Friday, April 15, 2005

stories worth a thousand words #9

A WARTS ‘N ALL AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN ORDINARY GUY

1000 WORDS ON…BLACKROCK COLLEGE

[Point of Information : “College” in this case refers to what Americans call “High School”]

Written: 10 November 2004

As far as I was concerned, there could only have been one reason why Fr “Rabbit” McCoy asked to see me after school.

And in case you think this is yet another tale of Catholic school buggery, think again. Perhaps Brother Saul was a little over helpful with me getting on the weights equipment one day when I was in second year, but that would be the extent of my complaints in that regard.

The only transgression I could think of was the fact that I was going home when I should have been attending the school memorial masses. Blackrock College was not only an academic institution but also it served as a rest home for retired priests from the Holy Ghost order. Every day we would see frail elderly pastors being taken out for walks around the outskirts of the campus. One particularly witty pupil coined the term “Father Freeday” to describe them, as when they would eventually shuffle off this mortal coil we would be awarded a day off school to get over the loss.

There would also be the memorial mass, which would replace the last period of a particular school day. By the time I got to fourth year (or high school sophomore year for American readers) I had reached a stage of both rebelliousness and disillusionment with religion by which I was willing to skip the service and go straight home at 3pm. My grandparents would never question me as they were extremely easy to get around – I even managed to avoid showing them report cards AND telling them about parent teacher meetings!

And so I figured that I had been rumbled in my truancy, and that the excrement was about to strike the rotating propeller for sure. I was never one for getting into serious trouble by any means, as keeping my head down was one of my specialties. To be honest I wasn’t that worried about the repercussions as it seemed to be a trivial offence – the worst that could happen would be that I would be forced to endure the boring ceremonies in the future.

Fr McCoy was a bit distracted when I met up with him. “Ah, Jeff, yes, sit down there, sit down”, he said hurriedly, “Now, em, Jeff, I understand you have decided to play football this year instead of rugby, is that right?” With disbelief I replied in the affirmative, after which he said, “And why is that Jeff? Would you not go back to the rugby? It would be much better for you, sure all your mates are playing it!!!”

You would be forgiven for thinking that I was reputed to be the next superstar of world rugby. I was anything but. The highest standard I had achieved was substitute on the “Junior Seconds” team that had won their cup competition the year before. My logic was, why be a sub on the seconds in rugby when I could be a starter on the firsts in soccer? I put this to the overbite-stricken priest across the desk, and after a bit more pleading, he relented. And thus my ties to the oval ball game were finally severed.

My grandparents had enrolled me in Blackrock College’s junior school, Willow Park, immediately after our arrival to nearby Booterstown. Part of their whole inspiration for emigrating to Ireland was based on the proliferation of “Catholic” schools throughout the country. From their point of view, it was natural to assume that I would receive religious instruction that would befit the wishes of the Pope himself.

Well religion is very important to all at Blackrock College, but it is not one that pertains to the Holy Father above, more to that of Rugby Union Football. Since 1887, the premier Schools rugby trophy in the region, The Leinster Schools Senior Cup, has been competed for 117 times, and “The Rock” has won a massive 64 of them. The jingoism and fervour surrounding each game was unbelievable. And the status of those good enough to make the Senior Cup Team or “S.C.T.” was one of almost a rock star.

In sixth year (senior) I organized a pool tournament which attracted an entry of 64 players. Each was to pay a 50p entry fee, which would go towards the prize money which was also being subsidized by the dean of the year. I asked Bob Hanlon, a centre on the SCT, for his payment; he laughed loudly and walked away. Maybe I would have seen his point of view had Father Rabbit been more persuasive.

For many, the celebrity associated with being on the team was to be too great. The current Irish superstar Brian O’Driscoll is one of the precious few from my alma mater to go from SCT to the Irish national team, despite the school’s successes. Kevin Glennon, with whom I worked in Gleeson’s (the principal “Rock” pub), was a great place-kicking out-half whose career nose-dived once he was thrust into the big bad world of Senior Club rugby, and he was not the only one to follow this path by any means.

Despite this the school continues to perpetuate the importance of the game to promote its image as being one of a very exclusive upper middle class establishment. This is all well and good for those who wish to participate in the pastime, but for the rest it sends a disheartening message. If you give the impression that “everybody who’s anybody” plays rugby, everybody else will feel like a nobody.

I find it fitting that I let more than 90% of my allotted words pass before I got to my academic achievements. I managed a respectable score in my Leaving Certificate, which I must of course attribute to my tuition. I can’t accept, however, no matter how black and white it’s portrayed by the Irish educational system, that my schooling can be defined by a number of points. Nor can an academic facility be defined by a number of trophies.

© JL Pagano 2004

NEXT, #10 : 1000 WORDS ON…CHRISTMASTIME

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice. Rang a few bells with my Clongowes days. Philly guy.