Jerry Kiernan Plaque
Jimmy Moloney, Mayor of Kerry unveiled a plaque to Jerry Kiernan. The late Jerry was probably Listowel’s greatest athlete.
Morning has Broken
by David Kissane
Memories of the summer of 1972 concluded
There were a few breakout occasions in those last days in St Michael’s College. There was one Saturday, never talked about “publicly” since, which brings a smile to the eyes even now. Especially now. A week before the curtain came down on our classes. A history lecture was announced for Leaving Cert students and it meant a trip to Tralee. A bus was organised and the craic was good. Freedom was in the air. We arrives a bit early for the afternoon lecture and someone suggested that a visit to a pub to get a sandwich might be an idea. A sub-group of us headed that way. Others went a more reliable direction.
A sandwich was the extent of food service in most pubs in those days. Unfortunately Perri crisps were the only item on the lunch menu that Saturday and someone said that his mother took Guinness for nourishment. A nod was as good as a drink so glasses of Guinness were ordered nervously. The barman considered all of us to be of reasonable age. Which most of us were in those days. It is reported that a clear liquid like Poitín was produced at some stage but history does not record that fact.
Suffice it to say that we were a little late for the lecture. It was a very good lecture though, on early modern Irish history, and history took on a new and stirring atmosphere that afternoon. Under the influence of alcohol on tender brains. The Nine Years’ War was never fought so clearly and the Great O’Neill became greater. When the lecture was over and questions were solicited, the standard of questioning by some of our group was exceptional. What did the wives do while the men were away fighting the English? What would an Irish leader say to rev up his men before a battle? Did Queen Elizabeth really fancy Grace O’Malley? And Henry the Eight…well we went to town on him!
In the end, the lecturer praised our corner (at the back of the room) on the quality of our interest in history and the depth of our knowledge. He said history was safe in our hands. We nodded and embraced the applause.
Some of us took notes on the lecture. They were written in a script not known up to then. Like thorny wire that had been over-run by a mad bull.
The sting in the tail came when the pub gang missed the bus home – in those days, five o’clock was five o’clock – and it was very late that night when I staggered in home.
My father had a look at me the following noon and commented that another great battle had been lost in Irish history. I appreciated his analysis.
On the following Monday, our history teacher likewise praised our interest in the lecture and wryly added, with a trademark wink, “And I’d say Kissane and friends learned a bit more than history on Saturday last!”
I recalled with gratitude that comment when I attended his funeral thirty years later. Rest in peace Mr Molyneaux Junior.
Earlier, during the Lent of that year, there was the trip out to the annual retreat to the Redemptorists in Limerick. Always a good occasion for discussions and evaluation, the few days were a welcome break from class routine and we never felt that religion was being forced on us. Well it was 1972. A visit downtown one evening, perhaps without permission by a group of us, caused a bit of a stir but was handled positively by the brothers, who engaged with us and our moderate rebellistic intentions.
But again we missed the bus home and had to thumb the coast road on a wet and cold March afternoon. Light in the soul but heavy in the body.
No awards night in 1972. No graduation ceremony. We ended classes on the Friday before the exams began and there was a guarded feeling of “yahoo!”. After all, the big test was yet to come. But as a group of us walked freely down Church St for the first time with no classes around the corner, I recall Neil Brosnan singing “Mammy Blue” and there was a lyrical quality in our gait. We were sailing to Byzantium with a new version of ourselves and when the Convent girls passed us going the other direction – how come the Convent girls always seemed to be going in the other direction! – a vague and exciting hope was dripping from the Listowel air.
Then the isolation of the few days before the first exam and the worry of have we done enough and where are my maths notes and I’ve forgotten all my Keats quotes and steel guitar strings pinged nervously in our backbones and huge butterflies grew in our stomachs and soon the exams were over and then an explosion out the gate and down into town.
A few of the previous year’s Leaving Certs had adopted the fashion of getting their hair permed. I decided to go for it after a lot of “willIwontImaybeIwill” indecision. Eventually I made up my mind to have the perm done that last day of second level education. My then flowing locks (where are they now!) had gone wild in the daily cycle to the school bus and back. It’s amazing the amount of flies and midges that could get stuck in long hair. The only challenge was it had to be done in a hairdresser’s – ie, a women’s hairdressing salon. No barber would do that sort of thing. In fact, barbers didn’t like fellas who let their hair grow. For obvious reasons.
