Belvedere College allowed John O'Conor to miss two hours' school so he could attend piano lessons


I DIDN'T really begin to enjoy school until I was 12. My early years at Presentation College, Terenure, Dublin, were fun but when I was eight I was sent to the Christian Brothers in Synge Street. It was here that I came up against corporal punishment for the first time.

One brother used to give at least 100 slaps each day - we counted them. Another brother used to pick me up by the ears. I was affected for years by my experiences there. I was terrorised and as a result was easily bullied and I lost all self confidence.

Things got so bad that I stopped going to school. One day my mother found me hiding in the garden and realised the terror I was going through. She moved me to Belvedere College where I spent the first three months with my mouth open. I was amazed that students could laugh in class and tease their teachers.

Belvedere was a wonderful experience. There were no bad teachers. They built up your confidence and encouraged everyone to shine at something.

I believe that this is the true meaning of education. Educare means to lead out and they did just that. Nothing was imposed on you.

The school was very accommodating about my piano lessons and used to allow me to attend lessons at 9 a.m. and arrive in school at 11.15 a.m. I remember some wonderful teachers, including Taidgh O Murchu who taught Irish and `Bumps' who taught us English in an extremely imaginative way.

There was great camaraderie in the school and I have remained friends with many of the people I met at Belvedere. I remember that when I was caught carving my name on my desk, I was fined 10 shillings (50p) which was an enormous sum in those days. My parents weren't well off and I couldn't have gone home and asked for the money, so my classmates had a collection for me.

I started music when I was three and went to a private teacher until I was 10, when I attended the Royal College of Music where Dr Reilly was a wonderful teacher. He sent me to Veronica Dunne and I later worked with the violin teacher, Jaroslav Vanecel, who needed a pianist to play for his students.

I studied music at UCD as a compromise. Initially my mother was opposed to my making a career in music but she felt that, by gaining a degree, I would have something to fall back on.