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Dunmore East is a small fishing village on
the south-east coast of Ireland, 16kms from
the city of Waterford.
It sits on the western side of the Waterford
Harbour Estuary, 4.8kms from Hook Head in
Dunmore East, Co. Waterford,
The old building creaked under the weight of the January gale. Great sheets of driving
rain lashed the windows, the roof slates rattled, the walls shook, and every now and then
a back draft of coal smoke came down the chimney and half filled the class room.
The school itself contained three rooms. The big room where the head Teacher, Sean
O'Mullain instructed the older children, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth class, and the small
room where the younger children learned under the watchful eye of Mrs Flynn.
The main door opened up into a cloak room where
we hung our rain sodden duffle coats, and the toilets
were in the school yard at the rear of the building.
The school yard was filled with pebbles and
surrounded on all sides by a stone wall.
Outside, the pine trees that encircled the school were
bending and swaying in the wind, it would be a long
wet walk home. We had no school bus, and cars
were scarce, some parents had cars, but they were
seldom used to transport children to school. It was Friday afternoon and library time. This
was one of our favourite pastimes away from the rigours of everyday school work. The
teacher allowed us time on Friday afternoons to go to the big glass cabinet at the back of
the class room and select a book to read from the library. I was forever engrossed in
“Irish Sagas and Folk Tales”, “Old Celtic Romances”, and “Greek Mythology”.
I had a particular interest in some of the old stories. “The Salmon of Knowledge” for
instance, where Fionn burned his thumb on the flesh of a magic salmon and from then on
could tell the future, and The Fir Bolg, or “The Belly Men”, one of the first races to inhabit
Ireland . Rumour had it that they developed a type of spear which after entering their
enemies body opened up into numerous prongs, so when it was withdrawn it had the
effect of removing his entrails. I dreamed of having such a weapon in the Dunmore wood,
and the respect it would command during our mock battles which we fought in the wood
every day after school.
Finally the clock struck three and it was time to go home for the day.
We would run down Killea hill, the wind near blowing
us away and the rain soaking us to the skin... We
would sit near the strand wall and wait for the big
waves to come crashing in, hoping that a car would
pass and not make it to the bottom of Longs hill, its
occupants maybe forced to abandon it in the middle
of the road
Of course it was not all storms and winter time during
our days in the old school. The spring would see us
wearing short pants and brown Clarks “start right” sandals, instead of our winter long
pants and shoes or wellies. Some of us cycled to school on the cold crispy winter's
mornings, rubbing our hands together from the cold, and some of us hated school to the
point where we would have to be physically dragged into the class room by a Parent
being helped along by the Teacher.
I can remember playing in the school yard and seeing the Teacher knocking on the
window to get us to return to class. I can remember standing in line at the teacher's desk
to buy a twopenny jotter or a six penny copy, or a nib for a pen. I remember learning our
first Irish songs and tunes which down the years I have often hummed and whistled in far
away lands. I remember writing with ink, and the teacher filling the ink wells from a big
bottle of black ink he had stored in a cupboard behind his desk. I remember blotting
paper, and of course being walloped with the teachers stick, most of which I deserved. I
remember wandering Musicians, Inspectors, and Priests and Bishops coming to the class
room. I remember the Teacher using Dettol to disinfect a cut knee, and lighting a few
lumps of coal with pieces of firelighter, during the frosty winter mornings.
On Easter Sunday 1966 we gathered at the school, children, parents, and guests. A
select few of the senior pupils stood up and recited “The Proclamation of Irish
Independence” acting out the parts of our dead 1916 heroes. We raised the Tricolour on
our new flag pole in the old school yard and sang “Amhran na bhFiann” to commemorate
50 years since the Easter Rising. I could see the pride in the face of our head master
Sean O'Mullain, for not alone was he a fine teacher but also a true Irishman in every
sense of the word.
His surroundings were meagre and his pupils were mostly the poor sons of Fishermen
and Farmers, but his efforts in our early education were second to none. In the cramped
confines of Killea School , void of any of the trapping of today's modern facilities, he
taught us reading, writing, and arithmetic, explained our heritage and the history of our
people, and as children gave us our first sense of identification, the fact that we were
Irish children and could be proud of it.
There's a new school at Killea now. It's a fine modern facility with bright and airy
classrooms, running water, and state of the art technology. The old school is derelict, its
once pebbled yard is covered in grass, and weeds grow freely from the walls that once
confined us during our young years. I stood in the yard a while ago and closed my eyes
to listen in the warm summer breeze to the sound of silence. Away in a long lost forgotten
time I could hear the Teacher's voice once again instructing us in the history of our land,
and of course the great deeds of Fionn and the Fianna. I saw the children playing on the
stone pebbled school yard, and I saw little boys dressed in short pants and brown
sandals walk past me because play time was over and the Teacher had knocked on the
window telling them to return to class. It was a Friday afternoon and their smiling faces
told me it was library day.
From the short story writings of Mick D.
Killea National School
The Short Story Writings of Mick D.