History of the School Part 3-

History of the School Part 3-

On that memorable morning in September 1995 we entered the new, state of the art premises. After thirty years of waiting and striving the dream had finally become reality. We walked around in open-mouthed awe, getting lost in strange, yet vaguely familiar surroundings.

Some got banished to the West Wing: rooms with a view -and more spacious- but still dubbed “H-Block” by those slightly disgruntled teachers who wanted a brand new, shiny classroom. Saul Alinsky said “ Change means movement. Movement means friction. But change is also an invitation to growth. By clinging to the past , or the present, I cut off the wings of the soul. Change, indeed, is the eternal constant.” Or as Norman Mailer put it:

“Every moment, one is growing into more or retreating into less. One is always living a little more or dying a little bit”. We felt all of those emotions as we bade farewell to the old and entered the new St. Aidan’s.

That Autumn also saw the retirement of three stalwarts who had taught in the school for nearly thirty years. Seán O’Dwyer, Mary Baxter and Cyril Coughlan all joined the ranks of Superannuated Men and Women. Mary had been one of just three female members of staff for many years and was an excellent Science teacher. Seán was one of those memorable, lovable, slightly eccentric individuals that light up our lives. Cyril ,of course, became famous as the man who taught Bertie Ahern everything he knew about economics and many a time in later years, the by then Taoiseach paid tribute to Mr. Coughlan, as he never failed to call him. There had been such little change or turnover in staff for so long that we almost believed that this could go on forever. But of course, it could not. And we realised, that in moving into a new building and in saying goodbye to three long serving staff members, we were bidding farewell to an era which would never, could never, return again and we pondered the words of Sir Peter Medawar : ”The world changes so quickly that in growing up we take leave not just of youth but of the world we were young in ….fear and resentment of what is new is really a lament for the memories of our childhood”.

But life in St.Aidan’s went on. Visits by politicians and VIPs became commonplace. Education Minister, Niamh Breathnach arrived a year late to declare our new school officially open . She was accompanied by Cardinal Connell, Archbishop of Dublin. Jim Tunney T.D. and Michael Woods T.D. were regular visitors. In 1996, the school celebrated the fact that we had two representatives in the Atlanta Olympic Games: Niall Bruton and Owen Casey . A year later, new Education Minister Michéal Martin arrived and, in recognition of the great work done by Brother Cashel and Ray O’Neill in introducing Computers and Information Technology, declared us a Smart School . (The cynics on the staff muttered “ were we a bleedin’ stupid school up to then?”) Of course , the fact that Mr. Martin was now a minister indicated that we had had a change of government earlier that year . And that meant that Bertie Ahern, from that very first Leaving Cert. Class of 1969 was now Taoiseach. Of course, the most regular visitors to the School were the School Chaplains. St. Aidan’s has been very fortunate throughout the decades to have had very caring, conscientious chaplains who had a most benign influence on staff and students . Monsignor Stephen Greene , Fr. Joe Jones , Fr. Jimmy McPartland, Fr. Aidan Kieran , Fr. John Fitzpatrick, Fr. Michael Carey and Fr. John Jones all made a big impact during their various tenures of office as school chaplains. Many students and indeed, staff members availed of their quiet, listening ears and wise counsel and will always feel great gratitude to them for helping them through difficult phases in their lives.

1998 was the best of years and the worst of years . It proved to be a sad one in many ways for the School. In January of that year Derek O’Gorman ,who had taught Religion for nearly thirty years in St. Aidan’s and was a man of great faith, went to his Father’s House. Derek had always been a friend to the weaker student and to the student who “got into trouble”. Derek’s room was a safe house for errant mischief makers. Even if the Sheriff and his posse were to check his quarters they would be unable to see the fugitive hiding there as he would be concealed by a thick pall of smoke which hung perpetually in that small, narrow room. A number of our former students, young men “ whose minds had forked no lightning” also went “gentle into that good night”. Accidents of various kinds, on roads and on water, claimed those young lives, so rich in promise, before they could flower or blossom. But we shall never forget them, their talent, their wit and their enrichment of the School. “ Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We shall remember them “.

In June of that year , Nicholas Moran followed Derek O’Gorman into eternity. Nick’s death was sudden and shocking. Having received an award for 25 years of dedicated service on the day the School got Summer holidays ( giving an hilarious acceptance speech ) and having started to correct LC Art papers, he suddenly became ill and passed away a few days later. Like Derek, Nick was always a friend to the students who were not exactly “high flyers “. And also like Derek, his Art Room was a safe haven for bands of boys on the run. His quirky sense of humour and artistic ability to draw Martyn Turner type cartoons found expression in the Milo Connolly edited OBSERVER, an underground and slightly seditious staff magazine which poked fun at the pompous and ensured that everybody remained firmly grounded. No fear of anyone getting “notions” while this hilariously satirical organ, on a par with PUNCH or DUBLIN OPINION, was in circulation. Nick introduced culture to the School and introduced the School to culture with his annual Art Exhibition and frequent trips to the Chester Beatty Library. He will also be remembered as the man who advised a young lad called David Brophy to follow his dream and devote his life to music. Nick had asked David one evening what he intended to do after he left school. David said he hadn’t a clue. “Well , what’s your passion ?” enquired his teacher. “For instance, what will you do as soon as you get home from school this evening?” “ I will play music “ said David “that’s the thing - probably the only thing - that I’m really interested in”. “Then” said Nick, “ that’s what you should pursue in life - a career in music”. And the rest, as they say, is history. David went on to become one of our foremost musical directors and became conductor of the RTE Concert Orchestra. He has also become a television personality, producing musical shows like The High Hopes Choir. He has often expressed his gratitude to Nicholas Moran for pointing him in the right career path. Nick left a huge void in the staff: he was so down to earth with not a trace of the “arty poseur” about him. Other protégés of his continue to make the news. Very recently, Leo Scariff, one of Nick‘s finest students, was featured in The Sunday Times as a very original and innovative sculptural designer. His furniture pieces, mostly made from wood , combine art and geometry. He has worked and studied in Sweden , Finland and Norway before setting up his own studio in Leitrim .

