A New Boy Comes to Glenstal Priory School in September 1940
Barry Cullen (1940-46)
In September 1940 World War 2 was beginning to affect us in Ireland, petrol rationing had been introduced so getting from my home in Cavan to Murroe was not easy. The school was due to commence on the first or second Monday of September but we were instructed to travel down by train from Kingsbridge (Heuston) station on the previous Saturday when a carriage had been reserved for us (there were probably no or few trains on Sunday during the emergency). My mother brought my brother Brian (later Abbot Celestine) and me by bus to Dublin where we stayed overnight with our Aunt who lived on the south side of the city, and somehow got to the station in the late morning where a large number of boys and parents were gathered and where the headmaster Fr Matthew was in command issuing orders in a loud voice to all and sundry.
Because of the war there was a big intake of new boys mainly from the Dublin area making up a total of 80 pupils in the school that year (my brother and I were the only boys from north of Dublin). Brian had spent one year already in Glenstal so I was well prepared for my fate. I had spent the previous years in a country National School outside Cavan and I recall being overwhelmed by the smart boys from the big city. But for the war some of these boys would have gone to school in Downside or Ampleforth as their fathers were old boys of Mount St Benedict in Co Wexford (Fr Matthew was one) which had been founded from Downside . Others had been to St Gerard’s in Bray or other smart prep schools and certainly none had penetrated the wilds of County Cavan or been inside a National School.
We eventually reached Boher station after changing trains at Limerick Junction where we were joined by boys from the South. At Boher we were met by other school staff and the school van, a commercial vehicle with bench seats along each side. Later during the war Fr Winoc converted this into gas fuel and there was a hot contraption on the rear and it was known to the boys as the “metalergique”. We had been instructed to bring our bicycles, and so I set out on the five mile ride to the school presumably following my brother or others who knew the way
The non-cyclists were transported by van in relays to the school. A bicycle was essential for free or feast days so that we could cycle into Limerick for the cinema or visit places nearby such as Killaloe. There was a bicycle shed near where the Abbey Church now stands, but we had to leave our bicycles in a shed at Boher during the Christmas and Easter vacations and only took them home in the Summer.
On reaching Glenstal we passed through the castle archway with the priory and masters house on the right and the castle/school on our left. We were met by Fr Maur Ellis (a tall New Zealander) who was in charge of the junior school, we were shown around and our dormitories pointed out. We had supper later and I recall going to bed in the middle dormitory above the terrace where I was beside Gordon Doyle RIP who was in the same boat as myself and we became friends. Next morning we were aroused from sleep by a loud knock on the door and a louder “Benedicamus Domino” from Fr Matthew.
There was no formal gathering or assembly for instructions as I recall but we were told to read the notice board to left of the door in the room in which now hangs the Barrington family portrait, and the big room further on was the “play room” which was our main gathering place where there were some tables, chairs and seats along the walls, and the sole radio on the left side of the fireplace. Later the daily paper and some selected magazines were to be found there including Dublin Opinion. The whole school gathered in this room every day before lunch for school announcements /instructions from Fr Matthew, the Angelus or Regina Caeli in Pascaltide was recited followed by the important distribution of letters from home. Some announcements such as the appointment of prefects were made by the headmaster at supper. We got most of our information by word of mouth from the more senior boys
My first Sunday was a very boring day and I recall exploring the grounds with Gordon, the Junior boys being limited to the top avenues and playing fields, the village of Murroe being “out of bounds”. After breakfast we attended sung High Mass in the old chapel a converted Shannon scheme hut now called the Cinema Gym.Before lunch during term we had a letter- writing- home session in the study rooms when the weekly cards were distributed by the headmaster from one on the adjoining classrooms These cards which were marked out of 20 had to be sent home with our letters and were in order of performance gold, green, blue and red and woe betide anyone who got a red card! We attended Compline after supper as was the Sunday routine, instead during the week we had rosary in the church before supper.
I saw on the notice board that I was placed in the most junior lower third class but there was a problem as to the class location the new classrooms on the top storey of the square tower were not yet ready. Thus on the Monday morning we had classes in a corner of the play room where I recall Mr O Riordan (PMOR) reading to us from Lamb’s tales from Shakespeare . We had him for English and Latin (Allan’s Latin Grammar was given to us), Mr Quirke for Maths, Fr Maur for French, Mr Mulvihill for Irish and Fr Matthew for religion. I think we moved into the new classrooms within a few weeks, and there was always a rush up the stairs to get a seat beside one of the radiators in the hope that these were working. On weekdays we had two classes after lunch then rugby for two terms and cricket or athletics in the Summer term.
The new boys had to sit an official entrance examination the papers being in English, Maths and Irish in which the boy from the national school got the top marks and so I was duly promoted to upper third class. I settled down to school life and awaited the Christmas holidays which were proceeded by term exams, and the annual play which in December 1940 was G. B. Shaw’s John Bull’s Other Island well beyond the comprehension of a twelve year old Cavan boy.
[Published on the GOBS website with kind permission of the Cullen Family]