A DAY IN THE LIFE
THERE were children dotted, in groups of two and three, all along the three miles from the turn off on the Ballyhaunis/Knock road to Scoil Naisuinta an Chuigiu, Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo.
Inside the yellow walled, three teacher school, Helen Murphy has already arrived and is writing up the day's schedule on the board.
It is 9.30 a.m. and time for the morning prayer. The students walk in a circle around the desks while they sing their morning praises to God. Murphy reaches for the "do a good deed for Lent" box. Each student draws out a piece of paper and reads aloud. "Don't bully or call people names today." "Do your homework tidily today." "Help your mummy and daddy today." "Don't kick people." Murphy explains that this might happen by accident on the football pitch. "Just like Roy Keane, Miss," is the happy interjection.
The litany comes to an end. "Rang a tri and rang a cheathair, get your Gaeilge copies. Rang a Do, fill in the blanks in the `Here we Go' passage on the blackboard."
The five students in rang a do bend their heads to their task while Murphy directs her attention to the older students. Today, they tackle a new story, An t-Aifreann. "Rang a cheathair, leigi together." Third class reads the story out loud led by Murphy, while fourth class read to themselves.
"Gach duine, ceol," announces Murphy. They all take out their tin whistles. Murphy walks around the room as she plays, helping those who are stumbling with difficult parts.
Tin whistles are packed away as Murphy says it's time for canadh. After a verse of the battle hymn, all launch into My Grandfather's Clock and The Lollipop Tree.
"Rang a do, get your percussion instruments please." There are drums made from a paint tin and a black plastic flowerpot and a variety of containers have been covered with Christmas paper and are used as shakers. The three classes select an instrument each. Murphy bangs out a rhythm on the desk with a red wooden baton and the class imitate the rhythm.
On to danta where the children are exhorted to speak in their best, clearest, loudest voice. The containers of milk are distributed but nobody opens the carton yet. It's time for Muzzy, the lovable television character who speaks as Gaeilge.
Break. Ten minutes of adult conversation in the staffroom is washed down by tea and coffee made by the senior students. Back to business and the children recite the counties of the four provinces. Each child in second class now reads aloud to Murphy while third and fourth class are working on their hundred square (a way of teaching fractions and decimals).
Murphy calls the roll. One child is absent. Then they discuss Holy Week, Palm Sunday and Passover. A theological dilemma arises as one pupil wants to know why, if God knows everything, he didn't tell the Jews that the Pharoah would change his mind. Having successfully navigated the difficulty, it is almost time for lunch break. Another quick musical prayer and the children head for the yard while Murphy makes for the sanctuary of the staffroom cum office.
Already gathered there are Seosamh O Broin, school principal, Bernadette Morley, teacher, and Hazel Flatley, secretary. O Broin hastily swallows his sandwich as hem is going to play football with the pupils. The others relax for the half hour.
It is 1.00 p.m. and third class pupils are gathered at Murphy's desk for reading. She has already given each pupil in second class an envelope containing paper flowers which they are now colouring. Fourth class are weaving paper strips and making baskets for Easter eggs. Murphy is cutting out some paper grass while listening to the reading and replying to the queries.
Second class has finished colouring and they repair to the back of the room with their Prit sticks and the poster. Fourth class want to have a competition to decide which Easter basket is best. Third class are now engaged in a history lesson which involves monasteries, beehive cells and scriptoriums.
Two forty five p.m. Murphy writes homework on the board. It's home time. Students scurry to tidy up the room, clean their desks and the blackboards. They sing their farewell prayer. The day is over and Murphy is free to seek the company of adults once more.