‘School was like prison – so I was glad when it was over’
Classroom confidential with author Stephen Burke
Even though he was happiest when he heard the school bell chime for the last time, author Stephen Burke learned some valuable lessons in school. First among them was that a passionate teacher can help inspire pupils to love any subject. And lastly was — always come when your mother beckons you.
So were you a bookworm or a boisterous young boy?
Well, I wasn’t a bookworm. But I wasn’t a wild child either. I was just a normal kid.
Fair enough. And where did you go to school?
St Aidans, Collins Avenue, Dublin.
When were you most happy in school?
When I left. Not that I had a hard time, but I felt it was a bit like going to prison, so I was glad when it was all over.
Are there any teachers that you remember fondly?
Mr Walsh. He was hugely enthusiastic about Irish.
Well, Peig for one would have been proud of you.
You could tell he was in love with Irish literature and poetry. So his class was never a chore — even Peig Sayers! He made it interesting and you could tell he wanted us to fall in love with the language just like he had.
What happened dude?
I used to have lots of young, enthusiastic teachers, but I was moved to a different class where more senior, less enthusiastic ones replaced them. So I really lost interest after that. But I always did enough and paced myself just to get by.
If you were made Minister of Education for a day what changes would you make?
You are always going to have good and bad teachers. In other jobs if you are not good at your job you get fired, but not in teaching. So I would like to see bad teachers that are not suited to the job fired.
What books inspired you?
Emily Bronte Wuthering Heights had a big impression on me. I also like Michael Ondaatje and Sebastian Barry. But I wasn’t really a big reader in school. That came later.
Tell us a funny story from your school years?
When I was in first year it was a tradition that you got a good kicking from the older boys.
Sadly, I remember it well...
So a couple of older guys came up to me and told me my mother had locked herself out of the house and was waiting outside the front gate for me to bring her the house key. I thought to myself, “there’s no way I am falling for that!” So I just gave them my keys and told them they could bring them to her.
Nice one! So you avoided the beating, hey?
Well, not exactly. When I got home I noticed my mother was annoyed with me.
Because she had really been waiting for me outside and asked why I wouldn’t come out and bring the keys to her.
Stephen Burke’s novel The Good Italian, described by Newstalk’s Pat Kenny as ‘a cracking read’, is available now.