Tullamore CBS/Coláiste Choilm: Remembering Brother ‘Spud’ Murphy, the collected writings of former students, and a reunion dinner of the 1969 and 1970 Leaving Certificate class for 7 June 2019. By Michael Byrne

It is good to see an initiative on the part of Coláiste Choilm, Tullamore (1912- in progress) and, in particular, Ray O’Donovan and his team of students building a special collection of books in the school library written by former students of the school. It will throw up surprises not just for the current cohort, but indeed for old boys as well. The collection was unveiled in the school on Friday evening 17 May by Conor Brady who was a pupil in the  school until the untimely death of his father in 1962 and his subsequent departure for the Cistercian College, Roscrea. Conor has always been a great champion of Tullamore.
The first school history was published in 1962 but has not been updated. It will be a difficult task to do other than list all the students and teachers. Giving a flavour of the school as distinct from a recital of classes over the years can be contentious. The formation of this library is a step in the right direction. Collecting the memories of those who were in the school in the 1950s and 1960s would be good.

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Lots of 1969 faces there from a pic taken perhaps in 1967 and arranged by the only school photographer Sean Breatnach, back left. The recently deceased John O’Beirne second left in front row.

Reunion of the boys of the 1969 and 1970 classes
It was Pat Hennessy formerly of Patrick Street, Tullamore (retired from Foreign Affairs and ambassador to several countries including Israel, Italy and UAE), who recently suggested that a get together of the boys of the 1969 and 1970 Leaving Certificate classes be held by way of a 50th anniversary. A date has now been fixed for the Tullamore Court Hotel on Friday 7 June at 7 p.m.

Pat Hennessy writes:

This is a message for all those who left CBS Tullamore in 1969 and 1970 to join in marking the 50th anniversary of that significant occasion.
For those of us fortunate enough to be still around we can look back on our years at the CBS and wonder was that really a half century ago. As no doubt many of you have had to explain to younger acquaintances those were different times! For a start we had all come through something called the “Inter”, and were now gearing up for the next big test, the still familiar Leaving Certificate.
Whatever path you followed, or wherever it took you, we were building on solid foundations put down in High St many years before. Each will have their own particular memories, but we were undoubtedly fortunate in having the support of many excellent teachers, some of whom continued to give service at Coláiste Choilm long after we departed. Indeed, as those who have seen the present campus can attest it is clear that “our old school” has gone from strength to strength in the intervening decades.
Golden Anniversaries are special events so it seems right that we should celebrate this milestone of our graduation from the CBS. Hopefully it will be a chance to reconnect with old school mates, some we may see regularly but others probably not since we parted ways all those years ago. It will be an evening to reconnect, remember and reminisce on the good ol’ days!

The CBS Golden Anniversary Dinner will take place in Tullamore on (Friday, 7 June) at The Court Hotel. If you are interested please contact Pat Hennessy, Michael Byrne or James Scully and leave a message for us at info@offalyhistory.com and one of the organisers will get in touch with you. Tickets will be €40. We would be glad to have help with spreading the word. Contact us. If you know somebody who was at the CBS in this period please let them know of the planned event. It will be good also to recall those who have gone. You can send pictures of goings on since 1965 to info@offalyhistory.com.

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Brendan Clarke wins a Kearney Award in the 1969 year with Michael Noel Byrne, Paddy Daly, Monsignor Clarke PP, Oliver Clancy, S.R. O’Giffney and Willie Dunne – among others. A friend to Offaly History, Billy Murray, can just be seen in the back row. Paddy Daly (wearing medal) was the excellent county librarian doing his best on a tight budget in a former 50-bed county hospital in Church Street. Wille Dunne was the affable shoemaker in High Street

Bro ‘Spud’ Murphy
The person I remember best at CBS Tullamore was the late Bro ‘Spud’ Murphy. He came to Tullamore in 1954 and died here in 1970. It is hard to believe he was only 62 when he died. His full name was Michael Hilarion Murphy, but to us he was ‘Spud’ the Brother with the big feet who would regularly say ‘Come here I want you’ when needing some errand done. His great love was Gaelic football and he helped Fr Gilhooley train the minor team winners of the All Ireland in 1964.

CBS staff 1962
The staff of 1962 included Geraghty, Killeen, Carty, Murphy, O’Dea and Mullins. Those who attended the private primary school will recall Mr Burke and Bro Fahy. 

Brother Murphy was a voracious reader. In the years prior to his death in 1970 he was somewhat housebound, and it was my job to select his reading material in the County Library then in the old infirmary building (1788) in Church Street. A new life of Lenin I recall him praising highly among many other histories in that fine library. I can recall too his doing history in sixth year using Wakeman’s Ascendancy of Europe – a very old-style history but fine for the English language style. Anyway, Spud made it interesting.