But the year also had moments of great hope and optimism. On Good Friday of 1998, the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern made a massive contribution to bringing about the Agreement which finally put an end to three decades of violence on our island. Our past pupil, from the Class of ‘69, may be remembered for many things but History will surely be kind to him in this respect and acknowledge his monumental achievement. Despite being exhausted and grieving the death of his mother, Bertie displayed amazing resilience and patience in the frustrating and protracted negotiations. Key players like British PM, Tony Blair and US President Bill Clinton have repeatedly acknowledged his huge contribution to the talks which finally came to fruition on the most solemn day of the Christian calendar. Perhaps this is another reason why, in spite of all, “we call this Friday good”.

We had become accustomed to visits by politicians by now but in November of that same year, all the other political visits were put in the shade when the Bertie and Tony Show came to town and we found ourselves in The Thick of IT. For a full week beforehand, the staff and the school premises were inspected and disinfected in preparation for the arrival of a VIP whose identity “could not be revealed”. Helicopters hovered overhead, heavy dudes straight out of The Bill looked menacingly and suspiciously at members of staff and sniffer dogs checked out places in the Old School which hadn’t been disturbed in years . Mounted police brought a touch of colour but it was the mean looking hombres on the roof who captured the imagination of the students. These guys, we were reliably informed by our young charges, were “packing “. And then when we were all seated in the Hall, Taoiseach Bertie and British P.M Tony Blair made their grand entrance to thunderous applause. A video conference had been set up by IT wizard Ray O’Neill which enabled students from schools in Northern Ireland to pose questions to the Taoiseach and the P.M. The Aidan’s lads asked Tony easy questions like ''Why do you support a crap team like Newcastle United?” while the Northern boys and girls posed more serious and difficult questions to Bertie, like when did he propose to hold referenda to delete certain articles of the Republic’s constitution which Unionists found repugnant. Bertie kicked for touch, talked about smoke and daggers, not upsetting the apple tart and then told us of his love for the REAL United and his abiding interest in athletics which had been fostered by Brother Clarke thirty years before. Finally he told us what all the boys (and the staff) had wanted to hear: we were getting a half day. Tony and Bertie departed trailing clouds of glory. The press corps, led by RTE’s Mary Wilson, wrote their colour pieces or filed their reports and we all went back to normality.

That same year the blockbuster film “Titanic'' hit screens all over the world . And one of its stars was St. Aidan’s own Jason Barry playing Tommy Ryan, a steerage passenger who befriends Leonardo di Caprio’s Jack Dawson . And Jason has some of the best lines in his finest Dublin accent. It’s our Jason who tells Leonardo that he hasn’t “a bleedin’ hope“ of getting off with Kate Winslet! And later, as the third class passengers are trapped in their quarters, Tommy/ Jason spots a crowd of rats all heading in a certain direction and he shouts out “Let’s follow them: if it’s good enough for the rats, it’s good enough for me!” Jason went on to star in many other hit films such as Mirror Man , I.T., Muggers, Honor and TV shows Love Hate , Whiskey Echo and Metropolis.

In 1999, the Department of Education introduced a new Leaving Cert. English syllabus for the first time in thirty years. Teachers now had a choice of introducing modern novels , drama and film to their students. A breath of fresh air but we had to say farewell to the famous prose essays. No more would we read about Dream Children or Superannuated Man. We would never again giggle over how roast pig was discovered or shout “Down with Pigeons”! But a very exciting development in the School ensured that students would develop an even greater interest in literature and reading . Anne O’Driscoll embarked on the very ambitious task of establishing a school library . A qualified librarian, Sister Marion Reynolds, was employed and with the assistance of the English Department, a fully stocked library was established. It was very impressive that when a person walked into the lobby of the School the first thing they saw was the new library .Ms. O’Driscoll, ably assisted by Marion and later by Rosie Lewis , as well as by teachers Ann Marie Dunne and Karen McGrath, ensured that the library did not become simply a book repository, but a dynamic, living organism in which mini-literary festivals were held on a number of occasions every year. Students were encouraged to write and then read their work before their fellow students and teachers.

We may never be fully aware of the positive effects this had on many young boys. They developed the confidence to write original material and the confidence to read their work and have it critiqued in public. It gave them the confidence to stand up and present their work before a live audience. These readings were never allowed to become too solemn: indeed , the students were encouraged to dress up for many of these occasions and so, a few days before Hallow’een for example, we had all kinds of wizards, witches ,ghouls and goblins reading and listening to original pieces of writing in the gaily decorated library. Some famous literary figures such as Brendan Kennelly , Roddy Doyle and Dermot Bolger were invited by Jackie Deane and later by Ms. O’Driscoll and Ms. Dunne to come to the School and read extracts from their works. These famous writers were only too happy to read for young minds, knowing well that they were planting a seed that might not just grow into an appreciation of reading and literature but could even produce a famous poet or novelist from those spellbound boys.

We continued to say farewell to inspiring teachers who had worked tirelessly for decades in the service of education. Brother Coffey, the gentlest of men, and Frank Welsh one of the greatest of Irish teachers both stepped down. Br. Coffey, in the School almost from the start , was the most humble and unassuming of men. He was also a perfectionist. Whether crafting a wooden artefact or lining a football pitch , he wasn’t satisfied with anything other than perfection. He loved to work with the sweet scent of wood in his nostrils. He was an artist in his studio. To paraphrase Patrick Deeley in “The Hurley Maker’s Son”, (he) “ tried to turn (students) into carpenters even while shaking his head at (their) lack of aptitude”. He tried “to coax rather than browbeat”. He respected wood as a living thing and tried to convey that love of his art and craft to his students. For their part, they looked with awe at “his mould of man, big-boned and Hardy-handsome” as he wielded plane and chisel, saw and spokeshave with the living, delicate touch of the artist . And how many times did he line the football pitches? He coached the hurling teams and then lined the pitch meticulously. Many a time and oft he also marked out a track for the school sports: eight set-square straight lines with perfect semi-circles at each end. He was a man of few words but taught and achieved more by his personal example. He exemplified the words of St. Francis of Assisi: “ Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary “.

