“Non. Fee. Paying. The more you say it, the more you stop even hearing the words?”


The old man rings me at, like, quarter past nine while I’m out in the van and he asks me if I’ve been listening to the news on RTÉ1. “Dude,” I go, “you’ve dialled the wrong number.”

He’s like, “I beg your pardon.”

“You meant to ring Hennessy, but you’ve accidentally rung me. You must be still pissed from last night.”

He goes, “I know whom I bloody well phoned!” and he sounds, like, majorly annoyed about something. “I phoned you , Kicker!”

“Okay,” I go, “I’m just humouring you here, but why would I listen to the news?”

He’s like, “Why indeed! If you’re going to be exposed to the kind of thing that I heard a few moments ago. Yes, I turned on the radio to find out the latest about North Korea – our planet facing the prospect of, inverted commas, nuclear annihilation – only to hear even more frightful news.”

I’m there, “What are you crapping on about?”

“Castlerock College,” he goes. “It’s going non-fee-paying.”

I can’t even begin to tell you what I feel at that exact moment. I would compare it to the day I found out that Johnny Sexton was going to France, or the day I heard that Rosanna was marrying Wes. I could hear, like, the blood in my ears and the world suddenly felt like a dorker place. I’m like, “Non-fee-paying? Do you mean. . .”

“That’s right,” he goes. “I mean public, Ross. I mean free.”

I pull in. I actually had to pull in when I heard about Rosanna and Wes as well. I was sick in the bus lane opposite Foxrock Church, basically out of shock and grief. The stain is still there. I’m going to take a photograph of it and get T-shirts made for Wes’s stag.

“Non-fee-paying?” I go, just trying to bend my head around what it actually means.

“Our alma mater ,” he goes, “is about to become a laughing stock the world over.”

“Non. Fee. Paying.”

“It’s already hard enough when I run into Tony O’Reilly or Michael McDowell or any of the chaps and the old friendly badinage begins. How many former taoisigh went to your school, Charles? How many cabinet ministers? How many former presidents? How many Ireland internationals? How many Lions? How many Olympic medalists? ”

“Non. Fee. Paying. The more you say it, the more you stop even hearing the words?”

“Where are you now?”

“I’ve pulled in opposite RTÉ. I think I’m going to spew.”

“Don’t spew. Come and collect me. We’re going to see this so-called principal. He won’t get away with this!”

I point the Shred Focking Everything van in the direction of Ailesbury Road. The whole way there, I think about Tom McGahy. Some of you possibly know our history? I’ve always described him as a kind of Dumbledore who hates rugby. He taught me – I don’t know – English or History or one of those for the Leaving, and he hated the special place I enjoyed in the school as captain of the famous S.

I pull up outside the old man’s gaff. He’s standing on the doorstep. Helen is doing up his tie. I notice it’s his old Castlerock one. Class of 1856 or whenever the fock he finished school. He gets into the van but doesn’t say a word the entire way there.

It’s like he’s saving it up ?

I pull up outside the school. He jumps out and doesn’t wait for me. He just, like, storms in there. By the time I catch up with him, he’s already roaring at the dude across his desk. “If Father Fehily was alive today,” he goes, “he would turn in his bloody well grave! What the hell do you hope to achieve by this?”

McGahy’s there, “We are safeguarding the future of this institute of learning.”

“What, by turning it into some kind of glorified borstal? What are you going to teach these so-called public students? How to steal cars? How to jack themselves up on crystal meth?”

“Attendance at a fee-paying school,” McGahy tries to go, “is no guarantee that a student won’t resort to criminality in life,” and he smiles to himself. It’s an obvious reference to my old man’s prison record. “We’ve seen a dramatic fall-off in the number of parents who can afford to pay fees. And, sadly, we don’t have as many benefactors as we used to.”

The old man’s like, “I withdrew my financial support when you withdrew from the Leinster Schools Senior Cup. I will reinstate it when the boys in this school are once again being indoctrinated in the sacred game of rugby.”

“Rugby,” McGahy goes, “brought nothing but shame on this school.”That’s an obvious reference to us being stripped of our medals because of the whole, like, methamphetamine thing?

“Shame?” the old man goes. It’s the angriest I’ve seen him possibly ever. “I’ll tell you about shame. Ross’s mother and I spent the guts of €100,000 on our son’s education. By going public, you are denigrating that education!”

McGahy looks at me. “What did you get in your Leaving Certificate?” he goes. “Seven NGs, wasn’t it?”

The old man’s like, “I’m not talking about exam results! I’m talking about the fact that he is Rock! That still means something! All over the world! And if you become a public school, then it no longer will!”

“I’m sorry you’re upset,” McGahy goes, “but the school can no longer survive without State support.”

“Do you read the letters page,” the old man goes, “in the, quote-unquote, paper of record?”


“Well, keep an eye on it. War has been declared, Mr McGahy. My Mont Blanc has been silent for too many years. Come on, Ross – I need to buy a refill.”


Sign In

Forgot Password?

Sign Up

The name that will appear beside your comments.

Have an account? Sign In

Forgot Password?

Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In or Sign Up

Thank you

You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.

Hello, .

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

Thank you for registering. Please check your email to verify your account.

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.