History of the School

Part One...........

1964: It was a time of hope. It was a time of excitement. It was a time of youth and opportunity. A young man with a nasal whine told us that the times they were a changin’. Young girls screamed and swooned as they listened to a mop haired boyband from Liverpool promising them anything they might want, With Love from Me to You. Our childish play was stilled by names like Yuri Gagarin, Alan Shephard, John Glenn. Men with The Right Stuff. Even the sky seemed no longer the limit. A young black Adonis told us that he was The Greatest. Another black man told us that he had a dream. And another black man had just taken up residence on Robben Island. We had recently been told not to ask what our country could do for us but what we could do for our country. We had been promised that the windows would be thrown open and a fresh wind allowed to blow through ecclesiastical chambers. Lemass and Whittaker were trying to deliver us, kicking and screaming, into the twentieth century. There was a new spirit in the air. John Montague wrote:” Puritan Ireland’s dead and gone, a myth of O’Connor and O’Faoilain”. Val Doonican encouraged us To Walk Tall. It was a time of hope and innovation. Yeah, it was the Swingin’ Sixties, man!

An apple ripe September’s morning in 1964. Teachers waiting in staff rooms for their students to arrive. English teachers lamenting the recent deaths of Seán O’Casey and Brendan Behan. Others talking excitedly about a strange, newly published play called “ Philadelphia Here I Come “ by some guy called Friel . Groups of teenagers making their reluctant way back to school along the grey , Sráideanna Baile Átha Cliath. The usual uniforms: the blue striped pyjama blazers, the all black jumpers, the maroon gym slips. All making their way to the posh schools or “colleges”, as they liked to call them. And another small group of slightly bedraggled lads making their way to a new school in Larkhill. Sixty four in number. Synchronicity. No uniforms. Heading for two prefabricated huts on the grounds of Larkhill Primary School. And two pioneers, Brother Paul Hayes and Brother Tim Clarke, waiting for them. Zealous men about to plant a seed which would yield a rich harvest. Dreamers. Proud to be Fools who would never see the full fruits of their mighty sowing. What did those two men hope for on that September morning? Did they realise that their act was going to be like “a kernel sown that would grow to a goodly tree, shedding its fruit when Time has flown, down the gulf of eternity.....”. Yeats said that education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire. Did they hope to light a fire -or at least a candle? A “candle which by God’s help, shall never be extinguished”? The new school was to be called St.Aidan’s or Scoil Aodháin. Yeats also said “The vision is always finer than the view”. The view may not have been great, but the vision was crystal clear. If those two men had been able to gaze into the future what might they have seen? Let us travel down through six decades to find out.

It was a time when a mini Celtic Tiger was starting to purr. Whittaker’s economic plan was bringing unfamiliar prosperity to a land slowly emerging from the much vaunted but ultimately mythical “frugal comfort”. Yet, life in St. Aidan’s was still tough. A former deputy principal remembers that dogs and cats sheltered under the prefabs while pigeons, jackdaws and gulls made the roofs their noisy landing strips. The staff and students were frozen in winter, roasted in summer and drenched for most of the year. A visionary-and revolutionary-Minister for Education, Donagh O’Malley introduced “free” secondary education. The number of students able to avail of second level education increased exponentially. So did the proliferation of prefabricated school buildings all over the country. On the 50th. Anniversary of the Easter Rising, free education was the finest act of commemoration for the men and women of 1916 and would eventually unleash a social revolution. In January 1968, as the Viet Cong launched the Tet offensive against American forces in Vietnam, the increasingly burgeoning community of St. Aidan’s moved into more prefab classrooms on the site of the present school.

The number of students soared. The staff now included two laymen, Gilbert Hughes and Michael Coffey, as well as two more Christian Brothers:,Val Coffey and Ciarán Walsh . The 6 feet by 4 feet staff room was considered a little cramped. The lay staff grew to such an extent that ASTI meetings could no longer be held in a car. And the view? When they looked West they could now clearly see seven new towers, erected in the Nationalistic fervour of 1966. Where the streets still had no name. And DCU was an ivy covered country house for the maddest of all UCD undergrads, the agricultural students. 1969 sees the first Leaving Cert. class graduate from St. Aidan’s. One small step for a man, a giant leap for the new school. But even as the boys from the new school were getting their results, Northern Ireland exploded into an orgy of violence. Our lexicon was suddenly permeated by words, names and phrases such as baton rounds (rubber bullets), Armalites, petrol bombs, B Specials, Bernadette, Big Ian, Dr. No. Surrender. We will not stand by. Every man will stand behind the men behind the wire. The very idea of Hope and History ever rhyming seemed increasingly remote. And yet, and yet ..... A boy from that first Leaving Cert. class of St.Aidan’s had the audacity to hope: to hope that one day he might help to bring about an end to that age old ugly conflict of sectarian hate. And he would go on to play a pivotal role in bringing about The Good Friday Agreement almost thirty years later.

The 60s segued into the 70s (as we know the 60s didn’t come to Ireland until the 70s). And in 1970 something very significant happened in the history of St.Aidan’s. A big man. Brother Loughran left the Christian Brothers School in Tuam and took the N17 for Dublin. Hit the school like a whirlwind. Tact and diplomacy may not have been his strongest characteristics but he got things done. Oh Boy, did he get things done! And he did them his way. Terrified everybody. And the students were scared of him too. The cry “ Sketch - its Lockie” was enough to send the most daring of delinquent students back to their classrooms. Yet he had a big, generous heart and he helped the school grow enormously. The number of pupils grew to nearly 600. Regularly told the staff that they were “the best in Ireland”. Next minute the same staff could be getting the hair dryer treatment. Took the staff out to dinner twice a year. Plied them with drink as a gesture of thanks for “Tip Top Results“ in the State exams. When he asked you what you were having, woe betide you if you didn’t ask for a pint or a half one. Only Black Bush or a pint of plain were your only man. One modern young recruit once said he’d like a Harp (very fashionable at the time) The look he got from Lockie certainly wasn’t at all like the way Sally O’Brien might look at you. He was a sports fanatic and while his first love was GAA, he also encouraged athletics, cross country running and basketball. He also introduced Art and Music into the School. He held dances on Saturday nights in the school hall to raise funds for his fledgling school. The odd dance was held without bands and drink served with or without a licence. Concerts, fashion shows and discos became the norm in the Old Hall. Saturday Night Fever came to Aidan’s and for a while it vied with the legendary Grove for supremacy. Adult dances were held regularly too with the help of the Majella Ladies’ Club (better known as “ The Jelly Babies “. Those good women raised a huge amount of money for the school. The Hall became the Ballroom of Romance. Send them home sweatin’. And don’t you dare try to bring Bridie into the field. No Astro turf there then.

And all the while we pined for a new school. The prefabs began to leak. Plastic buckets were placed in strategic spots to catch the rain coming down. All in all we just wanted another brick in the wall. Some rooms resembled incontinence wards in a hospital. Rain drops kept fallin ‘ on our heads as we ran around with buckets and basins to catch the ever increasing number of drips . What larks! Our great expectations for a new building were regularly quashed but a spirit of adventure prevailed in those pioneering times. We had some dreams. But often they were just clouds in our coffee. In spite of the Spartan conditions (or perhaps because of them?), the school prospered and grew into a centre of academic and sporting excellence. As Samuel Johnson might have said, “the wonder was not that it was done well but that it was done at all”. We would have to wait another twenty years for the new school.

But a lot happened in those years and, in the next instalment, we will look at sporting and cultural achievements, famous visitors (and there were many ) and social life in St. Aidan’s.

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