Matt Cooper: ‘By fifth year, there were full-on punch-ups in class’
Broadcaster and journalist Matt Cooper says there was still a culture of violence and control through fear when he attended North Monastery CBS in Cork from 1978 to 1983.
“Every teacher was assigned a leather strap about a foot-and-a-half long, and it was used by some of them.”
He says teachers also used metre-long ruler sticks, bamboo shoots or their bare fists.
“I remember one teacher who was fond of hitting out with the metre stick across the knuckles and the hand. On one occasion, I saw him lash out and hit a guy on the cheek, right below the eye.”
He recalls a particular technique of thrashing known as a “cheeser”, where backsides where hit with the edge of a ruler in a slicing motion.
Cooper was himself thumped a few times, but quickly learned to keep his head down.
“There was one teacher who was notorious for using the leather strap for disciplining pupils — and when he stopped it, he turned to sarcasm and ridicule.
“He got absolutely brilliant results for our Inter Cert, and almost everybody in our class got an A. But then, nearly everyone gave up his subject for the Leaving Cert because they were so repulsed by the way they had been coerced into learning the stuff through fear of being mocked.
“Some people would have preferred to take a hit than a lash from the tongue.
“Up until fifth year, the teachers were well able to physically assault and beat up pupils, but by the time we got to sixth year it was working the other way round.
“In fifth year and sixth year, these guys started throwing digs back at the teachers. There were a couple of full-on punch-ups in the class. Others had to get involved in pulling the pupil and teacher off each other — that is no exaggeration. And there was a hatred among some of the Christian Brothers in charge of running Gaelic Games of soccer and rugby as foreign games.
“There was very limited ambition for the pupils. When I told a career guidance teacher I wanted to be a journalist, he scoffed.”
Cooper says he was asked if he had any relatives in “the Paper” (meaning the Cork Examiner).
“When I replied ‘No’, I was immediately told I could forget about it.
“There was this idea that you shouldn’t get ideas above your station.”
The broadcaster says he made good friends in North Mon, including one friend who is godfather to one of his children.
He believes people in his class went on to succeed and have good careers almost in spite of the culture in the school.