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My Letter in Irish Examiner re De La Salle Brothers

Christian and De La Salle Brothers Did their Best for Pupils of All Classes
Letter published in Irish Examiner, 28 May 2008

I REFER to Gregóir de Buitléir’s letter (‘A Mon boy rallies to defence of Christian Brothers’, May 14) in response to Matt Cooper’s column (May 9) about the brothers at the ‘North Mon’ in Cork.

I went to a De La Salle brothers’ secondary school in a working class area of Dublin in the early 1960s. The parents of the pupils were a mixture of middle class, working class and the unemployed. This was before the era of free education, so you had to pay a fee of about £7 a term or £21 a year — not huge even then.

I heard on the grapevine that some boys were excused payment of fees because their parents could not afford it. However, I never heard their names since that information was taboo.

In my time there were 12 or so brothers and three lay teachers. Corporal punishment was taken for granted. It was employed for bad behaviour and for failure at lessons. Even at the time I thought it was justified for the first, but not for the second, so obviously we were not brainwashed.

Two of the three lay teachers were inveterate users of the strap — far more so than the vast majority of the brothers. I developed a theory about that, too. I said the brothers got more respect because they were religious and the lay teachers had to use the strap more to assert their authority.

However, one brother slapped us as much as the lay teachers. He taught us maths and science and was more dedicated than inspiring as a teacher. ***

Most of his class were doing pass maths in the Leaving Cert, but a minority were doing honours so he had to teach the two courses.The way he did it was to teach the pass course exclusively during the day and bring the honours students in two evenings a week and on Saturday to teach them. He got no money for this.

This was typical of the brothers’ approach to education. Honours students had to be encouraged, but everybody had to get through.

I was not interested in games, but I believe the brothers were far more involved than lay teachers in training boys for football, hurling, etc. Nowadays it is difficult to find adults to coach young people — partly because they are afraid of bogus allegations of child abuse. Also, many schools will not allow pupils to run in the schoolyard because they might fall and parents might sue the school. This is the new secular ethos that has replaced the traditional Catholicism inculcated by the De La Salle and Christian Brothers. Does Matt Cooper really believe it is an improvement?

Rory Connor
11 Lohunda Grove
Dublin 15

*** This was the late Brother Eugene Donegan R.I.P.

A ‘Mon Boy’ Rallies to Defence of Christian Brothers
Irish Examiner, May 14, 2008

I WAS a pupil at North Monastery CBS, Cork — a ‘Mon boy’ — from 1954 to 1964 and, like your columnist Matt Cooper (May 9), the Christian Brothers left their mark on me.

Mr Cooper’s observations are factually correct. I witnessed, and sometimes experienced, much of what he describes.

However, the meaning I attach to the brothers’ behaviour and their motives differs radically from his interpretation. There is another way to tell the story.

The regime was harsh, there’s no denying that. I felt the leather on cold hands on a winter’s morning.

In 10 years I witnessed a few serious beatings, but not for trivial matters and I never thought of them as “assaults”.

We were disciplined and controlled not only by the brothers, but also by lay teachers, priests, gardaí and parents.

Yes there was fear, but also respect. How could I not respect teachers who gave me a life-long love of learning, including Shakespeare, Latin, maths and the Irish language and culture?

Some of the happiest days of my young life were spent in the west Cork Gaeltachts of Coolea and Ballingeary in the company of the brothers.

Mr Cooper says his classmates “drove themselves to succeed in spite of, not because of, the culture of the North Mon”.

This is an unkind, unfair and unproven assumption. This is his reality, filtered by his experience, beliefs and values. He cannot truly know the perspective of his classmates.

He asserts “the school did not inculcate a culture of ambition ... but I think it was a case of us being written off because we did not come from privileged backgrounds”.

Blessed Edmund Rice would be dismayed to hear that any boys held that belief because it is totally at variance with the ethos and tradition of the founder and his followers.

Surely Mr Cooper knows that Brother Rice’s mission was the education of the underprivileged?

We were proud to be Mon boys. Proud of our sporting achievements, including our unrivalled Harty Cup successes.

We were often reminded of our famous past pupils who were held up as role models for us, including Jack Lynch and many leading public servants. I was never in any doubt we too could succeed like them.

The brothers and my parents gave me that belief. I’m convinced the brothers knew they had the potential to transform our generation. They understood this better than we did ourselves, as we were mainly the children of tradesmen, workers and the unemployed. We were going to get that honours Leaving Cert and if it required discipline and control, so be it.

I’m not suggesting my schooldays were the happiest of my life. The system was not perfect — it still isn’t. There were flawed vocations, poor teachers and difficult boys.

I believe the brothers did their best. They gave us what they could and we found the rest ourselves.

Life has its disappointments, and when we compare the dreams of the young man with what we’ve actually achieved, let’s not blames the brothers for the gaps.

I agree with Matt Cooper when he says “I don’t regret having attended the North Mon for my secondary schooling”. We arrive at that conclusion in very different ways.

An Mainistir Thuaidh Abu!

Gregóir de Buitléir
The Marlings
Grange Heights