He was replaced by Noel Duffy , a man in the same mould. Often described as a man you would like to have beside you if you were going into the trenches. That said it all about his character. Cool and calm tempered, Noel could never do enough for his students and fellow teachers. Another perfectionism who took pride in his work, and justifiably so. Even after he retired many years later, Noel continued to come back to the School to act as a substitute whenever he was needed . On some occasions, He would board a train in Roscommon at all hours , get to the classroom by 9, teach for a full day and then head West again in the evening. There was music there in the Derry air whenever and wherever Noel happened to be.

Frank Welsh was one of those teachers that past pupils always remember and is always one of the first they enquire about . An utterly brilliant teacher of Gaeilge, he also had a wicked sense of humour which, euphemistically , could be called “earthy”. Frank lived and worked in an era before political correctness set in. And therefore he was free to speak in a manner which might shock the modern thought police but which the students loved. He was a very caring individual, a father figure to his form classes. He went the extra mile - or perhaps three miles - to ensure that his students, who sometimes might not be academically inclined, got every chance in life. His pupils loved the slaggin’ he would engage in. No offence intended or taken. He had one of the first students of colour in the School. One day in class Frank, who like every teacher had eyes in the back of his head, whirled around and found this boy messing. Frank may not have engaged his brain before engaging his tongue on this occasion and in his most stern teacher’s voice said “If you don’t stop messing Sonny, I’ll go down there and blacken your arse”. Without batting an eyelid or missing a beat, our young friend replied “Save yourself the trouble Sir: it’s already black“. Frank dissolves in laughter and so does the class which had the utmost respect for this brilliant, unconventional teacher. Gerry Tallon , the hero of our first Open Day/ Night, also stepped down. Gerry, the Master of the Pun, took great pride in the fact that his Young Ireland team won the All Ireland Young Entrepreneurs Competition, not once but two years in a row. And didn’t that beat Banagher. A lovable eccentric, who drove us demented at times with his awful puns and his 10 year Development Plans for Wicklow Football, was nonetheless sadly missed . He did come back a few times as a substitute teacher when his services were required . Ní fheicfimíd a leithéid arís faraoir. He was replaced by Ronan Cotter who went on to become one of the most cherished teachers on the staff. Ronan established an early version of a Men’s Shed in the corner of the staff room. A quiet ,thoughtful man who was a great listener and a friend to every student and teacher who wished to share a problem with a sympathetic, understanding individual who had faced tragedy in his own life . But Ronan also knew how to enjoy life and there was no more convivial companion on a staff night out . When Ronan got “ a few scoops” into him he became a brilliant raconteur who held his audience enthralled. We also said goodbye to Betty Dalton, our wonderful, longtime school secretary. Everybody who worked with Betty, or just met her briefly, agreed that she was an absolute lady to her fingertips. Calm, efficient, ultra competent and diplomatic, Betty’s office was like a haven of tranquility in the sometimes stormy environment of school life . Never flustered, always polite and helpful, she had also mastered the art of diplomacy, a necessary attribute when dealing with irate individuals who arrived in the School looking for a member of staff or management. Always impeccably dressed and speaking English as perfectly as a BBC World Service newsreader, Betty was the ultimate PR ambassador for the School.

The new Millennium arrived and, in spite of all the dire warnings, our computers did not suffer meltdown. Ray O’Neill had always assured us that Y2K was just another scam. Ray had done immense work in making the staff members computer literate. And he probably had never met such recalcitrant students as those staff members! But morale among the teaching staff was high, bolstered by such social activities as table quizzes in the staff room on Thursday nights organised by one of our newest and youngest members, Aisling Brennan. Ms. Brennan imposed a penalty on the members of the team that finished last. They had to roll up their trousers and show everybody their socks! Many were, indeed, in the words of Arlo Guthrie, “inspected, disinfected and rejected.” A number of variety concerts organised by Tom Ward, Noel Coffey and Ray O’Neill involved both students and staff and proved very successful. The traditional SASPU was still alive and well. Teachers were generally very civilised and behaved with moderation at these events. Just occasionally, however, an individual at the end of the night might, in the words of John B. Keane “have some difficulty in maintaining an upright relationship with the perpendicular“.

