The stone cross embedded in the lawn, just feet from the main entrance to Carrick-on-Suir’s Christian Brothers’ Secondary School, once sat atop the old school building’s gable end.
Before it was pulled down, the schoolhouse, which was positioned in what we kids dubbed ‘the lower yard’, had assumed differing functions in its latter years.
There was the school book shop, from behind a counter, a teacher would take our lists (and pounds) and turn out logbooks, mechanical (‘manky’) drawing rulers and rolls of sticky back plastic.
Of far greater entertainment value was the old school hall, in which table tennis sets were stored. Back in a time when the wider world hadn’t heard of Louis Walsh (incredibly there was such a time), Thursday afternoons in the CBS were devoted to sport.
But the forays into the world of table tennis were few and far between, and only availed of when conditions that might catalyse ark construction were unfurling outside.
Yet on those rare visits, it was great fun, even if most of us had as much skill with a paddle as Tánaiste Mary Coughlan does with the ‘Béarla’.
I’d not been inside the gate of my alma mater (got that, Tánaiste?) for 12 years until Wednesday morning last, even though I regularly drive past it on my way in and out of Carrick.
That the old building is no more did sadden me a little, not that it served a daily function in my own schooldays or anything like it for that matter.
It’s just never pleasant to see something that was an intergral part of your past gone, flattened, extinguished – as if it had never been there at all.
There’s not even a blue plaque on a nearby wall to inform the students of today that ‘Many played table tennis, bought tippex and sneaked a smoke on this site’.
Boys who went on to represent their counties in football and hurling, and two brothers who’ve proudly worn the green of Ireland in the world’s great soccer arenas, honed their skills down in that yard.
No two ways about it, but Stephen and Noel Hunt have done pretty well since their days in the black CBS uniform, when attempting all manner of tricks with a tennis ball.
Sadly, another great school tradition has gone the way of the old building, members of the Students’ Consultative Council (SCC) informed me when meeting with them last week: the Student/Teacher football match is no more.
This annual tussle between the leaders of tomorrow and those paid to educate them usually worked the school into a great tumult of pre-match expectation.
Most debate queried whether anyone would try to ‘take out’ one of the teachers with a Bruce Lee-type lunge, or would a múinteoir find a new way of punishing an upstart by non-detentional means.
Come the big match, the grass bank behind the ‘town’ goal was a heaving mass of adolescent devilry, patchy facial hair, X-Worx jackets and cheap deodorant.
Things did take a slightly controversial turn when one of our teachers, manning said goal, was subjected to a ‘grass missile’ attack. Soccer hooliganism? Hardly. Damaging school grounds? Marginally. Hilarious to view from the bank? Definitely.
However, the riled teacher didn’t find it quiet as rib-tickling as the rest of us, resulting in a post-match inquest held across several classrooms the following day.
But the dust soon settled, the grass re-grew and harmony was soon restored to the kingdom of Mount Saint Nicholas, arguably the most elegant school address on this island.
Back to 2010. And while he may have retired from teaching eight years ago, Noel Casey remains inextricably linked to the school, primarily through the SCC, which he helped instigate back in 1973.
Joining a discussion with Noel and the current SCC, four bright young men settling into their respective roles, the mind drifted back to my own days of Council involvement.
For most of us, Council membership was our first experience of calling, then holding a meeting, recording the minutes, discussing finances, making plans and approving actions.
Given that the ‘grown-up’ world was lurking just around the corner, and given the litany of committees and meetings most of us end up being associated with, it made for ideal preparation. Sadly, chairing meetings remains a skill unmastered by many in the real world!
Now governments didn’t fall nor did empires emerge because of anything we did, but that wasn’t the point.
We acquired new playing jerseys for the school’s senior soccer team, funded through holding non-uniform days on the first Friday of each month.
We helped bring about the removal of potentially dangerous iron railings that surrounded two playing courts at the top of the school and we assisted charities including Bóthar to carry out their work in the Third World.
And to do these things, we needed all the classes in every year chipping in, which by and large is what we did, so from a civic perspective, it was great to be part of a productive, independent school entity.
Carrick CBS, the second school founded by Edmund Ignatius Rice and home to the first Students’ Council in this country, has much to be proud of.
Because not only has it produced academics, businessmen, teachers, great sportsmen, etc, it’s also produced thousands of well-educated and well-rounded young men down through the decades.
Schooling at its best is as much about gaining lifeskills as it as about securing an education. And on that count, the place I learned, the place I played and the place I often laughed in couldn’t score more highly.
As another Carrick-educated man once wonderfully sang: “Those were the days, oh yes those were the days.” By God, they were all that and more.