Sean O’Connor takes class of 2014 on a Liberties tour
Author of bestseller ‘Growing up so High’ brings his book alive for pupils from his old school
Liberties lads – Sean O’Connor and sixth-class boys from Francis Street CBS: “the sun was shining and the clamour of the boys with me reminded me of the lads of my own class so long ago.” Photograph: Brendan Goggins
Some amazing things have happened to me since publication of Growing up so High, the story of a Liberties childhood. My book, to my surprise, became a number one bestseller and the correspondence between some of the readers and myself has brought me great joy and contentment. In fact, in the paperback edition of the book just launched, I have put my email address on the cover to encourage readers to write.
However, the nicest thing that happened was the renewal of acquaintance with my old primary school, Francis Street CBS, which I first attended in 1945. I needed to go back there last year to check that my recollection of the school was accurate. Were there really 63 boys in my class? Was Casimir Kane the name of that boy whose face I so well remembered? Would I be able to find the roll book of the old class with my name inscribed? The answer was yes in every case.
I was given a great welcome by the principal, Fiona Collins, and the secretary, Catherine Cole, not to mention the teachers, with whom I developed a pleasant relationship over the last year. The warmth and mutual respect fostered in the school gives it a remarkable ethos of learning and decent social behaviour. However, the highlight of my year was when Brendan Goggin, the teacher of 6th class (the last year of the primary school course), adopted my book as a class reader and identified themes in it which he felt could be explored by the class and myself, with his help.
His idea was that the boys, having read the material, could have a session of questions and answers with me, comparing our different experiences, to be followed by a short walking tour to relive some of the activities of the old days as set out in my book. I was delighted to accept and two weeks ago Brendan, the class and myself went on the trail of Growing up so High in the Francis Street area of the Liberties.
First stop was the bell tower area of St Nicholas of Myra Church adjacent to the school. This is normally locked up as the old side entrance is sealed, but Tom Reilly from the presbytery had left it open by arrangement for us. Brendan read that the blue stone floor of the porch to the side entrance was pitted and hollowed and the beautiful curved staircase led up to the bell tower and the children tried to imagine how many people must have passed over the flagstones to cause this wear. We held a moment of silence when we ascended the stairs and stood together in the bell-ringer’s room in a centuries-old atmosphere. One adventurous boy was all for going up the few wooden steps to the platform where the bell rope was hung in a very inviting way but ringing the bell at 10.45am was not really desirable from any point of view.
Our next stop was on the steps of the derelict Iveagh Market, opposite the Tivoli, where I showed them where my friend Tom Byrne, in the first chapter of my book, had been explaining to his cousin that the carved face on the second arch on the front of the market was Cochise, the Apache chief, and the boys all agreed that such a mistake was possible as the figure represented in the carving on the keystone of the arch was definitely wearing a tribal headdress.
Then it was time to re-enact the race from the steps of the market! Brendan read: “That race was from the steps of the Market to the corner of the old city wall in Lamb Alley and back. With ‘Ready, steady and go’, there was a wild rush past Grogan’s house beside the market and up Francis Street. The class stood poised for action.