But it certainly wasn’t all fun and games. Not by a long, long way . All kinds of exciting developments continued to take place. Richard Keane organised an annual Careers Conference in the School. Many high powered business people came and gave talks at these conferences. Mr. Keane was most proud of the fact that many of the key speakers were past pupils who had started their own businesses or had risen to the top in banking, civil service, Garda, the Defence Forces, Aer Lingus, etc.,etc. Richard delighted in welcoming back past pupils such as Alan Barrett, Adjunct Professor of Economics in Trinity College; Jack Jordan who went on to become Vice-President of the extremely successful One4All company; Dr. Seán Jordan, Researcher in DCU; Gerry Grogan, a lecturer in The Institute of Public Administration; Detective Sergeant Colm Church and Garda Superintendent, Andrew Archbold (brother of John who had scored that famous winner from a corner for Dundalk in an FAI Cup Final.) Andrew was tipped to become Commissioner but sadly, he passed away far too young. And many more who had graduated from Scoil Aodháin and who had been guided by Mr. Keane in their choice of career . The same Richard Keane, together with Kevin Slattery and Ray O’Neill also started an Exchange Programme with the Convent of Mercy, Beaumont. Our students went to the girls’ school to learn cooking while a class of girls came to Aidan’s to learn Electronics. The latter was a relatively new subject that had been introduced in the late 80s. It had been recognised that a knowledge of electronics would be of great help to our students when looking for work or for college places. Indeed St. Aidan’s had gained a reputation for being to the fore in promoting new technologies in school. Few, if any, schools in Ireland were as advanced as St. Aidan’s in the whole area of computers and information technology. It was one of the very first to install a computer system (The Cromenco - the what ? ? ). The school received an Apple 11 plus software from the Department of Education in the mid-eighties and about this time the school invested in two Commodore 64s. Students studied programming in BASIC and LOGO under the direction of Ray O’Neill, Jimmy Reynolds and Tomás MacEoin. A few years later St. Aidan’s bought a set of machines which no one had used before in Irish schools. A network of twelve RM Nimbus PCs and Central Server along with printer and Mice (not the little furry lads )were bought. In the early 90s the School was asked to take part in a European project to evaluate software for use in schools. St. Aidan’s had the honour of being one of only twenty Irish schools involved in the project. As part of the project the School received two Apple Macs, one from the Department of Education and one from Apple. So, while this technology might now appear primitive, it is a proud boast that St.Aidan’s was, and continues to be , at the cutting edge of Information Technology.

But then, into this happy, exciting and pioneering environment, the darkness of Death intruded once more. The new millennium was not even a year old when the entire school community was shocked by the death of our Principal, Brother Gerry Cashel, while still in the prime of life . He had given fifteen years to the job of headmaster and had poured all of himself totally into the life and development of the School. He was responsible for the building of the new school and, with Ray O’Neill, put St. Aidan’s at the forefront of the new Information Technology revolution. He was a man who believed that change was an invitation to growth. He knew that “by clinging to the present we cut off the wings of the soul”. He agreed with Eleanor Roosevelt that the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams and, in doing so, left a remarkable legacy to St. Aidan’s. He is now slumbering in the quiet earth of Baldoyle .

After Brother Cashel’s untimely death, Deputy Principal Michael Coffey stepped into the breech and kept the ship on an even keel for a couple of months. Michael was a renowned English teacher whose classes are still remembered with awe by hundreds of former pupils. His erudition and emphasis on grammatical correctness are still talked about when former teachers and students meet. One of his first pleasant tasks was to allow the whole school watch Sonia O’Sullivan compete in the Olympic 5000m in Sydney. It was 7.30p.m. in Australia but 10.30a.m. in Ireland . Classes rushed to every available TV set in the School. A mixture of joy and disappointment as Sonia took silver. After a few months the post of Head was filled and Dr. Peadar Slattery became the first lay principal of St. Aidan’s. But he decided to step down after a few months. He was brave enough and big enough to admit that the role did not suit him. Perhaps he missed the classroom too much: a brilliant teacher, a published author and an extraordinary mimic. He could have achieved fame as a gifted actor but hundreds of students will always be grateful to him that he didn’t. Since he retired, Peadar has acquired a second Ph.D. Perhaps the students knew something after all when they referred to him as “ The Mr. Slattery with the degree“! He was succeeded by Jimmy Reynolds who remained as Principal for ten years. Jimmy and his Deputy, Tom Ward, started employing a young, vibrant staff with very positive results for the School. Suddenly, Jimmy was indeed winning matches with his wunderkinds.

A new industrial dispute sees the ASTI all on it’s own fighting the good fight for professional standards and rates of pay. Teachers suffer the usual torrent of vitriol from the media: “Nuclear terrorists“ “Under-worked, over-paid wasters“,Selfish gold diggers, unfit to teach our children“, “Nasty ASTI” were just some of the compliments they received during that dark era. No mention of all the unpaid extra-curricular work, the preparation, the corrections, the use of teachers’ own cars to ferry students to games, debates, concerts, plays, etc. Those of us who had spent many years at the chalk face now found ourselves parading in the snow with placards or sitting in empty classrooms during our work to rule. We were promised laptops (the jokers on the staff insisted it was lap dancers) in an effort to coax us back. But we held firm and the dispute was settled 12 months later in typical Bertie style. “Plus ca change, plus c’est la méme chose.“ Did the teachers win? Depends on whom you talk to. But there is no failure except in no longer trying.

And still the great world continued to spin. The spectre of foot and mouth disease stalked the land during the Spring of 2001. But due to the grace of God and diligent scrutiny and disinfectant strategies at our ports and airports, Ireland escaped the horrors of the burning pyres of diseased ( and deceased ) animals in England which we witnessed on our televisions every night. In early September, Roy Keane beats The Netherlands more or less single handedly in Lansdowne Road, thereby ensuring almost certain qualification for the World Cup finals in Japan the following year. And then, just three days later, on a gloriously sunny, stolen-from-Summer morning, terror and death came hurtling out of a beautiful blue sky. We are returning to our classrooms after lunch when news begins to filter through that a plane has flown into one of the Twin Towers in New York. An accident? Richard Keane has a TV in his room, preparing to show his students the classic film Cinema Paradiso. Richard always used this film to give the same advice to his Sixth Years as Fredo gave to Toto: “ I don’t want to hear FROM you ; I want to hear ABOUT you”. But before he can slip in the DVD, he realises what is happening on the News clip . No, this is not a Hollywood disaster film: it is stark reality playing out in real time. He lets his students watch this awful moment in history unfold and, as the afternoon progresses, we gradually begin to realise the enormity of of the scale of this terrorist attack on America. Some Senior English literature students are studying Yeats’s “The Second Coming” and begin to realise the prescience and relevance of this magnificent, frightening poem. The next morning almost every newspaper in the world quotes those lines which the Aidan’s students had met for the first time the previous afternoon:

“ Things fall apart , the centre cannot hold, Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed ……………The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity “.

