The news of the closing of my alma mater in Inchicore brought back many memories of my school days there. I still recall the day in late June 1950 when with about fifty other young boys we proudly marched in a long column from Golden Bridge Convent School in Vincent Street, waving goodbye to Sr Jarleth and Miss Walsh, through Keogh Square which was the original Richmond Barracks, passed what was referred to as the ‘married quarters’ and into St Michaels where we were met by the school principal, Br Leonard O’Sullivan and a very young Br Quigley and assigned our classroom for the coming school year. Br Quigley made a great impression on us all that day and we were very disappointed when we returned to school in September to be told that he had been transferred out to South Africa.
At that time there were fifteen classrooms in St Michaels. There was two blocks, of five rooms each, alongside the road separated by the historic gym and a further five rooms in what we referred to as the new block at right angles to these and nearer to the local Parish Church.. Down that end lived the caretaker, a Mr Coote and his wife. This Clareman, I was to learn later, was also employed to do the repairs to all the clothes of the Brothers from James’s Street and the surrounding communities. At the other end of the school up a flight of stairs was the bookroom and the Principal’s office. There was, what for us was a big playing field on the grounds, as well as a concreted yard and an outside toilet block. There was a furnace house underneath one of the buildings with a slanted roof on which we would all like to slide, despite being forbidden to do so by the Brothers.
The gym, the large brick-built hall, is historically significant in that following the suppression of the Easter Rebellion 1916, the Republican Leaders were taken to the Richmond Barracks and it was in the present gym that they were held overnight while they went through a sorting process. The adjoining buildings were where the interrogations and the eventual courts-marshals took place. Six of the seven signatories of the Proclamation were court marshalled prior to their execution. A plaque on the wall in the school recalls these events. Between the 29th of April and the 11th of July 1916, the total number of prisoners who passed through Richmond Barracks numbered 3,226. Among those who passed through Richmond Barracks were: Pádraig and Willie Pearse, Thomás Ó Cléirigh, Seán Mac Diarmada, Tomás Mac Donnchadha, Eamon Ceannt, Seosamh Ó Pluincéad, Eamon de Velera, Michael Collins, William T. Cosgrave, Major Sean McBride, Countess Markievicq, Art Ó Gríofa, Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh, Noel Lemass, and Thomas Ashe. From this it is interesting to note how much of a historical significance is present in St Michael’s School.
School began at half nine every morning and finished in the evenings at four o’clock. We had a break of an hour and a half for lunch between half past twelve and two o’clock during which most of us headed home for our dinner. During the morning break we were given a small bottle of milk and a sandwich. In the winter when the weather was very cold the brothers used to put the crates of milk on top of the radiators so that the milk was not too cold for us. The sandwiches varied from day to day. There might be corned beef one day, cheese another day, jam another day, and on Wednesdays we got a bun.
Br O’Sullivan was the Principal during for all of my time there. Other Brothers whose names I remember were Br Harry Keegan, Br Tom Flynn, Br Ciaran Walsh, Br P.C. O’Hanlon, Br Adrian McGinnity, Br T.D. Lane, Br Duffy, Br Frank McGovern, Br M. McKenna, Br John Coffey, Br Placidus Kerins and my final teacher there was the late Br Tommy Doohan. Among the lay staff that I remember were Mr Peter McDonnell, who taught me in second, third, and fourth classes and Mr George Campbell who taught me in fifth and sixth class. Others, whose names I remember, were Mr Gerald Wymes, Sean O’Brien, Colm Keane, Dermot Moynihan, Johnny Roebuck, and Mr Peter Donegan. There obviously were others but their names fail me now and all those mentioned weren’t all there at the same time. I stayed back for a further year after sixth class to study for the Dublin Corporation scholarship exam. That class was taught by Br Tommy Doohan. It always struck me as odd that apart for the one day with Br Quigley, I spent most of my time up to and including my primary certificate year under the care of lay staff and only experienced the Brothers for the Friday instruction. I still admire Mr McDonnell and Mr Campbell as being outstanding teachers and I feel I owe them a lot. However the Brothers were very involved in all aspects of the school life, particularly in supervision before school and at lunch time so I did get to know them all very well.
Handball was a very popular pastime in the school at the time and I remember playing it with Br Keegan against the high wall of the gym. Br O’Hanlon was very big in football and was a founder member of Rialto Gaels. I remember him cycling around the estate during the summer trying to get footballers for his teams. Among the big names in football that I remember from that time were the Gibney twins and Barry Dunphy from Inchicore, Daithi Mosely from Drimnagh, and Deko McEvoy from Crumlin. I was a great reader at that time and Br O’Hanlon lent me all the Canon Sheehan novels and also books like ‘Guerilla days in Ireland’.by Tom Barry.
During my first year the school football team got to a Dublin final and we went by bus to cheer them on. Unfortunately then as on many occasion afterwards they lost and I can still recall seeing one of the young Brothers crying with disappointment afterwards. Another year one of my classmates, Liam Skelly from Inchicore reached the Dublin Handball Final in Croke Park and we had six double decker buses full of supporters. Liam defeated his opponent from O’Connell Schools and we were all as proud as punch of him. Liam later became an important businessman and was elected as a TD for Fine Gael.
During my time there were a lot of the students from Drimnagh and Crumlin and some came down from the new housing estate in Ballyfermot. St Michaels could be reached easily from Drimnagh by crossing the canal at the iron bridge. I can still recall the addresses from Crumlin in my class and when the new schools opened in Ballyfermot and in Drimnagh Castle the overcrowding in the classrooms eased considerably.
In my final year in St Michael’s a group of eight of us were awarded a Corporation scholarship. This was a great achievement considering that there were only one hundred and ten scholarship awarded in total by the Corporation and large numbers from such schools as O’Connell’s, Colaiste Mhuire, and Marino were all taking part. Among these eight was the late Michael McDonnell who held high position in the Dublin Corporation and in CIE afterwards. Seven of the eight of us went on to the Secondary School in James’s St and the other went to Synge St. When I became a novice in 1959 there were three other past pupils with me, Barry Dunphy, Gerry Cooney and Paul Chandler.
St Michaels had a very big influence on me and on my outlook on life. Br O’Sullivan was larger than life for me and it was he more than anyone else who was the biggest influence on me eventually joining the Christian Brothers. He taught geography and geometry to the scholarship class outside the normal school hours and I knew enough about geography after him to fly through it in both the Intermediate and Leaving Certificate examinations. In geometry he introduced us to problem solving or ‘doing cuts’ as we called it and I feel it was a great training for life. He had a great series of maps and charts which had him years ahead of his time in visual aids. I was very disappointed later when I heard that he had left the Congregation. I taught a nephew of his later in Limerick and I only met him once afterwards at the railway station in Clonmel. I lived with some of the Brothers later on in the various communities where I served and I noted that they all had very pleasant memories of their time in St Michaels and of the many pupils they had encountered there.