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Tim Coffey pens a beautiful tale recounting his days in Thurles CBS

Memoirs of a Past Pupil, Teacher and Deputy Principal of CBS Thurles.

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Tim Coffey

Tim Coffey

Having moved to Thurles in 1966, Tim Coffey and his family have become Tipperary people to the backbone. Here, he writes of his life and times in Thurles CBS as a pupil, teacher, and now Deputy Principal who is due to retire at the end of the school year.

On 6th September 1966 my parents Frank and Catherine Coffey brought my brothers and sisters and I to live in Thurles. My father who had worked until then in textiles in County Durham and the West Riding of Yorkshire, had secured a job in Phoenix Yarns where Dunnes Stores shopping Centre is to be found today. I will say from the outset that as far as I am concerned it was a most providential turn of events.

My mother, keen to get us all quickly into school, wasted no time at all and a few days later, on Saturday 10th September, I believe, my late brother Chris and I walked in through Scanlon’s gate for the very first time and made our way down to the then new Monastery building to be met by Brother JV Hutton who sat us down in that little parlour style room on the right hand side just inside the main door with its oak table and four chairs (many readers will be familiar with that room as it was used for years as the venue for the Leaving Cert oral Irish examination)  to sit an entrance exam in Maths and English. The following Monday morning we sat for the first time on the benches of CBS Thurles. I was thirteen years old and was put in class 2A1 that very first day but little did I know that apart from three years spent securing my degree in UCC I would spend the rest of my life in CBS Thurles. That morning I sat beside Dick O’Keefe from the Horse and Jockey and we have remained  good friends ever since. We meet in Dunne Stores from time to time on a Saturday morning and reminisce about the old times.

My teachers that very first year who had a lasting and very positive influence on my life and whose dedication ultimately inspired me to become a teacher were: Myles Macken for Maths, John O’Grady for English, Dick Shanahan for Geography, Brother McGuire for History, Brother Paddy Gravin for Science, Brother Quinn for French, Brother Drew for Latin and Kevin Maher for Religion. Chris and I were exempt from Irish something which I came to deeply regret later in life however I did spend the free time working hard at my French which was of course to become later my main teaching subject. Like most people I have vivid memories of my teachers and indeed I could write reams about them. Here are just a few examples: John O’Grady had the most wonderful hand writing. He was capable of filling the blackboard with details about the poet of the day without ever wavering from the perfectly horizontal line. Brother McGuire, the quintessential Christian Brother, known by generations of boys as “The Dant”, had many qualities and explained History to us in a wonderful manner but his handwriting was the bane of our lives. Many readers will recall those Gestetner copied history notes which we struggled to read and therefore to learn. I bet some people kept the odd original of those in their attic for posterity. Myles Macken was the first teacher who ever succeeded in getting me to make progress in Maths. I was a tad afraid of him and the Geometry tests on Fridays in 2nd and 3rd year were always a source of stress to use the modern vernacular but he certainly brought me on and became in later years a very good friend indeed. Dick Shanahan was the very embodiment of the quality teacher. I recall being fascinated by his diagrams and notes explaining “Day and Night” and the seasons. I also recall however using tracing paper to draw maps of Ireland showing the railway lines, mountains and rivers, power stations etc. all of which we were supposed to then learn off by heart. I really struggled with this and could only watch in awe as my classmates rattled off for Dick the railway stations all the way from Dublin Kingsbridge to Tralee!

Chris and I arrived in Thurles just a few weeks after England’s World Cup victory. Football and cricket were our favourite sports and we knew nothing of course about hurling. This was about to change! Over the next few years we travelled by bus to Kilmallock and by train indeed to Buttevant to see CBS Thurles take part in the Harty Cup. I never played hurling however slowly but surely the game began to enthral me and that elusive Harty Cup became a huge part of my existence year in year out until we finally brought it home to the school in 2009. I didn’t realise then I would welcome the Cup back again as Deputy Principal in 2015 a memory which I will always treasure.

Then there were the retreats given by Father French, an elderly Jesuit priest who visited the school from time to time. The retreats were held in school at night time and I think that rather like the Men’s’ Mission, the October and May Devotions, they were really an excellent excuse for us to get out of the house for an hour. Again readers of my generation will recall that Father French always began his homily in the same way: “Now Boys, close the eyes and fold the arms! Now say after me: My Jesus, I love you.” Fifty years later his gentle, melodious if somewhat soporific voice still echoes in my mind.

The old Monastery at Thurles CBS

Many other miscellaneous memories come to mind: the iron staircase was of course the focal point of the school. It led to the first and second floor of the main building and also to the 6th year classrooms and the science lab on the upper storey of the adjacent building. 6th year pupils incidentally caught sight occasionally of the Ursuline girls from that vantage point which brightened up our day considerably! The iron stairs was an ideal spot for taking photographs of visiting celebrities but above all it was an obvious platform from which the likes of Brother Beere or Brother Power made “Come back with your shield – or on it!” style speeches to pupils and staff alike as we headed down to Emly for yet another epic encounter with the North Mon, Farranferris or Sexton Street!