But time and life went on . The following January we welcomed a new currency called the Euro. There was no plural for this word but Dublin wit, exemplified by Aidan’s lads, soon invented one called “ yo-yos”. We still received visits from high powered politicians. Minister for Education, Mary Hanafin, visits the School to encourage more boys to take up Primary School teaching. She is accompanied by one of our own, past pupil Paddy Christie, captain of the Dublin football team and a primary teacher himself. Paddy was to have a huge beneficial influence on many young men in the Ballymun area. He encouraged them to get involved in sport and to take pride in their local area. A TV documentary on his work highlighted the tremendously positive effect he had on the lads who played for Ballymun Kickhams . Paddy coached the team and tutored his players never to respond or retaliate to taunts from the opposition about their area. Footballers like Philly McMahon, John Small, Luke Sweetman and Ted Furman all attribute their success in sport and life to Paddy’s influence. And so many of our past pupils continued to carve out excellent careers. Joshua Tobin, who made the Irish Maths Olympiad team went on to become a Trinity Fellow and then studied advanced Mathematics in Berkeley University in California. Oisín Creaner , another gifted Maths. student, graduated from Trinity with a degree in Physics and Astrophysics. After obtaining his Ph.D in Computational Astrophysics he then studied at the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies at the School of Cosmic Physics. He is now a post doctrinal research fellow in the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley,Ca. He is specialising in Artificial Intelligence,l Dark Matter and Exoplanets.

In 2002 Principal Jimmy Reynolds introduced the concept of an Awards Night. Of course, we had had The Student of the Year Award since 1982, the first winner being Eamonn McCarthy. (An award that was kindly and very generously sponsored by Mr. Flynn and continues to be sponsored by the Flynn family). Peter McDermott was given the task of organising the first one and this he did, continuing to do so for another six years . Paul Ward then took over the role and organised it superbly for all of fourteen years. On the night of the first Awards Ceremony the second Irish civil war breaks out on a small island called Saipan, eight thousand miles away. This one, like the first, involves a Cork man and a man not born in Ireland. The conflict quickly spreads to Ireland and splits the nation. Nobody is allowed to remain neutral. A question, which should have been asked many decades before in Irish schools, is posed by Tommy Gorman to Rebel Roy: “But what about the children ?”. The answer is the epitome of common sense: “They’ll get over it”. But as Roy exercised Triggs to within an inch of her life, who stepped into the breach in the Irish team? Who but an Aidan’s man: Mark Kinsella filled the midfield spot and helped Ireland to go within a penalty shootout of the quarter finals.

The Awards Night brought many of our famous alumni back to their alma mater: Dubs. Captain , Paddy Christie ; Olympians Owen Casey and Niall Bruton; Taoiseach ,Bertie Ahern, Voice of Ireland star George Murphy; Hollywood star Jason Barry, Orchestral Director David Brophy, all returned and presented prizes to our high achievers . Perhaps the guest and past pupil who caused the greatest excitement was Liam Brady. After entering the Hall through a Guard of Honour comprised of students wearing all the colours of the various teams that Liam had played for, he was most generous in his remarks about the school. The legendary Eamonn Coghlan also came, a quarter century after he had ran a World Indoor Mile Record and won the World 5000m. Championship. He was very generous with his time, staying on until 11p.m, signing autographs and allowing people to have their photos taken with him . Eamonn also paid one of the nicest tributes to the School I have ever heard . He told the assembled gathering of parents, students and teachers that he was conscious of a brilliant atmosphere in the school community. “The only word to describe it”, he said “ is LOVE. Yes, there is a palpable sense of love between students and teachers “. The Awards Ceremony always took place in the Hall which invariably looked resplendent due to the efforts of Art teacher, Deirdre McQuaid, who exhibited the splendid work of her talented students on the walls. Deirdre had replaced the late Nick Moran and, like Nick, she quickly earned a reputation for care and kindness. “Mammy McQuaid” became her nickname, indicating the love her students had for her. Deirdre has also done sterling work for many years in editing and producing the School Newsletter. Another person who prepared the Hall for this big event was our caretaker, Seán Moore , who was always prepared to do everything in his power to have everything ship shape . The School has always been very fortunate in its caretakers and ancillary staff in general. People like Tony Neville , Joe Corcoran and his son David ensured that everything was constantly in good working order. And wonderful women like Cora Carberry, Alice Gibney, Bella Murtagh and Nuala Quinn always made sure that the place was clean , neat and tidy .

And still the pursuit of excellence continued among students and teachers alike. It was Jimmy Reynolds who had introduced music into the School in the mid 70s. Back then he had many winners in the Slógadh, including Dermot and Conor Crehan (famous names that will always be associated with Irish music), the Johnstones , Paul and Cecil, Colm Church, Paul King , Conor Grey and the Shaughnessy brothers, Tom and Paul who went on to play with such famous bands as Planxty, Moving Hearts and De Danann. He now had the satisfaction of seeing protégés of his achieve great things in various spheres. David Brophy becomes Director of the RTE Concert Orchestra and becomes involved in a plethora of exciting, innovative musical television productions. Rory McDyer conducts the Whitehall Choir to National and International fame , a choir which had actually been founded by former Aidan’s teacher, John F. Deane who, of course, achieved international fame as a poet and author as well as founding Poetry Ireland. Sadly Rory passed away in the Autumn of 2015 while still in the Summer of his life. George Murphy makes a huge impression on Phil Coulter and the other judges on The Voice of Ireland. George, and his cousin David Browne, (another past pupil) goes on to form his own group The Rising Sons. Michael Byrne, the second Aidan’s lad to win an Athletics scholarship to the USA ( Philip Campbell was the first )and went to Providence College in the company of one John Tracy, becomes Head Coach in Wisconsin University and leads them to victory in the NCAA Division 1 National Cross Country Championships. “This one was for Brother Clarke “ was his comment afterwards. More teachers and students follow Tommy Broughan into the world of politics. John Lahart, who had taught Religion in the School, was elected a F.F. TD and continues to be a member of Dáil Éireann. Past students Andrew Montague , representing the Labour Party , becomes Lord Mayor of Dublin while his brother Pat is elected a member of the City Council.

