My unhappy schooldays!

Ian wrote about ‘Unhappy school days. It rather opened an old wound for me. So far I have skirted around those years trying to convince myself that I was over them.

Primary school was normal enough I think, apart from all the days I was kept at home to open the door and allow the doctor in to see my mother, unfortunately her health was not the best at times. Among other problems she had a serious heart attack when I was ten. I was also needed to prepare meals for the family. I remember my first attempts at making dinner involved going upstairs to find out from mammy what to do at every stage. The meals were cooked on the gas stove or in the oven. I avoided the grill as I considered it dangerous. My father and brothers would consume at least five potatoes each without those for my mother, sister and myself. Peeling the potatoes and vegetables took an hour each day. I became quite adept at making stews and casseroles. My eldest brother helped when food was cooked and pans and dishes were hot. No way as a slight small 8-10 year old was I capable of lifting them. Daddy NEVER entered the kitchen and expected his food on the table as usual! Homework! Why would I need to do that, when there were men to be fed!

At secondary level I went to a new school (3 years old) run by the order of Nuns that taught my mother. We had to sit a written examination to gain entrance. Our class of thirty whittled down to 15 after Intermediate Certificate. We were constantly reminded that it was a College (this allowed them charge higher fees) and that they did not teach us – they educated us! Their main priority was to reduce the debt incurred in building the school. We had a wonderful Gym, equipped with bars, ropes, horse, mats etc. It was the envy of many another school and we used it only as a supplementary examination hall! The pupils’ parents were bombarded with books of raffle tickets on a weekly basis, at least 12 books at a time. I refused to take them home – I was the only one with nerve to stand up and say so.

It was the early 60’s and I was one of 6 children, my father had spent almost a year in and out of hospital. Daddy was diagnosed with Addison’s disease, a visit to the library told my eldest brother and I that it was fatal. At that time there was no cure. My reading of the situation at the time was that if my mother handed out money for 12 books of raffle tickets to me each week then she would have to do the same for my 5 siblings. At that point there were three of us in Fee paying schools. No way was I going to ask for £12 a week.

No allowance was made for late developers, slow learners or difficult home situations. Pupils were told which subjects they were allocated, there was no such thing as choice. Abuse both physical and mental was employed on a daily basis. If you didn’t keep up you were lost from the radar. Pupils not thought to bring glory were encouraged to leave. I was considered a rebel and not at all bright.

Reading was not a priority in our home. Latin and French were difficult for me, Irish was a torture. The fact that if you failed Irish you failed the whole exam in those days, added to my burden. Back then Irish was not standardised and in one school year alone we had four teachers. They happened to come from the four provinces, Ulster, Leinster, Munster, and Connacht, each with their own dialect. To my ear they were four different languages. I never really recovered.

Maths I managed but science was not offered to me. Art and Domestic Science were on my programme and I actually knew more about cooking and hygiene than the teacher. She knew little about sewing, but a sister of my father’s took me under her wing and nurtured in me the love of the needle.

By now you all know my level of English! Elly constantly corrects my grammar and spelling. The fact that I am borderline dyslexic adds to the problems. Reading justified text, or light print on a dark background is torture. There are many blogs I would love to read, but if I have to struggle to find the content in amongst the flashing lights, bells, whistles and distracting adverts, well I walk away. Am I the only one to do so?

The nuns did try to move me out. Mammy stood her ground; she had to leave school at 16 in favour of her brothers’ education, so she was determined to let me go as far as the boys. I passed my leaving certificate with a couple of honours thrown in, much to everyone’s surprise. I was glad to leave school and never returned for any of the reunions.

My best pal was at school with me. Despite distance, family and other commitments we are still close and in touch on a regular basis. She has been a second mother for Elly, and her sons the brothers Elly never had. As I often say some good came out of those dark years!

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26 thoughts on “My unhappy schooldays!

  1. Grannymar,

    Thanks for having the courage to tell the story. I meet loads of people who seemed to have had painful memories stored up for years and have just had to wipe years of their lives from their minds.

    I hate raffles (hate them! hate them!) but they seem an embedded part of culture here. Even our parish has one as part of our annual fete.

  2. Ian, thank YOU for the nudge to lift that bad memory out and hopefully let it sail away on the wind.

  3. That moved me. In many ways similar to the three years I spent with the nuns in Ballymena. They had no time for people from poorer backgrounds. I never told my mother about their constant demands either and consequently was thoroughly despised for the three years I spent there. Thankfully my parents let me leave after Junior Certificate.

