Stokane National School Reunion
Two slaps for Foodys and one for
by John T. McGuinness
Stokane School celebrates it’s 100th anniversary this year. Congratulations to our Parish Priest, our teachers, parents and all concerned for making it possible. I will relate what I know of my late father’s schooldays first. He was born in 1891, the year the school was built. His school days began in 1897. He learned to write on a slate with a slate pencil. As he learned and was promoted to higher classes he used a black lead pencil and a jotter. They also wrote with pen and ink on copies which were kept in the school. These copies contained school-work such as Dictation, Compositions and letter-writing. Most of the homework they did were sums and these were copied each morning from each other on the way to school. When my father was asked in school to do one of the sums he could not do so. The Master often wondered where he got the correct answers. There was a man named John Rafter who lived on their way to school, and he often helped them with their sums. The Master had his doubts so he ordered all sums for homework to be done in ink. One boy spoke up and said “Please Sir, we cannot write with ink on jotters”. The Master replied “I’ll soon fix that”. He went to the press and took out an armful of copies, gave one to each of them and told them to bring him 2d each the next day. The farthing was in circulation in those days, so between them they collected 2d and bought a bottle of ink which they hid in John Rafter’s ditch. They still continued to copy with the help of John Rafter. Tony Keane now lives on the farm then owned by John Rafter. The school was heated with turf in an open fireplace. Each child carried two sods of turf to school which was put into a large wooden box near the fireplace under the watchful eye of the Master. Sometimes they forgot the sods of turf and then they would take one large sod each from either Thady Foody’s or Michael Langan’s turf stack. Both houses were very near the school. They would break the large sod in two parts. If the Master noticed the fresh break in the sods he knew they were stolen and they were slapped with a cane for stealing, two slaps if the turf was taken from Thady Foody’s stack and one slap if they were taken from Michael Langan’s stack. The reason being that Denis Rouse, the Schoolmaster was married to Thady Foody’s sister and he was staying with them while his own house was being built.
My own school days
I began school in the Spring of 1930. The school itself was a plain four-cornered structure with two rooms, one was larger than the other and was known as the schoolroom, the other room was much smaller and was known as the classroom. In the schoolroom there were long desks going two-thirds of the way across the floor except for a narrow passage between the end and back wall. Close to the other end were two rows of seats lengthwise and facing the front wall. When I began school there were three teachers - The Master, Denis Rouse; his wife, Second Assistant, and Miss Bridget Maye, First Assistant. The Master taught 4th, 5th and 6th Classes and they were seated in the large desks. Mrs. Rouse taught Infants and 1st Class and they sat on the two rows of seats. Miss Maye taught 2nd and 3rd Classes in the classroom.
My first day in school
As I was the eldest of the family and had no one going to school before me, those who brought me had a hard time trying to get me started. I did not want to leave “Mammy”. They coaxed me in every way they could and in so doing they said there was a sweethouse at the school with all kinds of lovely sweets in it. They then had to tell me to go easy in case I would fall. When we got there the first place I wanted to see was the sweethouse. They put me off saying I had to go into the school first to put my name on the roll book. When we went in the Master asked the boy who brought me who I was and he then thanked him for taking care of me. He took me to Mrs. Rouse and said “Here is an addition to your troubles”. At roll call we all stood up and were marched in single file around the room to the Master ‘s table . He called your name and you answered “Ta me anseo”. Mrs. Rouse was standing to one side and had told me what to answer when my name was called. When roll call was over, the Master told me to stand by his table and asked me if I could sing. I said “No Sir”. He then asked if I had a poem for him and again I said “No Sir”. He then asked me if I could do anything for him and I said I would say a song for him. “Good boy” he said, “let me hear it”. I began: “My Uncle Johnny has a rabbit, he thought he was a buck, he ran around the garden, with his tail cocked up”.“Good boy, damn but that is the best I have heard today” said the Master. He then told Mrs. Rouse to take me back to my place and find out what else I might know. At eleven o’clock, there were prayers and we were then let out for a five minute break to get some fresh air. I noticed all the boys rushing up the yard to where the old closet was. I asked the boy who had me in his care where they were all going and he told me they were going for sweets. I said “Why do we not hurry or they will all be gone on us”. However he held me back until the rush was over, then he brought me by the hand into the old closet. I was so disappointed, the place was empty except for three or four big boys having a smoke. They told me what the closet was for and I was glad in a way as at this stage I needed relief, so I forgot about the sweets. All boys wore short trousers in those days and did not wear long trousers until they left school. Younger boys wore a pullover or “gansey” as they were also called. Older boys wore jackets or “tags which belonged to suits they had for First Communion or Confirmation. They also wore stockings with turn down tops embroidered with fancy needlework. As most pupils had to cross the fields they all wore boots, there were no wellingtons in those days. When I was young and in junior classes I had a great attraction for waistcoats. When my father came from Mass on a Sunday he would take off his jacket before dinner. I was really fascinated with his waistcoat, the silver guard going from a buttonhole to the watch in his pocket. I had my mother annoyed to get me a suit with a waistcoat and a shiny satin back. She would say “With God’s help I will get you one for your First Holy Communion”, but then again I was disappointed. It was a lovely blue velvet suit, the jacket like any other only it buttoned up to the neck with a white satin bow at the collar. The sleeves had cuffs much like a shirt, again trimmed in white satin with bows only the ribbon for those was much narrower. I looked very smart, even if I say so myself. For Confirmation I had a lovely blue serge suit, this time with a waistcoat but no tie. With it was worn a white tenths shirt with the collar out over the collar of the jacket (double-breasted).