And the roll of excellence just goes on: Dominic Geraghty, after obtaining a first class honours degree in pharmacology in UCD , went on to get his PhD in Deakin University (Victoria , Australia) and is now the Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Tasmania. Aaron Quigley became the Professor of Human Computer Interaction at St.Andrew’s University in Fife, Scotland and is now the head of the School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of New South Wales. Liam McGrat , inspired no doubt by the sight of his teachers ,Kevin Slattery and Richard Keane, filming every notable event in the life of the School (including numerous mucky cross country races) while struggling under the weight of bulky video cameras, became a filmmaker and has made many notable documentaries for RTE. Kieran Hannigan was similarly inspired, joining BBC Scotland and was recently appointed Head of Scripted Screen Scotland. And Philip Fleming went on to become the Senior Head of Communications for Production and Global Brands BBC Studios. Niall Bruton, after a stellar sporting career, became Chief Marketing Manager for Nike in the UK with responsibility for the company’s sponsorship of Manchester United and Arsenal. After Nike’s stint with United and Arsenal ended, Niall obtained a similar position with Under Armour, who sponsor most of the American football teams. But, inevitably, time caught up with even some of the most legendary of staff members. Seán O’Riordan, Maths and Physics teacher supreme, bowed out after more than 30 years of dedicated service. A true professional and perfectionist, he inspired his students to match his own extremely high standards of integrity. He was the man who had started the tradition of a School Sports Day in the very early 70s. He had also served as ASTI school steward and school board member. Mary Lucas, too, retired in 2002 after 18 years teaching in Aidan’s. She was an inspiring History teacher who complemented the textbooks with her own encyclopaedic knowledge of her subject. She could hold her students entranced as she regaled them with anecdotes from her own experiences of travelling all over Europe. She was able to tell them fascinating facts about the great historical figures which didn’t always appear in the text books . She was able to enthral a class with personal accounts of her visits to museums, art galleries and the famous battle scenes of Europe. She also taught English and her two subjects complimented each other. How many students couldn’t wait to visit Westminster Abbey, The Lake District, Stratford on Avon, The Louvre, the beaches of Normandy, Red Square in Moscow, etc., etc. as a result of Mary’s personal descriptions of these places of profound literary and historical significance. Brendan Flynn also retires. Brendan had convinced all the students that he had done military service in Vietnam. He certainly had been a member of the US army but had only served behind a desk in Texas. But his image as a ‘Nam veteran earned him enormous street cred. with the students. His tales about military training and the songs the recruits used to sing while out on forced matches were hilarious. Mind you some of the songs might cause a few blushes in polite society ! He is the only teacher on record to have banned a student from detention. “ Go figure” as Brendan himself might say .

A couple of years later he is followed by Anne O’Driscoll, a true pioneer in Aidan’s history . Anne smashed through the glass ceiling before such a term was even invented. She was brave (to a fault, some might say) and was never afraid to speak truth to power. The section on Sport recounts her success in getting basketball accepted as a key sport in the school despite some early macho prejudice and resistance. Always ready to go the extra mile, she rarely left the school until 5.30 or later, one of those people that Eamonn Toland was thinking of when he said “The teachers cared“. She loved the social side of school life and could more than hold her own with the slaggin’ among all her predominantly male colleagues. She was followed shortly after by more great teachers. Pádraig Mac Criostail, who had taught Gaeilge for over thirty years bowed out as did the Coffey brothers, Noel and Gerry. Three giants of the staff retired in the mid noughties . Kevin Slattery who, with Richard Keane, had been part of the audio visual revolution in the School and who had established the VPTP and Applied Leaving Cert. programmes bowed out in 2005. He had also done immense work in establishing the Mini Company concept with Transition Year students and spent the weeks leading up to many a Christmas guiding the students in their efforts to sell their home and hand produced Christmas cards . His brother, Peadar, followed a year later . A true philosopher in the original sense of the word: “ A lover of learning “. He obtained a Ph.D while still involved in full time teaching. He became the first lay principal of the school . He was a truly gifted teacher ( his past pupils still remember his classes where he not only imparted knowledge but put on a performance that deserved an Oscar).Back in the 70s he started a camera club in the School. Small groups of students went around the city on photographic outings at the weekends . They picked up many awards at the Leinster Schools’ and Colleges’ Photographic Exhibition as well as at Slógadh, the National Cultural Festival founded by Gael Linn. Students learned how to develop and print photos in the darkroom attached to the Art Room , supervised by Dr. Slattery. Since retiring, he has pursued his study of Latin as well as producing his third book, this one a most erudite history of Dublin in the Middle Ages, which earned him a second Doctorate from Trinity College . And we said a temporary farewell to the legend that was Milo Connolly. A polymath, a brilliant teacher of Chemistry, a poet, a piano player, a wit and raconteur. He could compose a Limerick at the drop of a hat . A very devout Christian, he cared deeply for his students. He had a passionate love of teaching, to such an extent that he continued to teach in the School on a part time basis for five years after his “official” retirement. He acted as a mentor to several young teachers and they will also credit him with a love he inspired in them for their students and their subject . He was incredibly dedicated. Earlier in his career he had continued to come in and teach his classes despite receiving ongoing treatment for a serious illness. Yes, he was kind - “ or if severe in aught , the love he bore to learning was at fault “. He always seemed to be happy and in good form . Here was a man who was happy in his work , a natural born teacher who simply loved imparting knowledge to young minds. But if we said goodbye to many of the teachers who had put the young School on a solid footing, we also welcomed more and more young people to the Staff. Youth, renewal and vigour: the life blood of any organisation that doesn’t wish to stagnate. Paula Fitzgerald , Susan O’Neill , Ann Marie Dunne, Celia Hartnett, Karen McGrath, Celine Scully, Cathy Peoples, Corina Doherty, Áine Reilly ,Jennifer Kealy , Hazel Thompson, Sinéad Walsh, Marie Ruane , Zara Kennedy and Patricia Nash heralded an influx of bright, young ,talented female teachers . Suddenly, there were as many women on the staff as men - and they brought all their female charisms with them making the School a better place . Of course young male teachers got a look in too . Richard Gill and Alan O’Neill were the first past pupils to return as teachers, eventually leading a squadron of alumni back to their alma mater. Ollie Denneher , Daragh Humphreys, Michael McCaffrey and David Lowry helped to preserve gender balance , a concept that we men in our male blinkers weren’t even aware of for decades .

