An excerpt from Farewell to Kilossery
A brief sojourn at the chalkface in Fatima Mansions was a worthwhile experience, but with no prospects of a permanent position the show moved onto Ratoath, Co. Meath, for the next two years. Over the next two years the familiar names of Eiffe’s, Dolans’, Donnelly’s, Raffertys’, O’Neills’, Gilsennans’ would be indelibly etched in my mind. Forty-seven children were in my class. A teacher colleague in the school named Florence Cantwell had previously taught in Rolestown, little did I know that I’d eventually settle down across the field from her original home in Kilsallaghan. With itchy feet from waiting at Busáras at 8am each morning a move closer to our home off Collins Avenue was still only a vague possibility. Youthful dedication to the job meant the early start was not a bother. I even managed to get to school in time on that dreadful morning of January 1982 when Dublin closed down due to a blizzard, which lasted a whole week. I lived farthest away from the school than all the other seven teachers, however not another living being was to be seen in Ratoath that morning except a robin red breast perched on the closed gate and it gazed at me in sheer and utter disbelief … Bhí ióntas na hiontas air. Duine le Dia ach thuig sé mo chás …
This was a very special moment in my life as I now realised that many of my parents influences were dodgy and warranted immediate review … “Always be early for your work boy … when you make a commitment don’t let anybody down.” … I finally broke that paternal link as I trudged down the Fairy House road, with not a sinner in sight … not even a polar bear. I kept my mind busy and looked upon the present plight as a real life adventure although fraught with danger and trepidation. My survival genes kicked in and I walked to the main Dublin/Navan Road three miles away quicker than the abominable snowman. I thought of Tom Crean, my neighbour from outside Dingle as he headed with Scott in that fateful journey to the South Pole nearly seventy years previously and the many other stories which my uncle Patty Moriarty had related to me about this long forgotten hero. Then, a change of fortune as I managed to hitch a lift into Blanchardstown on a truck before we had to abandon ship and then I continued my journey on foot. Four hours later I reached the safe haven of the ‘Cat and the Cage’ public bar, where my city colleagues who had earlier looked out the window and returned to their warm beds were now imbibing in hot whiskeys, congratulating themselves on their wisdom and hoping that the schools would be shut for a month at least. However, this disaster had a silver lining and I changed my unlucky escapade into a positive result. Within a week, I bought my first car. An old, yellow battered Volkswagen Beetle from my aunty Philomena for the pricely sum of seventy-five pounds. I couldn’t drive a nail but still managed to hit the school gate pillar in Ratoath on my maiden voyage after the snow had thawed. Before the year was out, I had my full driving licence despite the fact that I drove the test instructor the wrong way down a one-way street in Navan. I followed his literal instruction to take the next right and he inquired in amazement if this was my first time in Navan. “Yes.” I replied, but quickly changed the conversation by convincing him that Meath would beat the stuffing out of Dublin later that year. It was four o’clock on a Friday evening and he was in a hurry to get his brindle bitch ready for the puppy stakes in Harold’s Cross. He gave me the thumbs-up and I knew somewhere in my heart that there was some good in them old greyhounds after all because all the ones we had in Dingle long ago were sooner’s!
Then a chance meeting with Joe O’Toole at the Dingle Races followed by some loose talk of a vacancy at Rolestown School. Departing teacher Mike O’Shea was heading south to the hurling hotbed of Patrickswell. We talked about Kerry’s chances of beating Cork, and watched Orla Dwyer, from Ashbourne, win the Dingle Darby on Porterpuss. We parted with some famous last words … “Keep your eyes on the paper … Sure apply and take your chance …give it a shot … no guarantees … a dumb priest never got a parish … you’ll get an interview anyway!” Two Kerry men talking in code! O’Toole kept his cards close to his chest; it wasn’t easy to read his mind. I rang Dublin that evening and told Audrey about my hard luck at the races, just touched off, then as an afterthought, I mentioned the aforementioned encounter. All hell breaks loose. Audrey, a native of West Cork asks a thousand questions, but I dig my heels in. Several generations of caution and native cunning forbid me from answering explicitly, it’s just not the Kerry style! Mixed marriages between the neighbouring counties are fraught with tensions. The following week I go through my usual procrastinations and turmoil. Making decisions was never my forte, but Audrey points out the obvious advantages of closer proximity, no traffic jams and home much more earlier etc, etc … “Now, where precisely is Rolestown?” She asked. “Somewhere at the back of Dublin Airport.” I suggested and set out on reconnaissance, yes the good old dummy run. “Leave nothing to chance boy.” a voice whispers in my ear, but a dodgy turn at the Boot Inn and I finished back at Santry.
Gremlins! Bad omens! Forget about it boy … na bac é … the whispers are still in my ear but the Lord loves a trier and I set off again. Yes! The Rolestown Inn and then I stop at Terry’s shop and I’m directed to the next turn right for the parochial house.
