Starting in Tullabeg as a boarder in September might mean not getting home until the following June. Tullabeg, the Jesuit boarding school near Tullamore was opened in 1818 and closed in 1886 as a boarding school, following amalgamation with Clongowes Wood. This account of the four years spent there as a schoolboy was written in 1951 and published almost seventy years after the event.
On the 2nd of September, 1882, close on seventy years ago (almost 140 now), my father left me at St. Stanislaus’ College, Tullabeg. At that time Fr. Sturzo, an Italian, was Rector ; he was succeeded later by Fr. George Kelly. Fr. Wisthoff was Higher Line Prefect, Fr. Vincent Byrne, who lived to be ninety years of age, was Third Line Prefect. I forget who was Lower Line Prefect, though I remember that Mr. Charles Farley, S.J., held that position sometime later; whoever it was, I am sure that he had a hard time. The captain of the Third Line, known to us then as Billy O’Leary, was afterwards the famous seismologist at Rathfarnham Castle, Fr. William O’Leary. The youngest and, I think, smallest boy in the house at that time was Paddy Rath, who became Captain of the House in Clongowes in 1890. The oldest person in the house was, strange to say, Fr. Young, S.J.
I was for four years at Tullabeg before I went to Clongowes at the Amalgamation [in 1886]. Although the buildings at Clongowes were more ornate and were richer in historic associations than those in Tullabeg, I must say that I always liked Tullabeg better; there was a certain brightness and Spartan simplicity about it, I always thought, which were reflected in its hardy young students. When I refer to the Spartan atmosphere I do not imply that there was not a high standard of education at Tullabeg, on the contrary the boys always did exceptionally well in the Intermediate and other examinations, particularly so for such a comparatively small school. Very many brilliant students and even brilliant families went through school. I remember in particular one such family, the Nolans from Dublin, of whom Pierce Nolan became Registrar of the Supreme Court and John Nolan an Exhibitioner and I think, first in his grade; and there was too, Fr Thomas V. Nolan, S.J., subsequently Irish Provincial of his order. Then there was the O’ Dwyer family, Frs. James and Thomas O’ Dwyer were Jesuits who did distinguished educational work in Australia; their brother was Sir. Michael O’Dwyer. There were in those days many students from Newfoundland – Kents, McLaughlins and Mitchells; I think they were part of a colony that originated from Waterford.
In Tullabeg there were only single classes – I mean they were not duplicated or triplicated as in Clongowes. The classes, apart from what was known as the B.A. class, were; Rhetoric, which corresponded to the Senior Grade of the Intermediate Examination and had Fr. Anderson as Master, Poetry or Middle Grade ; First of Grammar, Second of Grammar and Third of Grammar (all of which supplied candidates for the Junior Intermediate), Rudiments and Elements. When I first went forward for the Junior Intermediate Examination, I was in Third of Grammar. At that time it was only necessary to pass in two subjects in order to pass the examination; I passed in two subjects, Latin and English getting honours in one of them. One could go in for the same grade several times with the idea of improving on a mere pass or possibly of gaining an exhibition. Though, therefore, I went in for the same Junior Grade in the two subsequent years, I failed to pass on each occasion. However, in justice to myself, I must say that in the subsequent Junior Examination, as a result of the age limit being raised, it became necessary to pass in four or five subjects: later on I fared much better in the Matriculation class. I don’t know how many entered for this examination in my particular year but only two passed, James Kent, later Attorney-General and Minister of Justice in Newfoundland and myself.
When I went to Tullabeg, I was put into Rudiments [first year in Jesuit schools]. At that time the first six pupils in order to merit got an award or certificate “Ob insigne meritum” – I got the certificate for sixth place in my class. I also got a book prize for French in Second of Grammar. This was what I might describe as a “heterogeneous” class, consisting as it did of all kinds and sizes, with size generally predominating over intellect. Each class had what was called a “Class Master” and Fr. William Butler was the class master of Second of Grammar with old Fr. Molloy as French Master. At that time too, Fr. Butler looked after the training of the College Band, the drummer whereof, was a stout boy named William Hearne. He was popularly known by the name “Pick,” possibly to Pickwick, and I remember some lines of a parody which ran: “Did you ever hear Pick play a tune on the drum? Sometimes, generally never!” I have been told that he became a doctor and lost his life while returning from an island off the west coast where had gone to visit a patient.
Grammar was, I think, always, the biggest class in the school. At any rate it numbered about thirty-three in my time. In Rudiments and Third of Grammar we had a splendid teacher, the late Fr. Edward Masterson, S.J. He taught gently but very thoroughly, putting things so clearly before us that we were encouraged to remember what was taught not from learning it by rote but from thoroughly understanding it. Fr, John Gately, who had been a secular priest before becoming a Jesuit, was class master in First of Grammar.
I think some of the students in the B.A. class were English; certainly there was one with the peculiar name of Cagger, and another by the name of Julian de Kenna Kingsmill. The only survivor of that class whom I know of is the Reverend James Whitaker, S.J., of Clongowes.
