(By Tommy Simpson)
(First published in our Review 2004 journal)
When I left St. Patrick’s Training College in June 1950, I though I knew everything about everything! Not so. Teaching positions were scarce and I answered many advertisements from the daily paper. Eventually on September 4th 1950, I received a telegram from a place called “Termonfeckin” where Father Rogers was Parish Priest. I had never heard of the place. I looked up maps and discovered it was a village situated between Drogheda and Clogherhead. Super location it turned out to be.
Next day I travelled by bus to Dublin and by train on to Drogheda and I paid ten shillings for a taxi to Termonfeckin. I called on Fr. Rogers to pay my respects.
He directed me to Maggie Gorman’s house in Yellow Gap where she kept lodgers, at £2.25 each per week. My pay at that time was a paltry £5.00 per week. Next day I began teaching 3rd and 4th classes in Termonfeckin N.S. where Donal McGinley was principal and Aine McGlynn assistant principal. I remained there until I was appointed principal in Sandpit old school, on 5th May 1952. Here I met Mrs. Gertie Murphy of Garvilla, a most wonderful and gracious lady – who gave me plenty of good advice, in spite of the primitive conditions in which we worked!!
In 1953 an Art Exhibition was held in conjunction with the Tostal festivities, in the Municipal Art Gallery in Drogheda. A special tribute was paid to our entries by Mrs. Bea Orpen R.H.A.. Then in 1954 we entered a Texaco Art Competition – its first year – and one of our pupils, Michael McGuinness, won a huge box of water-colour paints and a selection of brushes. We kept up the art lessons with the help and generosity of Sheelagh Duff from Termonfeckin. We also had a dancing teacher from Drogheda after getting into our new school. Lessons cost six old pennies per pupil. I used to teach the tin whistle.
Our New School
We moved to our new school in September 1956. Wonderful change and excitement. Here we planted trees and shrubs, many of which were to be destroyed by hares. One of our pupils at that time was Michael Mooney from Ganderpark who catalogued the trees and shrubs, the lists of which were placed on the classroom wall.
We next purchased a Bell and Howard 8mm film projector and got all our educational films free gratis from the British Embassy in Dublin. Mrs. Murphy retired in 1963 and an excellent teacher, Sheelagh Sherlock from Collon, took her place.
From our new school we went on an educational tour each year. The most exciting of these was on the 15th May 1969 in an aeroplane from Dublin to Shannon for £2.25 and home by train from Limerick. It was our first journey in an aeroplane.
I was always interested in outdoor pursuits and on a few occasions we followed the ‘Hunt’. I used to pack some of the senior pupils into my car and way we’d go. On one occasion we got near ‘the kill’ and we were presented with the ‘brush’. We cured it in school with alum and saltpetre and had it proudly hanging on a wall for a long time.
I introduced the making of figurines to my pupils. They were made in rubber moulds from a special plaster, covered with shellac and painted in various colours and varnished. Dogs of every description, leprechauns and cats in different poses were the favourites.
Knitting and Sewing
Special tribute was paid to two great pupils, Bernadette Levins from Newhouse and Sheelagh Tiernan who lived across the road from the school. They were both successful in a knitting competition, winning some major prizes in a national competition. Sheelagh was unique in not having missed a day from school during her primary education days. Afterwards a special night and presentation in her honour was held in the school. A special presentation was made by Rev. Peter Monsignor McKevitt P.P.
Two of our pupils, Monica McGlew from Coolkirk and Olive Levins from Newhouse, won a three months scholarship to Rann na Feirste County Donegal, awarded by Gael Linn. On one occasion we entered a competition sponsored by ‘Bisto’ and we got first place for exhibit of wild flowers in the White Horse Hotel, Drogheda.
Our Charity Works
We collected pennies for the ‘black babies’. We collected the fruit of the wild roses called rose hips or ‘Johnny McGoreys’ and sent sacks of them free to Dublin to be exported to the poor countries where they were used for the production of Vitamin C. We distributed ‘The Far East’ and the ‘Africa’ magazines. We collected tin foil, bottle tops, silver paper and used stamps to be sent to St. Joseph’s School for the blind in Drumcondra. The pupils were fantastic gatherers.
I always treated inspectors with contempt, particularly if they were of the panjandrum type. Once an inspector sent a report on my teaching back to the school and to our manager, Rev. Peter Monsignor McKevitt P.P. about teaching of singing. He reported: “Nil chanann na daltai go binn”, meaning “the pupils do not sing sweetly”. I was disgusted. I intended on his next visit to show me through a singing lesson, how it should be done! Unfortunately he never came back – probably hadn’t a note in his head!
On one occasion our storage heating system had failed and I got the senior boys to go around the fields for firewood. I had a saw and cut some branches in a cloakroom and got the range in the junior room going. Then came the inspector and greeted me with “This is the dirtiest school I was ever in with sticks and sawdust”. I erupted and told him to “get out” and not to return until he had respect for the teachers and pupils of our school. I immediately got up on my bicycle and went directly to tell Rev. Peter Monsignor McKevitt P.P. what had happened. He came to see the “the dirtiest school”. He was very annoyed and understanding, having been seventeen years in the chair of Sociology in Maynooth.
Exaggeration – Afterwards it was widely reported among the teaching fraternity that I invited this inspector around to the back of the school and beat him up. They were delighted as this fellow was very unpopular.
Female Inspectors – A Miss Piggott examining the girl pupils’ knitting kicked up a scene with a brilliant teacher for imparting knowledge and information – Sheelagh Sherlock, now Mrs Mullany, living in Omeath, Co. Louth – how the pupils were using the wrong numbered needles! Just a month prior to this encounter three wonderful pupils, Mary Dixon from Galroostown, Imelda Mooney, now Mrs Sands, Cartown and Pauleen Levins, Newhouse, now Mrs. Neilon, Harestown, Monasterboice, had won County Council scholarships and knitting had been part of that test. Needless to say the ‘Riot Act’ was invoked.
Exceptions to the Rule – Some inspectors were nice and we enjoyed their visits. There was one in particular, a Miss Irvine, a flamboyant lady, who sported a selection of ‘Ascot hats’, feathers and all. She was a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately she was killed in a car crash one Christmas Day as she was on her way to Belfast to visit her mother. Her sister Blathnaid Irvine still reads poems on Ciaran Mac Mathuna’s Sunday morning programme ‘Mo Cheol Thu’ on Radio Eireann at 8.10 a.m.
A register dating back to 1867 was in the school which contained the names of all the pupils attending and their father’s occupation, which gave us a great insight into the social life of the people of the locality.
One of the names associated with Sandpit school was that of McGlew from Coolkirk, Termonfeckin. A Miss Alice McGlew was principal teacher until she retired in 1949 and many generations of that family attended Sandpit school.
We produced a number of concerts and sketches in the old school, one of which I wrote called ‘The Inspector Calls’, which proved hilarious and appreciated by audiences. We also produced a commemorative drama in honour of Robert Emmet, consisting of songs and stories associated with him.
The Kellogg Hall – we had terrific space for our productions. Doing Swedish flag drill to marching time was always a winner. Pupils were dressed in white with red ties and were very impressive.
Pride and Satisfaction
I was always exceedingly proud of my teachers and pupils and their achievements and had great respect and regard for the parents who were always so co-operative. I had many happy and satisfying years teaching in Sandpit and if ever I did an injustice to any pupil I am sorry and I ask for forgiveness.
I loved Sandpit.