In summer we went barefoot to school from mid May until mid October depending on the weather. As our feet were growing fast we usually got new boots for the start of the winter each year. These boots were made of strong upper leather with heavy leather soles with six rows of hobnails, depending of course on the size of the boot. They also had iron tips on the heels. These boots were powerful for sliding on frozen ponds on our way to and from school. The oil lamp was often lit when we got home from school in this kind of weather. Then in wet weather you had to be nimble of foot as there was a slough we had to cross with 26 stepping stones and if you missed one of these you had to sit all day with wet feet. If the teacher noticed the wet shoes you had to take them off, wring your socks and dry the lot at the fire. We would never tell if we were wet, neither would we tell at home and of course we never told our parents about being slapped at school because we got no satisfaction. All they ever said was you must have deserved it. There was a hall at the entrance to the school. This hall was used to hold the children’s coats and also as a storage space for turf. At this time each family brought a cart of turf once a year to the school. The entrance gate was too small for a cart so the turf was thrown in across the wall. Ten or twelve of the senior boys would be sent out to take it in at once and build it in the hall. When out for a short break or at play time boys who smoked got their best chance but for those craving to have a smoke during school hours there was a problem. I saw a boy one day who wanted to get out to have a smoke and he had no way of lighting a cigarette. He waited for his chance. When all were busy writing essays or the like and the teacher was engaged at something else he gathered some papers from under the desk where he sat, rolled them into a ball, then walked up to the fire to burn them as rubbish and at the same time light a piece of old shoe lace which he held between his fingers and would stay lit for some time. He then spoke in Irish to the teacher “Bfuil cad agam dul amach mais e do thoil e” to which the teacher replied “Be off” in a tone of annoyance. As soon as he got outside the door he lit his cigarette and then went to the back of the school where he could smoke out of view of passing people.
In the boy’s yard at the back of the school there was a long low seat like a kneeling board about fourteen foot long. Mrs. Rouse used it for the Infants Class to sit on when she had class outside on a sunny day. A short time after I began school I broke that seat. This is how it happened. One day during playtime this big fellow of about sixteen years of age and doing his third year in seventh class, stood on the end of the seat and defied me to lift him. I had to strain my neck to look at him. I bent down, caught the end of the seat, tried my best but could not move him. I told him to keep in a bit and then noticed my efforts were improving so I got him to move in a little further and as I was gaining height with each lift I got him to keep moving until he was standing exactly over the centre foot of the seat. It came up with reasonable ease but he was still standing there so the seat was in two halves. The Master happened to be out in the yard that afternoon and he saw the broken seat and inquired as to what happened to it. The big fellow said I broke it. The Master asked me about it and I told him the truth. The big fellow got two slaps, not for breaking the seat but for putting the blame on me.
In the fall of that year the Master retired and his last day at school was the best day any of us had during our school days. He sent two of his senior pupils to his home for the gramophone and records, a large tin of sweet biscuits and a can of sweets. He played a lot of tunes for us such as The Frog in the Well; The Turkey in the Straw; The Stack of Barley; Hand me down the tackle and a talking record “Mulcahy in the Snug”. This was about two Cork men in a snug in a pub talking about the times and the progress such as all that were employed at the Shannon Scheme and the other fellow says “A fat lot of good that is and 18 men idle in the Skibbereen Gas Works”. I did not eat all my sweets and biscuits that day and neither did my sister. We brought them home and divided them among our younger brothers and sisters. When the Master left, Mrs. Rouse moved to the classroom where she taught 2nd and 3rd Classes as well as Infants and 1st Class. Miss Maye took over the schoolroom and taught 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Classes. I was still with Mrs. Rouse and was confirmed when I was in 3rd Class. Religion was one of the principle subjects at this time. When it came to preparing us for Confirmation it was like little Hell up to the week of the big event. Only the very best were sent to the Bishop for questioning. I was not one of those. I was sent to a Priest who asked me three questions and you could say I needed twenty-one answers. They were as follows:
(I) Name the Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost.
(2) Name the Seven Deadly Sins.
(3) Name the Seven Sacraments.
I rattled them off no problem. Those who went to the Bishop got away with simple questions and those were asked in his own words and of course the pupils answered in their own words.
The time I write about now is some time after the Master retired. Some people brought shocking wet turf to the school and to light a fire with this was almost impossible. Some of it was “Spodach”. Mrs. Rouse would not go to much trouble to light it. Instead she would send someone to the Master’s house for some coals. I well remember the day she sent me with the old ash bucket. When I told the Master what I wanted he told me to sit down and he would be with me in a minute. Firstly he cut a large slice of home made currant cake from end to end, he then put a thick layer of blackcurrant jam on it, told me to take my time and eat every bit of it and he would take me back to the school. To me this was “living it up”. He came down to the school with me and brought a box of dry turf and he came in to his dear wife and a got a good fire going. When I came out to Miss Maye it was a different story. She would have two of us boys on our knees on either side of the grate giving every second blow to the fire. We were often black in the face by the time we got the fire going.
A tribute to my teachers
For one moment I would not like anybody who reads what I have already written about my old school days to get the impression that I disliked my teachers. This was not the case. I was very fond of my teachers and respected them. They taught me most of what I know. They taught us good manners, how to respect and obey our parents and our elders. Their job was a difficult one and they have long gone to their eternal glory and I am sure God has rewarded them well.
May they rest in peace.