The Times We Lived In: Scrubbed up on Synge Street
Published: May 22nd, 1956. Photograph by Dermot Barry
CBS Primary School, Synge Street, Dublin, in 1956. Photograph: Dermot Barry
Gabriel Byrne? “Yes, sir.” Milo O’Shea? “Yes, sir.” David Kelly? “Sir!” Eddie Jordan. Don Givens. James Plunkett. John Connolly. The roll-call of celebrity graduates from the Christian Brothers school on Synge Street is impressive.
Would any of the iconic school’s famous graduates be in this photograph from 1956? The actor Jim Norton just might: he graduated that year.
The reason why the picture was taken is a bit of a mystery. An archive search reveals a small news item to say that the Christian Brothers school in Dún Laoghaire celebrated its centenary on May 22nd with a Solemn High Mass in St Michael’s Church. It was a glamorous affair, with politicians in attendance, music sung by a combined choir of past and present pupils and bugles sounding “a salute at the Elevation”.
Maybe that’s where these lads were headed. They’re certainly all scrubbed up for something important. But as so often in the days when The Irish Times was a much more modest production – the edition of May 22nd, 1956 ran to just 10 pages – the photograph didn’t appear on the day.
It’s not as if it was a busy news day, either. True, the front-page lead was about bomb attacks in Cyprus. A good deal of space was also given to the first ever international film festival in Cork (with a starring role for a screen adaptation of the Nevil Shute novel A Town Like Alice) and a forest fire destroyed 40 acres of State plantation near Shankill, Co Dublin.
Still, it’s a shame that this atmospheric and beautifully composed picture didn’t make the cut. The immediately recognisable steps at Synge Street take centre stage, the mathematical severity of their uniform brickwork echoing that of the building behind. Out of the classical portico, however, pours a living waterfall of boys and young men whose anything-but-uniform body language and facial expressions carry a clear message: we’re individuals. Not bricks in a wall.
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