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Castlebar students bridge 63 year gap

 Castlebar students bridge 63 year gap
Pictured at the Class Reunion in Tolster’s Bar, Castlebar, back, from left: Tom Nyland, Joe Foy, Dermot Neely, Pat Moylette, Seán Rice, Robert Stewart, Tommie Carney and Seán Cunningham. Front, from left: John Feeney, Kevin O’Malley, Joe Redmond, Cllr Brendan Heneghan Mayor of Castlebar, special guest; Austin Gannon, Peter Murray and Mickey Garvey. ?Pic: John Moylette.

Castlebar students bridge 63 year gap

St Patrick’s NS class of 1949 meet up in Castlebar

Fourteen survivors from the 1949 sixth class of St Patrick’s National School in Castlebar came together last week for the first time since leaving it 63 years ago. Reminiscences were exchanged and lifetime experiences recounted as the motley bunch gathered outside the old school at Chapel Street to bridge the chasm.
The world was recovering from World War 2 in 1949. The Inter-party Government led by John A Costello was in power. Mayo were about to win the Connacht senior football title for the second year running, and the pupils of sixth class had just sat the Primary Cert.
There were forty in the class from all social strata. Some had stayed on for a second year not so much to repeat the exam as to reach their 14th birthday when they would be released at last from the horrors of a harsh regime.
There was no central heating in those days. Blazing turf fires in the winter, for which pupils were expected to contribute a couple of hard-found shillings annually, provided the heat that never reached those sitting in the middle or in the back seats.
Punishment was merciless . . . especially for those unable to keep pace with the brighter students. Two of last week’s gathering spoke of the nightmares they still suffer from the beatings dished out in those days.
Fear overshadowed all but the brightest. Later, some would find comfort in the words of the famous Irish orator Edmond Burke: “No passion so effectively robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.”
We know now that fear paralysed many bright minds in that class. Only when you watched those same pupils in later years calculate scores at dart games or give change in shops with the mental agility of a maths teacher did those words of Edmund Burke convey their full meaning.
And yet most of that class would have passed the Primary, many with honours, despite a public outcry that the Irish paper that year was too difficult.
The furore resulted in the Department of Education reducing the marks for pass and honours papers to thirty and sixty respectively.
The primary was the limit of most pupils’ formal schooling. Proficiency in the three Rs was regarded as a solid foundation for the future.
Painful memories of the regime, however, rather than any real sense of nostalgia dominated the conversation of the gathering last weekend before they were conducted on a tour of the rooms they occupied in the old school.
St Patricks NS was opened in 1888 staffed by the De La Salle Order of brothers some of whom were warm and generous. It was burned down in 1957 . . . and with few regrets from the class of 49. It is now used as the Parish Family Centre, the administrator of which is Cathal Kearney.
The reunion might never have taken place were it not for the fact that some people wanted to pay tribute to Mickey Garvey, one of the forty, who has been in Chicago since 1957 and who has facilitated and obliged members of various Castlebar clubs during their visits to the windy city.
Mickey was anxious to make contact with old school buddies and he made the journey with his son, Michael, daughter Mary Teresa and grandson Kevin. His wife Mary is sister of former Louisburgh GAA star Bernie Winters of Clare Island.
At a jovial function in Tolsters tributes were paid to Mickey by Mayor of Castlebar Brendan Heneghan, Councillor Blackie Gavin and Joe Foy, master of ceremonies and one of the class of 49.
Michael Cunningham, President, Castlebar Rugby Club; Martin McLoughlin, on behalf of Castlebar Boxing Club, and James Murray on behalf of Castlebar Celtic made presentations to Mickie.
Although he was not a member of the class, Michael Feeney, the recipient of an MBE from Queen Elizabeth for his work in establishing the Peace Park in Castlebar, was reined in as facilitator and set the tone for the evening with his portrayal of ‘Brother Obnoxious’.
From London came Peter Murray, a successful business man, whose youthful looks belied his years. Peter is married to Helen Lydon, a native of Castlebar.
Tom Carney, a native of Sion Hill came all the way from Nottingham where he settled in 1960 working for the local council. He was accompanied by his wife Sheila Coffey from Tipperary,
Dermot Neely travelled from Blackpool where he has been living with his wife Margaret. Dermot was involved in services for the nuclear industry. During religion instruction Dermot and Jimmy Ryan, as members of the Church of Ireland, were the envy of the class . . . each being let off to enjoy an extra half-hour break every day.
Those still residing in the Castlebar area that attended the function were Joe Foy, Joe Redmond, Austin Gannon, Pat Moylette, Kevin O’Malley, Tom Nyland, Seán Rice, John Feeney, Richard King, Bob Stewart and Seán Cunningham.
Some were unable to attend. At least ten have passed away including Patsy Haugh, Seán Heydon, Frank Tonra, Bobby Dawson, Tommy Doherty, Tommy Coughlan, Cyril Foy, Noel McGing, Paddy Lally, and Peter Moran. During their stay the group visited the Mayo Peace Park and a rededication ceremony in Swinford by members of the US Legion in Ireland in memory of their fallen comrade, Cpl Martin J Foy.

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