  4. If you want to look for the silver lining on that cloud, it was the fact that you always stood up for me through my education – the teachers were never let bully me, and if I couldn’t get my point through on my own, then you were always there for me. You even forced the local Education Board to let me go to the better Primary School in the town, even though we lived far away from it.

    Consequently, I flourished in school, passed my 11+ exam and moved on to the local grammar school, where we had a (mostly) wonderful bunch of teachers… I stood on my own feet and held my ground, but when they stuck us with multiple different substitutes for English in my GCSE year, it was mum that came to the rescue and forced the school to stop chopping and changing, so that we could actually learn something.

    I hope I did you proud in my A-levels, and then my two degrees (spending that year in France was great fun. and I got an extra degree out of it!). I’m very glad for how you looked after me during my school-days and made sure that I had every chance!

  5. Well-voiced, Grannymar

    School days can be very tough for some and especially for the non-sporty or non-academic. Schools should nurture all that is best in every child but sadly this philosophy is often lost in the competitive nature of schooling. I still find prize-giving ceremonies uncomfortable to this day because I know that many deserving children will go unrecognised and unrewarded.

    There is no prize that would do justice to reward gems like Grannymar!

  6. You have made me think back to my school days in the 50’s. I too was taken out of school to help my mum when my dad had a serious motorbike accident. My mum ran a shop and I had to help while she visited hospital. The school were not happy because I was coming up to my o-level exams. I think, at the time, I thought it was a good excuse if I didn’t do very well!!

  7. Nelly ~ I think we were unfortunate in schooling. Help is available for the ‘slow’ pupil and thankfully nowadays ‘bullying’ of any type is accepted for what it is – a Criminal Offence.

    Elly ~ you made me cry! Thank you for being you, I love you and am very proud of all you have achieved even through difficult dark days. Did you know I registered you for both Nursery and Primary Schools on the same day – one week before your second birthday!

    Steph ~ Thank you 😉

    Chris ~ Minding the shop sounds better than peeling spuds! In art class we had to paint a picture one day of our idea of hell. Every one drew red and yellow flames, not me…… I drew a kitchen sink piled high with dirty dishes!

  8. When I saw the title of your post I was going to comment on my own unhappy days but after reading it I just want to give you a great big hug!

  9. Grannymar,

    You say help is available to the “Slow” student now. Well, I’m here to tell you that it was available when I went to school,too.

    I had a very difficult time learning to read. So, the Mother Superior herself took me to the lunch room every day for tutoring. Here is how it went. Remember,I was 6 years old.

    “All right, READ that sentence”. I would look at the Greek on the page and stammer,”I don’t know what it says”. Then, Bam! I would be hit across the back of the head with the very book I couldn’t read.’You better know what it says tomorrow”
    I never told my parents because I was afraid so I would beg someone to read it to me and I would memorize what they said.

    The next day Mother Superior would take me to the lunch room and I would start to say the words I had memorized and she would say” Read it backwards”. Well, I couldn’t read it frontwards so I would try to duck as she swatted me across the head with the book again.

    This went on for about two months until I finally told my Dad what was happening and HE taught me to read; but he never said anything to Mother Superior so she always took credit for my ability to read.

    My sister had the same experience with the nuns and once,as adults ,we were riding along in the car when a carful of nuns passed us. My Mother,who loved the nuns said, “Oh, isn’t that nice? All the Sisters out for a ride in the car.” My sister turned to me and said, “I wish I had a hand grenade.”

  10. Grannymar, I too am reminded of my school days with the nuns, only spent in America, in Oklahoma. Mostly, the sisters were kind and I have fond memories of some of them. I think I’ll have to work some of my memories out into the open as well.

  11. Nancy ~ I like your sister! 😀

    Nora ~ I worried about publishing this post but the response shows me that others suffered the same treatment. Go ahead and open you buried memories, it might help someone else.

  12. Wow, what a powerful post and the replies too !

    By comparison I had a ball at school, all the way through, I feel quite guilty now !

  13. Ah my father used to say “your school days are the best days of your life . . ” Sorry, they weren’t. I went to five primary schools and four high schools then uni. Due to a travelling family. I hated every moment other than the friends I made in my last high school. I struggled at maths and should have dropped it but it wasn’t the ‘done’ thing . . English Maths and Science were considered ‘core’. School today is a different place, more tolerant, many more subjects. Girls are able to take on industrial arts and sciences or legal studies. I don’t think Domestic Science is even taught here any more! Gone are the sewing and typing classes for girls only. It’s much more egalitarian in co-ed facilities. And by the way, good on you for standing up to ensure Elly received the best . . look at her now! All we can give our kids is a good education and a loving home. That done, they’re on their own.

