Memories of school days

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My earliest recollections of school days are during the late 1920's and 1930's, when I attended Rateen National School. I understand that the ground was given in the late 1800's to the then authorities by Miss Lucy Mayne of Sedborough, Rateen, on a 50 year lease.

Rateen School was an old stone building with a stone wall surrounding the playground, adjacent to a lake. Entrance to the class-room was through a stone hall-way where we hung our hats and coats. Being only five years old, I have little recall of school other than a feeling of impending doom. High windows on either side of the classroom gave only a view of the sky and none of the surrounding countryside. The back wall was covered with maps of the world. Heat was by means of a turf fire. I believe our parents supplied the turf.

As infants we used slates and chalk to learn to write and do sums. We were regularly beaten as a punishment for mistakes, and I withstood this regime for two years before I rebelled. During this two-year period, I was away from school and in hospital for a period recovering from peritonitis. I also remember to this day the anguish I suffered when my younger sister, who was left handed, was slapped regularly for disobeying the rule to write with the right hand. This was despite the fact that my mother bought her a pretty bangle to wear on the right wrist to remind her of the rule. Other children as well as myself were beaten with a rod cut from the hedge, when we missed a spelling or got a sum wrong. I grew to loathe the indignity that we all suffered.

I won't ever forget the day that I turned on my teacher. It was during a class on Art. We were asked to draw an old black saucepan with a long handle and a beer bottle inside it. This was placed on a desk in front of the class. My artistic talent was not then nor ever has been very clear. By current standards it may be called surrealistic. My interpretation did not come up to standard so I was slapped on my right hand causing it to bleed. I was very angry and in the playground later, many were the sympathisers, who viewed the bleeding with concern. After the break, writing was the next lesson. This was headline copy in italics, that I have never forgotten. Procrastination is the thief of time which we were asked to copy accurately. Not only the poor writing but also the blood smeared all over the sheet, induced a great rage in my teacher. She sent for the rod. Any blood remaining in me boiled over into my head and seeing red, I yelled "You are not going to beat me any more." Dead silence. Then "How dare you be so impudent. Go into the hall at once until I decide what to do with you". I picked up my bag and books and deciding that enough was enough went through the hall and took to my heels and fled, never stopping to look back until I reached Macks of Ballagh Cross, where on hearing of my plight, I was hidden .

Back at school, it eventually dawned that I was missing. The Head Mistress set out on her bicycle to find me but did not succeed. Eventually I reached home and meeting my mother in the lane and seeing my hand, she said "Child dear, what is up? I showed her my hand and said "I am not going back to that school." Well, after a week at home, I had to return after being assured by my father that there would be no more beating. Subsequently, when I stood in class watching other children being beaten, the teacher would reach me and sarcastically "Oh, we cannot touch you." Obviously, my father had dealt with the matter, very quietly and without my knowledge, and I was never again beaten while at Rateen. However we were taught to respect our elders, which meant teachers, clergy and neighbours. Some weeks later my sister and I left Rateen, a move not wholly approved by my mother since all the older members of our family, who also attended there, had all achieved their school leaving certificates.

Rateen National School was what we today call an integrated school. R.C. and Protestant pupils studied and suffered together. We never heard of Sectarianism. My eldest sister recalls in her time, an incident in the playground. A row that erupted ended in a spate of slogan exchanges "Down with the Pope" and "Down with King Billy." Later in class the Head Mistress asked the Pope supporters to raise their hands and then the same for the supporters of King Billy. "Right" she said. You can get out your pens and papers and write all you know about your respective heroes. Many pages were empty and the resulting soul searching prepared all that class for the restoration of peace and goodwill.

I had no regrets leaving Rateen, although the fear of failure lasts with you many years. I moved to Aghadrumsee P.E. School where it was sheer bliss to be in Miss Marshall's class. It was quite a change to have a nice young teacher who meted out praise. Aghadrumsee School has been described in a earlier publication of this magazine. I remember most of the pupils pictured in the school photographs. There was no excessive pressure to learn, but there was an intense competition between us to do well at daily checks on our progress with spellings and tables. We were encouraged to read and learn lots of poetry. To this day, when I visit places of interest I recall Upon Westminister Bridge, The Sands of Dee, The Highwayman and many more. Our Head Teacher, Mrs Johnston, organised the Christmas Concerts in which we all took part, learning the words of many sketches and songs. She was also the Church Organist and most of us were encouraged to join the Church Choir. I cannot imagine it was due to our singing ability but I have pleasant memories of choir practice at Christmas, Easter and Harvest Festival. A carefree time.

The passing of time brought the school bus. What a delight to be picked up not far from our gate, in a horse-drawn caravan. It certainly made life easier. Pupils were picked up along the way from their gate or at cross roads. There was no problem with discipline in the bus. One look from the driver, Mr. Thomas Johnston, a quiet pleasant man, was enough to keep order.

We were growing up and had to move on, so arrangements were made for my younger sister and I to receive further education at Clones Technical School. Another very old stone building located up a steep lane about a quarter of a mile from the town. The school was four miles from home, so we had to go by bicycle, meeting up with fellow pupils along the way. Come hail, rain, or snow I cannot recall any absenteeism. The Head Teacher was Miss Black who walked daily to school. She was a very smart lady who gained our respect by her sheer presence. Wearing Cap and Gown, she walked into the classroom, to stand by her desk, which was raised on a wooden platform, and looking down on the girls on one side of the room said "Good Morning Girls"; and then to the boys on the other side "Good Morning, Boys". We were all standing of course, and all would reply "Good morning Miss Black". This was a daily ritual, which doubtless had a bearing on the good discipline within the school. Miss Black taught Shorthand, Typing and Commerce. Master Keys was a different character. He was full of fun. He taught English, Irish and Sport. Many a stick of chalk would be flung at pupils who did not pay attention in his class. Most of the girls learned to play Camogie, and although the pitch was on a fairly steep slope, it was a most enjoyable game.

It all seems a long time ago. At school I was known as Minnie Johnston. When I left I reverted to my baptismal name of Frances mainly because I was fed up by being call "Minnie the Moocher" or "Minnie Mouse". The pride of youth! Minnie holds no horrors for me now.

—By Frances Hornby - August 2002,