Another exciting development about this time was the arrival of a number of Special Needs Assistants. These marvellous, caring people, including Rita King, Marie Costello, Frances Macken, Robbie George, Karen Reynolds , Margaret WhiteEmma Mooney, Bernadette Hennessy and Linda O’Connor, did sterling work with students who had special needs. We had our first Whole School Inspection in December 2006. “The Inspectors are coming “ was the warning cry. Reams of paper work were churned out to ensure the bureaucrats were kept happy . Our brilliant secretary, Michelle Hynes had to work overtime to ensure that every teacher had his or her files and records in order . The preparation led to a great sense of solidarity among the staff with everyone prepared to help everyone else in getting their house in order. But there was no need to worry. The school breezed through the inspection. Ms. Dunne had to be almost restrained from doing cartwheels down the corridor when the Inspectors lauded her English Department ad Astra, saying her Department could be held up as an ideal exemplar to English departments everywhere. And young Mr. Deneher was singled out for special commendation for his excellent use of IT in his English classes. But the management of Jimmy Reynolds and Tom Ward felt rightly proud of the young team they had assembled (and a few old fogeys to lend experience) which had earned such plaudits from the team of inspectors. And still we sang the sun in flight and the great wheel continued to turn . As Sebastian Barry said “ One day we were young . Then tomorrow came and we were young no longer”.

Richard Keane , a pioneering figure in education, retired the following year. He was ahead of his time in recognising that there are many different types of intelligence and many different talents. He devoted his life and expertise to ensuring that students who might not have been academically inclined got the opportunity to develop the many hidden talents that they did have. He was a gifted careers guidance counsellor who bridged the worlds of school and work. How many work placements did he find for his students ? How many young men were directed on the right paths in life by Richard’s astute recognition of where their true capabilities lay - and not just professions in which they would be efficient and competent, but professions in which they would be happy and fulfilled. And he still keeps in touch with so many of them by LinkedIn and other platforms. His massive contribution to their well being is still recognised by hundreds of grateful students. It’s hard to know where he got the time, but Richard also produced the annual Students’ Yearbook , which was a mine of helpful information for second level students all over the country.

Tom Ward retired as Deputy Head in 2010 and Jimmy Reynolds stepped down as Principal shortly after . He was replaced by Brendan Harrington. It’s a long, long way from Clare to here Brendan but , with such an excellent young team behind you , you were assured that you’d never walk alone . Annemarie Dunne becomes Deputy Principal. Another crack in the glass ceiling. And even the ranks of Tuscany could scarce forbear to cheer . And the innovation went on. New projects constantly were put in motion . One of the most worthwhile was The Tanzania Immersion Project founded by Sinéad Walsh , ably assisted by Marie Ruane. This usually involved four teachers and approximately twenty students travelling to Northern Tanzania to visit Simon High School in Arusha. The boys would attend school for a half day each day to immerse themselves in the Tanzanian system of education. In the afternoons they used to visit orphanages, a teenage remand centre and The Plaster House where they played with the children and helped with their education. The boys and their teachers came up with all sorts of imaginative fund raising projects such as table quizzes , sponsored walks, cake sales, pig racing (!!) , raffling signed match day shirts of famous footballers, etc. to raise funds , not just for their trip but for the projects in Tanzania. They often raised over €12,000 which paid a teacher’s salary for a year , allowed twenty five children to obtain a primary education which they otherwise would not get and sponsor the secondary education of sixteen students. Other teachers who threw themselves wholeheartedly into this very worthwhile project were Trish Nash , Emma O’Dell, Hannah McDonnell, Paul Ward, Patrick Traynor and John McGinnity. Afterwards, students found that the whole experience had a major beneficial effect on their lives and made them reflect on what was truly important in their lives and what was merely trivial. Other teachers displayed a range of talents in many diverse areas . Alan O’Neill , as a young student, had starred in a Visa card ad. which had been beamed coast to coast in the USA prior to the Atlanta Olympics and again in Australia prior to Sydney 2000. Alan beat off dozens of professional young actors to gain this part. (And he’s still rolling in the royalties). Not to be outdone, young teacher Daragh Humphreys starred in a mock docudrama entitled “Fran”. This brilliant comedy series followed the fortunes (and more often, the misfortunes) of the beleaguered manager of a junior football team in Dublin. It was broadcast weekly on TV3 ( now Virgin Media) for two seasons. In real life , Daragh was an infinitely more competent manager than the hapless Fran. He resurrected the Beautiful Game in the School a quarter of a century after Deputy Broughan had introduced it to St. Aidan’s. And , like theIr predecessors, his teams teach Leinster and All Ireland finals only to be cruelly denied at the final hurdle. Their time will come and, when it does, victory will be all the sweeter. As Seneca said “ Failure changes for the better, success for the worse”. Let’s hope the first part is true - not the second.