Knock, Knock! It’s dark and Canon Crowley is not too happy with my late arrival. Salutations are brief and small talk non-existent but I plough on regardless. Hope the weather improves tomorrow Father. Goodbye now. Hope I didn’t disturb you … God bless … Slán Leat … the door shuts firmly and I succumb to an airy feeling. I shake my shoulders and breath in Gods magic air. The application form is delivered, the dice is cast. Will I strike a six or slither down the snakes back to start! I recognise one of the other candidates who informs me that the place is a kip, I nod, but keep my council. The interviews follow the usual pattern. What class have you taught before? Who was the priest in Ratoath, and did you take the confirmation class? Would you take the choir and lend a hand at the football? An bhfuil Gaeilge agat? More frivolous and silly questions are to follow and the answers are no less brighter or illuminating. Of course I’ll help out at the football. Sure only for I broke my leg the third time the Bomber Listen would never have been heard of. Yes, certainly I’ll take the choir. Sure wasn’t I the Sean-Nós champion of Knocknagoshel for years. “Sea tá Gaeilge, Béarla agus Laidin agam ón gcliabhán.” That knocks any more questions about Irish on the head … anticipation is everything and I box clever. Then Canon Crowley gets stuck in, but with an aunty, (a nun in Nigeria) and an uncle (a Christian brother in Ennis) I have all the angles covered.
The following day I await anxiously for the phone to ring. Any further delay and it’s the dreaded white envelope in the post … We regret to inform you that your application has been unsuccessful … You did a very professional interview and thank you for your interest, your application will be held on file should any future vacancy occur … That evening the phone rings, I take a deep breath and count to four. The conversation is short and sweet. I get the nod! Mixed feelings and emotions, joy and panic abound. I return to the parochial house the next day in high spirits to sign the contract. Canon Crowley opens the door but fails to recognise me … he mutters something about a lady teacher having being successful; now both of us are confused! I broke out in a barrel of sweat. “Thanks father for the vote of confidence!” I think to myself. He checks the drawer to confirm the name … “Yes, Carol, but, sure, you’re a man!” “Ah, thats right father, first impressions aren’t always what they seem.” “Yes, yes, so I see. Sure I’ll call down next Friday to see how you’re getting on then.” He retorts. “Goodbye, Oh God bless Father, Slan leat mar sin.” What a strange feeling! He can’t remember me, after all the cross examination two nights ago. It must of been the borrowed suit from John Benny that dazzled him! I stop at the Rolestown Inn on my way home to recover my composure and to check out the natives. They’re all excited about some upcoming football match. Thankfully, I’m ignored. Joe Kettle Snr. serves me a pint of Smithwicks and I ponder over the nights work. “Ah, forget it.” Said the little voice in my ear. I sip my pint and listen to the jury over at the counter. ‘Snowball’ is as safe as a house on fire under the high ball. ‘The Rule’ and ‘Dugsey’ are flying and Christy will wreak havoc up front. I’m struggling to make any sense out of the conversation and when they mention ‘Scut’ and ‘Broc” are the cornerbacks, I finally throw in the towel. “Imagine that” I think to myself “A badger and a rabbit on the edge of the square. They must be playing beach ball down in Dollymount Strand.” Suddenly, the door opened and another jury member arrived. “Hello Frog” “What’s the craic?” He mutters. “Ah sure Bear if it was any better, we couldn’t stick it at all.” Came the instant reply… “My God, they’ve gone from the zoo to the Muppet Show” I thought. This is my cue to leave before I’m invited to be a member of the cast. I finish my pint and slip out unnoticed.
Monday morning was upon me in a flash and I ate a halfhearted breakfast before I headed out to Rolestown to meet my fate. The small car park was overflown with parents and pupils alike awaiting the beginning of a new school year. Glances were met and exchanged, as children were anxious to view the new teacher. My luck was in as there were two appointments and a young red haired girl from Waterford named Joan Kiely was hogging the entire spotlight. With a quick shuffle and a Mikey Sheehy side step I avoided the queuing at the stile and ambled quietly behind the bicycle shed where I’m immediately bushwhacked by a young fellow who asked if I was their new teacher. “No” I instantly replied, “I’m the rat catcher!” However, the cat was out of the bag and my interrogator David Homan smiled triumphantly. Still unnoticed I tiptoed between children, parents and teachers and found refuge in my new classroom. It’s an old style room, with a map of Europe hanging on the wall since 1951. Classroom furniture consists of a table, chair, blackboard, duster and two sticks of white chalk. There’s a small hole in the ceiling and a spider is busily mending a cobweb in the far off corner. In a flash, sixty eyes stared at me and some anxious and wild thoughts ran through all our minds. “I’m mister O’Flaherty, and I’ll be your teacher for the next year.” I utter in a cross tone of voice. “Are there any questions?” I asked as