Gay Byrne tells his time with the Christian Brothers in Synge Street

 

FOR ME, school with the Christian Brothers in Synge St, Dublin, was a horrible experience until I reached fifth year. I found first, second, third and fourth years awful.

The Brothers were very tough and almost every day we were all beaten fairly hard. I dreaded school - I regularly went there in fear and trepidation. Third and fourth year, when we were studying for the Inter Cert, were by far the worst.

But having said that, I don't want to embark on a Christian Brothers bashing session.

I accept that generations of people like me would have had no second level education at all but for the Christian Brothers. I'm not sure what the fees were - but £4 per quarter sticks in my mind. Envelopes were given out in class. Mine was always returned with the full amount of money due, but I'd say that at least 50 per cent of them were never returned and no questions were ever asked.

The main objective of the Brothers was to get us through our exams and make sure that we got good jobs in the civil service.

They worked in appalling circumstances. When I hear teachers today complain about pupil teacher ratios, I laugh. Our school was located in old tenement buildings - old houses where classes of between 35 and 40 fellows were crammed into former living or dining rooms. There was no soundproofing and you could hear every word from the neighbouring classrooms.

I hated maths and loved English. I developed a great love of reading and a high regard for the English language. We were given an excellent grounding in the subject - which no longer seems to be the case. No one seems to be taught grammar, syntax and punctuation any more. We had to learn poetry and prose off by heart and it's amazing how it all stays with you throughout your life.

At school too, I learned to cope with a huge range of people from different backgrounds. Some of the boys were from very poor families - many of them came from the Liberties, but others were the sons of doctors and dentists. I was in the middle - my father was a labourer in Guinness but he had a secure and steady income.

In sixth year we were taught by Brother Bill O'Leary who later became Superior of the Christian Brothers in Mill St. He was a lovely man who never used corporal punishment. We were all more mature by then - 17 and 18 year olds going for our Leaving Certificates. All he had to do to maintain discipline was to look over his spectacles at us. I remained great friends with him until he died and I am glad that I was taught by him and that we became friends.