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Schoolday memories of a classy crew

>MIRIAM O'CALLAGHAN I don't remember any excitement about going back to school. People look back on their school days and say they were the happiest days of their lives. I couldn't wait to see the back of them.

My mother was the school principal in the national school I went to. She was obviously keen not to look like she favoured us so she was naturally very strict.

Then I went to school in Milltown. I had started school at three (that was my mother's way of child-minding) so it meant I went through secondary school really young all the way.

I'd love to romanticise it, but frankly I wasn't very happy. School was fine, everyone was grand, but I was always too young for every class. I wasn't allowed to do my Inter (Intermediate Certificate) because I was too young. I left at 16.

I was a big swot from the word go. I was a goodie-two-shoes, my mother says, from birth. You know people who rebel? I never did any of that.

My advice to people with children going back to school is don't panic. They're just kids going back to school. If you haven't got all the books, so what? You'll get them. It's not a matter of life and death.

In my household, it's slightly chaotic, but it's grand. I have one boy going into secondary school for the first time this year. My youngest fella is starting junior infants.

When they finish school in June they get their book lists and I stick them into the local book shop.

The only one who has his books is the four-year-old because he wanted to see his new books as it's his first time at school.

He's kind of saying that he doesn't want to go so we're trying to encourage him because he's completely spoiled --utterly ruined! He's thinking: "I never want to go anywhere except stay at home and be kissed by everybody."

>JOE DUFFY Why do shops and book stores start their back-to-school sales in late July? Do they realise how utterly demoralising, upsetting and heartbreaking those three words, emblazoned across their stores in bright garish colours, are? It was as if back-to-school was something we eight-year-olds celebrated.

At this stage we had not even had our first swim in the nearby canal, as the sun had yet to visit our school holidays.

And then there is the leathery smell of the new schoolbag and fresh, clean, blank copybooks -- oh, the excitement.

As for the first day in school, the junior schools in Ballyfermot were all full by the time we enrolled so we were dispatched through the fields each day to the nearby suburb of Palmerstown.

By the time you battled your way to school through brambles, ditches and fences, you were simply too tired to complain.

Oh, yes, I remember the crying, the tantrums and the clenched hand-holding on my first day of school. But eventually I managed to stop my mother weeping, assuring her I would be fine and beseeching her to have a cup of tea to cope with the trauma of leaving her golden boy in the hands of another woman, Mrs Ward, my first brilliant teacher in St Philomena's school, Palmerstown.

>GEMMA DOORLY There was excitement for the first three weeks of being back at school and then the novelty wore off. I had two older sisters and we all went to the same school: Loreto on the Green.

We were a jam-sandwich-hastily-made-in-the-morning family. One of my resounding memories of school is sitting beside a girl whose parents owned a sweet shop.

She had the most amazing lunches -- Wagon Wheels and sweets -- and mine were boring: a sandwich and an apple. So I used to rob her lunch. Every day I was literally, 'hand it over'. The poor girl!

My parents were called into school over that and while I don't remember much because I was five or six, I do remember having to apologise.

>SEAN MUNSANJE I was born in Dublin but left for England when I was seven. I attended prep school so the uniform was a cloth cap, shorts, blazer and briefcase. There were four different 'houses' and you wore a tie to match. Mine was striped yellow and navy.

I was pretty disorganised. My mother had to organise everything. I didn't look after things very well so she'd always get me second-hand books (money was a factor as well, of course). If I was playing hockey, I'd leave the bag on the bus, that sort of thing. I'd arrive at the beginning of term without my books and then I wouldn't even know I didn't have them until the teacher said. 'OK, open up page whatever' and I'd say, 'I thought we had French today, not English'. I was just terrible for losing things -- I still am.

> Tomorrow: Parents - how to let go at the school gate