One thing which only struck me years later was that the typical Christian Brother in those days taught just about every subject. I can clearly remember that Brother Hutton, principal of the school, taught English, Irish, Latin, Maths and Science during my first two years as a pupil…. A different era! The staff all had their quirks and idiosyncrasies of course. In 6th year for example we always knew when Jacky Andy Ryan was about to enter the classroom as his finished cigarette flew past the open classroom door! Paddy Lawless had a great sense of humour. At one stage during my early years on the staff the Latin teachers decided boldly to abandon the very long standing “Longmans Latin” in favour of a new next entitled “Latin for Today”. “Oh Yes”, Paddy Lawless was heard to say, “Latin for Today and gone for tomorrow!”

The Liam MacCarthy Cup visits Thurles CBS earlier this year.

When I was in sixth year last class every morning was Religion and Brother O’Leary used to open up the partition between the two upstairs classrooms and take all three sixth year classes together! We were quite in awe of him and you could hear a pin drop as he proclaimed the gospel to us. He threatened for months to give us a talk on what was known in those days as “The facts of Life!” Die dicta eventually arrived and Brother O’Leary did his best to tell us about The Birds and The Bees but I’m afraid I went home for lunch totally mystified!

Finally a word about homework called back in our day “Ecker”! Homework is of course still today very much part of every pupil’s life but in our day it was an obsession with both pupils and teachers alike. Most of our teachers spent an inordinate amount of time “examining” the material which we had endeavoured to learn off the previous night with the inevitable instruction: “Out to the line!” for those who failed to perform. I always remember one poor misfortunate who pleaded with the teacher: “I know it but I can’t tink of it, Sir!” Far more serious however and almost beyond redemption was the crime of “Cogging the ecker”. This entailed endless investigation and attracted serious consequences for both the giver and receiver of the “cog”!

After the Leaving Cert I headed down to UCC where I studied for my degree in Latin and French. As the reader can well imagine I would have many a story to tell about those three years but they must keep for another day. In third year I found out that the Cork Higher Diploma in Education could be taken in Mary Immaculate College and I chose that option. Brother Beere, the then principal of CBS Thurles gave me teaching practice hours and so in September 1973 I walked back in through Scanlon’s gate as proud as punch again not realising then that I would do so for many years to come. At the end of the year Brother Beere offered me a permanent job which I accepted without hesitation. Although French very quickly became my principal teaching subject I was employed initially to teach Inter Cert Maths as I had taken Maths in First Arts. For the first ten years approximately I taught French alongside my former teacher and by then very good friend, Pat Moore. We taught French at that time following the tried and tested traditional “Grammar and Translation” method which suited me down to the ground as I had been taught myself in that way and had a fascination with topics like “The Preceding Direct Object” and the appropriate use of the pluperfect subjunctive etc. However in the mid 1980’s as Pat Moore retired a new age in modern language teaching was approaching with the arrival of the Communicative Method. My family circumstances had by now brought about a situation where I spent practically all school holidays in France, had become totally immersed in French culture and, without any personal merit, spoke the language fluently. The new approach to teaching modern languages suited me down to the ground and I embraced it completely. The only problem was that the opportunities of showing and using authentic documents were quite limited and often frustrating. I am indeed very envious of all the possibilities which modern technology including of course our IPads have opened up to the modern language teachers of today. I would have just lapped it up! In 1985 the first ever Listening Comprehension test was part of the Leaving Cert French examination and in 1986 we introduced the oral examination in modern languages. I was extremely motivated by all of this and became very involved over the years in the oral examination culminating in 2007 with my appointment as Chief External Examiner for Leaving Cert oral French. This was a very rewarding position which afforded me the opportunity to visit schools across the 26 counties gleaning useful information as I went along about how different schools operated.

The visit of past pupil Monsignor Quinlan to Thurles CBS - one of the highpoints of history for the school.

When I look back on my years in the classroom I realise that I was above all very lucky to be happy in my job. I taught a subject which I loved and enjoyed almost all the time a great relationship with my classes and individual pupils. In that I was and am truly blessed. There were some hilarious moments in the classroom when I poked gentle fun at the boys, laughed with them or indeed at myself when I put my foot in it. I wish that I could remember all the funny things which I heard pupils say over thirty seven years in the classroom. In the early eighties shortly after we entered the new school the decision was made after lengthy discussion to introduce a uniform. One day some time later I encountered a pupil on the corridor who was wearing jeans. I reproached him of course in the usual way: “Where are your uniform trousers?” The answer I got was quite simple:  “ Ah sure, Sir, d’arse is gone out of it!”

I have no hesitation whatsoever in admitting that my appointment in May 2011 to the position of Deputy Principal came at exactly the right time for me. Much as I had enjoyed the classroom for so many years my patience and enthusiasm were somewhat on the wane and as Martin Quirke had introduced me to the role of middle management with his own unique and very successful version of the Year Head system I felt ready to give it a go! The very warm reaction of my colleagues to my appointment was indeed a huge encouragement. The role of DP is a demanding one but I have enjoyed every day of it so far. The variety each day is amazing and one literally never knows what lies ahead as the hours tick by. I have been very lucky to have an excellent working relationship with our principal Tiernan O’Donnell who has put his own mark on CBS Thurles. The introduction of IPads was a momentous decision which we discussed together over many months before putting the idea to our staff. I am particularly delighted and proud to be still on the staff of CBS Thurles in this our bicentenary year. I am infinitely grateful to the Christian Brothers for the education that I received here and for the opportunity afforded to me to give something back to the school and to the boys over the last forty three years. Merci mille fois!