For games we had, first of all, “Gravel Football” which was played during winter and early spring on the gravel playground. This game was played according to special rules known as “Up Fair.” The ball naturally had to be very tough and strong to withstand contact with the gravel. One rule was that in order to approach the player in possession, with the ball at his feet, it was necessary to approach in front of him in a direct line between him and the goal. Of course he naturally took a shot at you as you were coming up and it was quite an art to jump clear of the ball. Sometimes we had soccer, played with a very large ball on the grass. Early in the year we had stilts; these were about 6ft. 6in. high with the step about 2ft. 6ins. From the ground. One acquired great proficiency in running about on these and having matches or battle, in which you tried to unstick your opponent. As far as I know, hurling was not played at any boarding school of that time; in fact, I do not think I saw a hurling game played anywhere for years after I left school.
There were athletic sports every year, the competitions being divided according to Lines. I remember a boy in the Lower Line, who is now a Parish Priest in North Kildare, making an especially good long jump. There was also a 100 yards handicap class race in which boys selected from every class in the House completed. I remember that it was won one year by a boy in Elements. There was also an annual boat race at a place called Ballycommon (or Ballycowan) which for some reason strange reason, perhaps some half remembered a ducking, is always associated in my memory with Virgil’s line: “apparent rari nantes in gurgite vasto” [
Rare survivors in the immense sea].
But to turn again from sports to studies. Although the students at Tullabeg were most successful in public examinations to my mind there never was at Tullabeg what I might call that “intensive cultivation” of the brain to be found elsewhere. Coming on towards the examinations there used to be “Night Studies,” which lasted, I think, for an hour after the normal bedtime. One had to hold up one’s hand, when passing by a particular point, for permission to stay up; the whole business was entirely voluntary. Then there was a form of study which, I think, would be beyond the modern boy. We had study for an hour each morning even in the coldest winter, in a hall innocent of any heating arrangement but the rugs which most of us had to wrap around our knees. I do not know what instrument is favoured today in the matter of punishment; we had “pandies” or “ferulae”.
“Pandy bats” were in shape something like the sole of a shoe, but rather more pliant, and one could be, shall I say, awarded any number up to eighteen consecutive slaps, a punishment popularly known as “twice nine”. I did not mind them very much nor did I feel any resentment; in these effeminate days possibly boys have to get a medical certificate before receiving “twice nine.” The order for pandies or ferulae was always written out and one brought the note to the Higher Line Prefect.
There were two piano-practice rooms off the corridor. My taste for music was very much greater than my profiency. The result was that I mastered only the “March from Rob Roy” in Hemy’s Tutor and a special piece called “Valse Joyeuse.”
At the end of the School Corridor there was a kind of theatre with a stage and some tiers of benches. This room was ordinarily used as a class-room for the natural philosophy or chemistry classes. Outside this room was a short passage leading to the part of the house occupied by the community; this passage was always known at the “Suez Canal.”
There was a very fine cricket crease, known as the “Billiard Table”, the scene of many a match against visiting teams. It was kept in perfect condition by a donkey-mower in charge of an elderly man named Brian Spollen. The college team had some very good batsman and bowlers, at least according to our way of thinking.
There was a flagstaff which was looked after by a senior boy who also looked after the shop. In this shop, sweets were to be had, mainly butterscotch and nougat of brands as well known today as they were taken.
We used to have long walks on Play Days during the winter to places as far distant as Ballycumber; in the higher classes we sometimes went as far afield as Frankfort, now Kilcormac. Each set out for its walk accompanied by the Class Master. I remember on one of these walks we were passing by an orchard and were allowed to go in and but some apples; we got so many that some boys, including myself, cut the lining of our coat pockets to make room for our purchases.
Meals were very differently arranged in those days at Tullabeg. On entering the refectory for breakfast each boy found ready for him a large bowl of tea, already laced with milk and sugar, and a supply of bread and butter. I think it was the same at the evening meal. The dinner was more or less as it is today. Sometime around twelve o’clock one could go down to the refectory door and get plain crusts without any butter from a large basket placed at the refectory door. Strict silence was observed in the refectory at all meals. As regards the arrangement in the refectory for the celebration of special holidays, one has to remember that ideas and customs were different in those days. On these occasions each boy was supplied with a small tumbler of sherry. Of course it was not compulsory to drink this nor was anything the worse thought of anyone who not do so.
This wine was used as a form of barter. Some boys brought large flasks into which they poured, for future use, the wine they had acquired from others and for which they gave in exchange whatever barter they had arranged.
I came to Clongowes at the time of the Amalgamation , when Fr. John Conmee was Rector; and remained there for two years, winding up in the First Arts Class. I remember that in one of those years Jack Meldon was Captain of the House.
And here, rather abruptly, I shall end.
Contributed by “Senex” to the Clongownian, 1951, pp 22–4.