Back To School

“If I could have it back
All the time that we wasted
I’d only waste it again
If I could have it back
You know I would love to waste it again
Waste it again and again and again
Well, I forgot to ask”

  • The Suburbs , Arcade Fire

This time last week I was standing in front of a wonderful bunch of sixth class boys in St.Mary’s school on the hill in Monaghan talking about stories, Drumlin Giants, and the true history of Monaghan. For my long suffering Yankee and UK readers ,Sixth class in Irish primary schools is their final year before going to secondary school, the kids are aged 11-ish.

I can’t speak for the boys, or their teachers, but I LOVED every second of it. I had a blast !

And as I had to give the same talk to two separate sixth classes, I had a double blast !!

The kids from sixth class in three local schools are all working on a community project and in their incredible good judgement , have chosen The Drumlin Giants as their topic this year.

I went along to tell them about how we came up with the idea, how we write the stories, and Monaghan’s central role in all major historical events.

After I was introduced I started by saying that I’d attended this same school as a student and when I was their age we’d also worked on a project. I asked them if they could guess how long ago that was.

“ 15 years ago !” one boy shouted.

“That chap is incredibly intelligent and should be sitting up the front .” I said to their teacher, Mr.Smyth.

“ 50 years ago !” another boy shouted.

“You need to go out and stand in the hall and Mr.Smyth will be along to teach you about manners and respect.”

Anyway, 40 odd years ago , Brother McCabe got us all to work on projects based on where our fathers worked. We then had to present our projects to the class. My Dad worked in Mullan Mill , as had my Granda before him, so I got the history of shoe making there and also had all of the component parts to make a shoe and a boot and was able to pass them around the class as part of my presentation. As I recall it went very well.

The next classmate to present a project was Jim Tunney, from Clones.

I asked the kids if they could guess what his father’s factory did.

“Shoes ?” No.

“Boots ?” No.

“Bread ?” No.

Jim’s Dad owned Tunney Meats. So naturally Jim decided to take in a cow’s skull, fresh from the boning hall that morning, and with bits of cartilage still attached. Jim thought it was hilarious, Brother McCabe did not. He got Jim a shovel and told him to take the skull out the back field and bury it.

After about an hour Brother McCabe noticed that Jim hadn’t returned and went looking for him. He found him out in the back field , standing on top of the skull, swinging the shovel around his head, trying to ward off a dozen of the town’s stray dogs that had got the scent of the meat on the skull.

I think Brother McCabe ended up digging the hole for the skull while James tried to keep the hungry, snarling dogs at bay.

So this project on the Drumlin Giants sounds much better…and hopefully we ‘ll be able to avoid burying skulls.

And then I started the presentation.

They had lots of questions. If I didn’t know the answer, I made something up. This teaching lark is great craic !

For their own projects they are designing their own Giants and making a story for them. I told them that the most important thing to remember was that it was their story, no one elses. Write what they would want to read. Because they are writing about The Drumlin Giants there should be some connection with Monaghan, but that wasn’t a tall order, as we can connect Monaghan to anyone, everyone, and everything…with facts , history…and more than a little imagination.

I told them to never let actual facts get in the way of their story. If someone ever asks “Can you prove it ?” I told them I immediately reply with “Can you prove it didn’t ?”

And the most important thing in writing ?

It’s to write.

Even if you can’t think of a single thing, pick up your pen, pencil, or crayon, and start writing something, anything, and you’ll be amazed at what can happen.

I don’t know if I made any impression on them at all, but they left me with a fantastic feeling that the future is bright as long as there are kids like this coming after us.

Oddly I only found out afterwards that I knew both the teachers Dads. Orla’s Mum & Dad were great friends of my SoulMate’s parents , and they were at our wedding. And at a time when I really needed help Shane’s Dad, who I didn’t really know, went out of his way to help me. Funny how life works.

When I was leaving the kids were getting their lunches out, it was raining so they were having their break at their desk , and the teacher was setting up a film for them to watch on the whi teboard.

I asked who has the weirdest lunch.

“I have pistachios.” One boy said.

“Has no one got kangaroo ?”

“Eeww !” several of them exclaimed.

“It’s delicious, like a really good fillet steak.”

“What else have you had ?”

Caviar, emu, ostrich, rabbit, frogs legs, crocodile…

“What does crocodile taste like ?”

It tastes like chicken.

“I KNEW IT !” one kid shouted, slapping his desk.

Kids are cool.



Author: paul

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