The Aidans staff continues to be a group of highly qualified, brilliant teachers with several other talents as well . For example , David Lowry’s main claim to fame is that he taught his first cousin how to play golf . His cousin’s name ? Some guy called Shane Lowry . The school becomes a Centre of Sporting Excellence. Alan O’Neill hoovers up cross country and track titles for fun. Cathy Peoples ( when she’s not being a brilliant Biology and Maths. teacher) coaches a number of basketball teams to All Ireland success. It’s come a long way from the derided “ tippy tappy”. An Astro turf pitch is laid and a massive new gym, the size of an aircraft hangar, is built. The latter, in concept form, is the legacy of Jimmy Reynolds and Tom Ward before they retire but it’s Brendan Harrington who oversees the actual building of it. St. Aidan’s wins The Evening Herald Sports School of the Year Award almost as often as United won the Premiership under Fergie. Miss Dunne takes some time out and Micheál McCafferty becomes the sixth Deputy Principal of the School. A fine bromance develops and the staff hail the happy pair as The Dream Team. Brendan, however, decides to move to a brand new school after five years and is replaced by Tom Shannon. Tom oversees the laying of a magnifying new Astro turf pitch in cooperation with St. Kevin’s BC soccer club. Uachtarán na h-Éireann, Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina arrive to open the new Astro turf pitch . Unlike the Bertie and Tony gig almost twenty years earlier , there are almost no bugles or drums. Michael D. recalls a time when cooperation between sporting bodies in this country wasn’t always so good . We realise we are lucky to live in a new Ireland where cooperation is the norm and “bans” are a thing of the past . And St. Aidan’s is to the forefront in this regard. The School has always had excellent relations with the local G.A.A club, Whitehall Colmcille’s, the local soccer club , St. Kevin’s and the local athletics club , Clonliffe Harriers . Such cooperation is to the mutual benefit of both school and clubs. Brother Clarke and a coach in Clonliffe called Laro Byrne were the first to recognition these potential benefits and formed a strong bond between School and Club back in the late Sixties. A brave new world. A future forbidden to no one.

Those of us who toiled at the chalk face always tried to remember that , in the final analysis, it was , and always will be , all about the students. The Aidan’s lads have always been bright ,energetic, mischievous. They have been inspiring, idealistic and co-operative . They have also been full of “devilmint” while at the same time generous and charitable. In a word: Sound . On dark ,wet, cold mornings in November or January the enthusiasm and warm humour of the boys were infectious and cheered up many a grumpy teacher. Even on a miserably freezing cold day in February, travelling back from a cross country event, with snow billowing in through the broken windscreen of our bus, the high spirits and wicked humour of the lads made it impossible to be in anything other than good cheer. And those of us who now approach the dying of the light will remember that fact above all when we recall our time in this great school : the students with their intelligence, their wit, their mischievousness, their sense of fun, their helpfulness, their sheer joie de vivre. That, and the camaraderie among the staff . Would those founding fathers be proud of St. Aidan’s today? I think the answer would be a resounding Yes. Two of them ,thankfully, are still with us: Brother Coffey and Brother Heffernan (Principal from 1976-78). They might scarcely recognise the building, apart from the small section of the old school that remains. They would, I imagine, agree with St. Cardinal John Henry Newman who said : “ to be human is to change ; to be perfect is to have changed many times “. And Scoil Aodháin has indeed changed many times ….each time for the better .

Another September . Dreams fade away . Another generation of students in neat , grey uniforms make their way to the impressive, even imposing building on Collins Avenue. New recruits, boys with fresh dreams , full of hope and idealism. The great cycle begins again. As Brendan Kennelly said: “Though we live in a world that dreams of ending, That always seems about to give in, Something, that will not acknowledge conclusion , Insists that we forever begin .” The latest recruits will enter the “new building “ with some awe and, possibly, trepidation. Ready to start the big voyage of adventure. They will be met by friendly teachers and SNAs with smiles on their faces. They will have an orientation day. They will have senior students to mentor them and help them settle in . They will have Class Tutors and Year Heads to help sort out any whatever little problems may arise. They will go to bright, airy classrooms with white boards and smart boards. Not a particle of chalk dust will float in the air. What wonderful changes for the better. As Mark Little wrote “ We lived our schoolboy dreams in stark, brutal prose; today’s youth inspire themselves with epic poetry“. Ralph Waldo Emerson commented “ What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us”. And these young students can rest assured that whatever talents lie within them will indeed be discovered and drawn out by inspiring, enthusiastic teachers who will become their mentors for the next five to six years. “Education”, as we know, means to “draw out” and the education they receive in St. Aidan’s will draw out the very best in them. If they stroll around the corridors, they will be introduced to the School’s illustrious legends whose portraits adorn the walls. Political leaders, sporting heroes , academic fellows , artists, musicians, actors, captains and kings of industry will look out at them from slightly fading photographs. All those young men , who were once The Boys of Summer. And let the new lads remember the words of Edmund Burke on society , which can equally be applied to a school or college: “ (It is ) a partnership not only between those who are present, but also between those who have gone before and those who are yet to come.” Let us hope that the new crop of boys, as yet unhurt by their futures, will look kindly on those who have gone before, the former students and teachers who trod those corridors and who studied and taught in those rooms. And if they listen very carefully, especially in the old H-Block , perhaps they will hear the ghosts of ‘64 and of all the decades since , whispering in their ears “ As you are now , so once were we. Carpe diem……..Carpe diem.“

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Apr 24
Transition Year Information Evening
May 02
Awards Night
What a fantastic weekend it was for St. Aidan's Athletics on Saturday 9th March in Tymon Park Tallaght for the All-Ireland Senior title. It is 50 years since St. Aidan's won their All-Ireland Senior title.
Congratulations to two of our Transition Year Students, Daragh Murphy and Anthony Vilcu on winning the Innovation Award at the Student Enterprise Programme Dublin City Finals, which took place on Wednesday 29th February at the Mansion House. This a
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