  14. Baino I am so pleased that schooling has changed and that girls have all opportunities and avenues open to them.

  15. Grannymar

    As A visitor to Ian’s blog I had to read about your experience. I am blown away what an awful experience for a child. Going to primary school in the 60’s to a small village school in the Somerset countryside was great compared to your school. A bullying dinner lady pales into insignifigance.

  16. Grannymar – A moving and honest post and worthy of wider publication – thank you for it. As a parent of a child with special needs I can only give thanks for the wonderful services and dedicated staff of St. Anne’s School Roscrea – which is incidentally still under the chairpersonship of religious sisters. I know that there were some pretty rotten religious but I feel it important to record good where I find it and it is the particular vocation of these sisters to ‘special children’ which I am sure and certain is responsible for the beautiful learning and affirming environment that our son enjoys. None of this to deny the reality of what you experienced but I suppose just to emphasise that there are some very fine religious communities still out there. My own schooling began and ended in a convent (co-ed) and it was a very possitive experience – not least because in the case of the latter the ratio was 6 girls to every boy! With those odds even I could not fail 😉

  17. I know many people have probably had similar situations in school Grannymar; thanks for laying it out.

    I had a cousin with Addison’s Disease; she was in the medical books for getting pregnant 3 times and apparently, it is hard for women with Addison’s to get pregnant.

  18. I skip those cluttered, busy advertisement blogs, too. They load too slowly, for one thing. By the way, I think you have an excellent grasp of the English language.

  19. I spent a year working in England with one of the nuns who then moved to St Anne’s in Roscrea, they were a marvellous order, but their vocation was to work with people with special needs.

    I think there were huge pressures in some of the other orders – I think it must have become a very competitive environment as schools with falling rolls sought to market themselves and the sisters would naturally have wanted to show parents how “well” all the girls were doing. I wonder how qualified some of them were to teach in the first place? How many of them had received third level education?

  20. Les Plant ~ Welcome to my blog, the topics are not always as grim at this one.

    Stephen & Judy I will include you here also.

    I started school aged four in 1951. Punishment by cane was the norm, but only when necessary and it did NOT have the venom or appearance of sadistic pleasure that I witnessed and endured from 1960 to 65. I found the sarcasm and belittling behaviour more hurtful than any corporal punishment. My self esteem suffered for years.

    We had four teachers among our Aunts and Uncles. My Aunt was a primary school teacher (mentioned above for awakening my love of needlework) and the men were all in Religious Orders at secondary level. All totally different characters each, like the rest of us, with good and bad points. In later years our paths crossed with former pupils of these men. At times their stories showed my uncles in very different light.

    I have known many whose stories were very different from mine. One girl was a boarder at another school and the ‘cold cocoa’ every evening was her only dislike! Some of my friends really enjoyed their schooldays and referred to them as the happiest days of their lives. How fortunate they were.

    Stephen thank you, for putting the ‘good’ side of religious in education, I do know it is out there and some do Trojan work in helping young folk reach their potential. May God bless them in their work.

    Judy, Addison’s disease may have been considered fatal in 1960, but my dad lived or limped through ill health until 1981.

  21. Betty thank you for the compliment.

    Ian you raise a valid point. In my early school days there were no shortage in entrants for the religious orders. I big gripe was that many of them were encouraged to enter at age 16. What did they know of the world outside?

    I know that several of my teachers were TOLD as postulants what training they would be given. One of the teachers wanted to be a nurse but there were no spaces left in nursing so she was pushed into teaching. If this happened on a large scale, is it any wonder the students suffered.

  22. GM:
    Thank you so much for this post. My education was a mixed bag, full of the worst of nuns and the best of nuns. Physical punishment was standard but the belittling was the worst, particularly of motherless girls whose fathers couldn’t cope with laundering of uniforms, etc. There was an innate snobbery in the school I attended. I was lucky, unlike you, in that a bunch (6) of us stuck together and provided moral and compassionate support for each other as we couldn’t complain at home at all and we were target practice for some of the more vicious nuns. .
    Your burdens made you strong today and you are a gifted writer.
    I published one time an article on the eccentric teachers I had and I had more than my fair share, let me tell you!
    I applaud your courage!
    XO
    WWW

  23. WWW, thank you for your kind words. Don’t mention uniform or you will start me off again!

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