I excused myself from the gang and headed into a hairdresser’s in Church Street to have the hair-curling experience. Opened the door and four women turned towards me from their perming and locked me in their gaze. A variety of curlers on their heads. Their eyes went right through my resolve. I felt like Moses at a disco. “What can I do for you?” the hairdresser asks, with a wink at her customers. “Ah, I have the wrong shop!” I blurted and made a hasty retreat back to the boys outside Flavin’s Bookshop, making some excuse to them about no bookings available. Hallo real life. Gulp.
I was going to retain the fuzz for that summer of ’72 and for some summers afterwards. With the help of hairspray it learned to lie down for short periods but more often than not, it retained a spirit of its own and ran free around the ears. And beyond. Upwards and outwards. It was a hairy time indeed to be alive in 1972.
We went in somewhere for a bite to eat and didn’t seem to hang around town too long. For a classmate, Mike Bambury and myself, it was down to Kennelly’s travel and book tickets for the boat from Dún Laoire to Holyhead for two days later. No other students were doing anything like that and it was a magic feeling. I had a sister in Birmingham who would put us up for the summer. I had already spent two summers working there so the confidence cup was brimming and the teaspach was high.
Bridge Between Two Worlds
And so the very next day the two of us started thumbing a lift in Listowel, right outside St Michael’s College, our Cape Canaveral of take-off. We looked in the gate, past the apple trees then in their June bloom and up the window of the classroom most of us would never see again. Funny old feeling it was. We didn’t realise it fully then, but in that moment, looking in at the College, we were standing on a bridge between two of our worlds. The world behind us, of being a student and the world ahead of being an alumnus. There were already bridges crossed, and many more to come. Sometimes these bridges are hidden from us as we cross them and don’t reveal themselves for years. Crossing from the early morning cycle down the hill and the yellow bus and walks up Church Street and Roly Chute’s shop and the old wooden desks and the sport and the ambling lunchtimes and the return home and the chat on the bus and the walk up the hill and the homework and the notes.
In that moment of tranquility we were subsumed inwards to the echoing stairs, to the ring of the hand-bell that was rung between classes, to the buzzing classroom, to the teachers who had kept the faith of believing in the art of teaching life through subjects and sport and activities. The five years spent in the college concertina-ed together in one packaged ball of memories. The fusion of the dark days when we went to school with burdens with the days of illumination and progress. The search-for-identity days and the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnell days. And the nights in between. All flowing together now and ready for the next stage over the Moon River we crossed at that moment. The mundane and routine were to become exotic and special.
I don’t know if we said goodbye or thanks to any of our teachers in the weeks before, on the final day of either class or exams. If we didn’t, we quietly thanked them now in our minds for being educational ambassadors to us.
While we were trying to resolve the paradox of these rushing feelings that June day, one of the teachers came walking past, enjoying his summer holidays and asked us where we were off to. “Birmingham!” we declared in unison. He checked if we were serious and when the truth dawned, he said “Fair play to ye. Good luck lads!” and walked on down past the sports field and the graveyard.
We thought of our class-mates who had walked out the gates of the College for the last time that June of 1972 who visualised their own pathways ahead. We had a hierarchy of individual needs and expectations as all students finishing their second level classes this week of June 2022 have: a secure career, to walk on the Great Wall of China, to own a house, to build a business, to own a castle, to create something fulfilling, to win an All Ireland medal, to find love…
We would be tumbled and humbled and rebuilt many time in the years ahead but for the first time in our lives, the town and the College seemed like a small place.
It was that day we left the Listowel and the St Michael’s that we had known for five years. Forever.
Thumbs out and we got a lift quickly and were in Limerick in a few hours. God be with the days of thumbing lifts! The stories and the characters and the legends.
Into Limerick and searched the streets knocked on a bed and breakfast door and got a double room to save money and on with the bell-bottoms and orange shirts. Combed the fuzzy hair as best we could and out on the town with a couple of girls whom we had met in the Gaeltacht the previous summer and a rocking night was had by all.
Train to Dublin the next day with fuzz inside the heads as well as outside and the “boat” to Holyhead that night.
And then came the summer of our lives. Morning had broken indeed all of fifty years ago.
A Few More from Writers’ Week 2022
This is the team who kept the show on the road at LWW 2022
Claire Keegan won the big prize at this year’s festival. Her lovely little book, Small Things Like These won the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year.
Gabriel Fitzmaurice accepted his Lifetime Achievement Award from Evan Mc Auliffe on behalf of the sponsor, Lyrath Estate
Then and Now on William Street
Moloney McCarthy Accountants