Saturday 24 August 2019

John Daly: 'Schooled into appreciating bygone days'

 

'Despite the social ravages of the post-war years, Ireland boasted more than 5,000 national schools in the 1950s - a figure that dwindled to fewer than 3,000 by 200' Stock photo
'Despite the social ravages of the post-war years, Ireland boasted more than 5,000 national schools in the 1950s - a figure that dwindled to fewer than 3,000 by 200' Stock photo

John Daly

I'd never given much thought to that immortal opening line of LP Hartley's 1953 novel 'The Go-Between' - "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there" - until last week.

Traipsing contentedly around the quiet back roads of South Kerry, it seemed every second village had one local monument in common - the former schoolhouse, now fallen sadly into dilapidation and decay. Once proud centres of rural communities, these institutions gloried as lynchpins of country life, academic glasshouses where once were propagated future armies of civil servants, new Ireland entrepreneurs and the canny cohort who saw the road to Dáil Éireann as the ultimate pathway to greatness.

All of us who grew up in the country learned the rudiments of life in such hallowed halls, friends made and lessons learned, trail markers that guided generations to destinies great and small. Stepping over the ivy-choked walls and rusted gates into a forgotten world of tumbling roofs and rotting windows, I was transported into that bygone country where the doors of calculus, geography and Dickens were unlocked into worlds of discovery.

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Seated at those small wooden desks facing the erudition of the blackboard, we were guided by the dedicated hands of masters and mistresses determined to deliver us the tools to happy lives denied our ancestors, watching silently in nearby graveyards.

Despite the scores of these buildings dotted across the country now in advanced decrepitude and collapse, the rotting floors and peeling walls are signposts to a wealth of memory and associations. Many the friend and foe in short pants from those familiar play yards grasped their tuition and fashioned it into fame and fortune in a global arc from San Francisco to Sao Paulo. For the generations who emigrated at 16, their brief time spent in these isolated schoolhouses was often the last formal education they received before circumstances dictated the reluctant search for a brighter future abroad. Despite the social ravages of the post-war years, Ireland boasted more than 5,000 national schools in the 1950s - a figure that dwindled to fewer than 3,000 by 2001.

Outposts of enlightenment in many rural areas that would otherwise have lacked any kind of formal education, they were the treasure chests of indoctrination where the nobility of history and clarity of mathematics were exchanged for a paltry sod of turf on a cold winter's morning. These deserted rooms tell their own story of a changed Ireland, a microcosm of rural life forever changed where once bustling villages are ghostly shadows of boarded up shop fronts and faded family names.

These once joyful symbols whisper a poignant narrative of a disappeared Ireland - a past country where things were done differently.

If you can fake it there...

How are you in the faking it department? One of the best loved and most quoted scenes in modern movie history - when Sally delivered an imitation orgasm for a dumbstruck Harry - is 30 years old this summer.

To mark the occasion, Katz's Deli in Manhattan, where the scene was filmed, is holding a contest: 'Think you can fake it better than Meg Ryan? All comers welcome.' The 130-year-old restaurant has become a place of pilgrimage since the film came out in 1989, with many patrons echoing the famous observation: "I'll have what she's having." If you're visiting the Big Apple this summer, why not try out your mock Big O - it could be the best fake news of the year.

When foul is a perfect fit

Strolling down Dublin's Dawson Street the other day, an intriguing T-shirt slogan caught my eye. 'Hey cancer - f*** you'. This column is no fan of profanity, but sometimes an expletive is truly the best articulation.

Irish Independent

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