back, Fr Pat, ever impatient, engaged the starter and whipped the top off Ned’s finger. Ned was taken to Dr McGivney who ordered someone back to the scene to look for the missing bit. When the matter was settled in court – Ned got generous compensation – part of the evidence was that Ned could no longer play the piano!  Soon after, a local auctioneer enquired in the bar, “Well, Ned – how’s every little bit of you?!”


At the Rustic Inn, Abbeyshrule, Ned McGoey, Una’s husband had retired to farming, leaving Teddy in charge. Teddy became Chairman and I Secretary of Carrickedmond GAA Club. Sgt.Liam Kellegher was in charge at the Barracks on the Bog Road.When he retired (to Kinnegad where I occasionally visited him in the 1980-1990’s) there was a big party in the Hall. At dawn, a number of us, including Noel Gavin and the Mitchells played football outside the Rustic Inn, before going in to conclude celeb-ration. Another famous “outing” was with Master Quigley, Master Cashel & Guard Nally, of Ballymahon in my VW to Moyvore, where they had a friend. We partied long into the night before I drove “the boys” home.


I played several matches with Carrickedmond’s senior team. The Murray and Reilly brothers, Pat Egan and Moran were prominent, Mitchell in goals. When we got to a County semi-final, I returned from London where I was working for the Summer for the big game in Pearse Park. I stayed overnight with Sean Murray, and B in Dublin. Playing No.11, I pulled a hamstring in the first few minutes and had to go off. We lost.  In Edworthstown once, I hit a Granard player and the pitch was invaded – luckily, the lady with the high-heel shoe in hand was one of us - Mrs.Campbell! After another game in Longford, Tom Morris greeted me as we left the field, “Jaysus, Master, you played a masterful game!”- the highest praise I ever received as a player,

despite scoring a goal for Cavan in the ’59 All-Ireland Minor Final! 


Living in rural Ireland, I decided to learn to ride. Frank Kilkenny had horses stabled 

at the Glebe and I joined him for Saturday morning ride-out. Down the Ballymahon road was easy, but when he entered a field on the left and galloped away, my horse followed, leapt a drain, frightening the life out of me. When I went out on my own, the horse shied at a passing tractor and deposited me arse-first on the road. 


During my time there, Patrick Kavangh died and I posted the Irish Times tribute, incl-uding several PK poems, on the green notice-board at the back of the classroom.Gold-smith was of course our local poet, and one Saturday morning in Summer, I led a school outing to Pallas where Fred Montcrief outlined the topography and read some poems. Later, in the 1980’s a local committee, including Teddy McGoey, Sean Ryan, Seamus McCormack and Willie Dowler came to “Kavanagh’s Yearly” in Inniskeen. They invited me and Bernard Loughlin, Director of The Tyrone Guthrie Centre (who died recently in Spain) to Abbeyshrule to advise on establishment of a Goldsmith Summer School – which we did, going on to have a drink in The Pigeons before returning to Monaghan. This year the Goldsmith Literary Festival celebrated its 34th anniversary – I’ve attended many and participated in quite a few. Ad multos annos!


In the early1980’s, en route to Athlone for a morning meeting in the Department of Education, I paid a visit to Colehill. Posing as a Cigire, I asked the Principal, Michael Ward to conduct me over new developments at the School. On completion, I revealed my true identity and Michael responded appropriately – I won’t quote him here!


For me, Teddy McGoey’s recent passing was a major breach in my relationship with that part of Ireland – his was a big, generous, humorous, positive presence and influ-ence. Although I still call – and will – to say hello to Betty, Ursula, Edward Jnr. and the girls, all adult now, and to the Goldsmith committee, Seamus, Sean, Willie, Anne, Joe, Niall & Co, Teddy’s absence is a heartfelt ache. I vividly remember his parents, too, Una (who always addressed me as “A Mhaistir” and the eternally-behatted-bespectacled Ned, who told a motor-bike gang in the early Sixties, “youse can have one drink, then f**k off back to Mullingar”! Go ndeana Dia trochaire orthu uilig.


Education is essentially about improvement, development, –at individual, community, regional and national levels. Every teacher hopes to play a significant part in that vital process. In my time at Colehill N.S., I hope good Cavan football and poor swimming- lessons weren’t the only improvements I brought to – and legacy left in – that beauti-ful place, now fondly remembered in the twilight years. Au revoir! 


Larry McCluskey (former Principal, Colehill N.S.)


Co.Cavan                                                                                      November, 2018 


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