Spud was keen to have all boys placed on leaving school. He was a kind of Ed Walsh of UL before his time in that he would seek out job or college opportunities for all the boys. This traditionally meant the bank, Junior X in the Civil Service, county council and D. E. Williams. The university grants came in from 1968 with fees paid and £300 – it was a great boon to many of us. For the grant you might have to go up to Mr David McEvoy in the council to get him to speed it up. You always got a great welcome. I recall him giving me a bound volume of the voters list Offaly for 1969-70 that was being used as a doorstop in the old council offices. In case we have forgotten free second level education was only introduced in about 1967 and before that fees in CBS were about £18 per year. There was gathering up in that (equivalent to perhaps 300 pts of Guinness) at a time when few went on holidays never mind head off to Greece or Spain after the Leaving Certificate. There were no school tours at second level excect perhaps to a football match in Ballynacargy!

Others of the Brothers one recalls were Geraghty, Giffney, Skinner Mullen, Bannon, Brennan, Killeen, McShane and a man who was teaching although quite deaf, a Brother O’Toole (Snowball).

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‘Batty’ Brennan makes a point . Bro Mullen to his right and Greg Cusack at a sports day outside the Tullamore GAA  clubhouse about 1968. Pic by MB and often developed and  printed in DIY laboratory.

Another who should be mentioned was Bro. Judge who was a great walker and spent half of his life in the Brothers. He died at the young age of 31. He had worked mostly in the primary and was very approachable and agreeable.

Among the lay teaching staff happily the gentle Sean Breatnach (known as Willie to the boys) and Greg Cusack are still with us. Jimmy O’Dea was well loved and then there were teachers who were more respected than loved. Tom Mullins was one of those, but a wonderful teacher nonetheless.  Up to the mid-1960s the results of the state exams were published in the local press line by line for each student which must have been a horror for the disappointed girl or boy and their family.

AB was a well-known and regarded teacher, if a little tough on the younger lads of the mid-1960s, but by the time one was a senior boy that had changed and a spirit of comradeship prevailed. A number of younger teachers were thrown in at the deep end and found the going very tough. [In view of many comments on Facebook when this article was first posted (4 May 2019)  from people who were not in the school in the 1960s it seems best to leave contemporary history for at least another 45 years. It is surprising how many fail to read an article in full and then provide so called memories that are a long way from the facts, or are agenda driven. Some who provided such ‘memories’ were never in the school or were there post 1970. In the overall it is not important now and the reference in the first issue of this artice was to illustrate the mid-1960s years and not later in the decade or post 1970. CP was largely gone by the late 1960s, but not before that time. CP was not confined to any one teacher, but the force of it (as with memory) can impact in diffferent ways. MB 20/5/2019]

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A lively class room of  2011 complete with the scallop shell of Compostela. The picture was taken in the last days of the old school of which only a few rooms of the former assembly hall (three class rooms with dividers) survives.

In the overall CBS was a fine school and some such as Spud Murphy and the good teachers did a lot for the boys of the 1960s. It was a good time to emerge on the jobs market as there were lots of vacancies especially in teaching. Third level was at long last accessible to those who could manage the four honours grades (not so many compared with today) and it was a whole new scene once out of Tullamore. It was goodbye to the Central Ballroom (only just started in Crow/Tara Street) and to St Mary’ Hall and Christy Maye’s Disc a Go Go. Live Celtic rock beckoned and bell bottoms instead of drainpipes were all the rage in the various Aula from Galway to UCD and Trinity. Saturday night in Belfield was one long great harmless rave. From 1972 Tullamore had the Harriers live bands to come home to and lots of philosophical discussion in the new Bridge House bar over the pint bottle of stout. The big wins for Offaly GAA in those years were extraordinary displays of love-ins (with football that is) in well-known pubs like Clifford’s, Lawless, Lee, Doolan’s and Digans.

Within 30 years the last of the Brothers would leave Tullamore. It was not until 2011 that the patched up old school built by Bantile in 1960 (without or with very little state grants) was replaced with the fine place that CBS/Colaiste Choilm is today. Today the school has built on the best of the learning traditions and staff watch out for boys in need of support. Today’s world is different to the ‘Barracks’  or the ‘Dark’ of John McGahern, but there are new vulnerabilities. Children learn who are happy first and have confidence in themselves and self esteem. The staff of Coláiste Choilm today are very much attuned to that.

The ‘monastery’ purchased by the Brothers in 1951 and sold in the 1980s with the new school of 1960 to the right with its science room and mysterious Bunsen burners and other paraphernalia.

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Daly’s shop in High Street (left) complete with Mills & Boon Lending Library and cigarettes for 3d each. The simple life as Flann would say. This pic of the 1980s. It is now a takeaway coffee shop for Americano etc. A long way from the Misses Daly, Woodbines and Tom Mullins shovel.