Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Matty's Creggan Schooldays





This part of Matty's memoir covers her time spent as a pupil of Master Duffy. I grew up hearing these stories and have always thought that Master Duffy was an inspirational teacher. My mother sat and passed the scholarship exam under his tutelage. She would have had her fees paid at grammar school had she taken up her place. Unfortunately her family was not able to afford the extras that this would have entailed. There would not have been enough to spare for school uniforms, books or travel to Ballymena. The wages that she would earn as a factory girl would have been sorely missed too. So it was that she left schooldays behind at 14 and started work in the Old Bleach in Randalstown.

Matty writes:
When I was eight years old I moved into Master Duffy’s classroom. I was a bit worried for he got the name of being very cross.

On my first day I was given a pen to write with. I had never used a pen before and the first thing I did was make a big blot on the page I was using. I was sure I would get slapped but he must have been in a good mood that day for it did not happen.
I spent the rest of my schooldays with Master Duffy and I was not really unhappy. He was a very clever man but he had a strange way of teaching. We did not have a half hour for each subject but two or three hours of the same thing. It was all right if you liked the subject but if you did not it was very boring. My favourite subjects were Geography, English and Art. Talking of art I was classed as a bit of a weirdo. When we had a visitor at the school the Master would ask me to give them a demonstration of me writing with my right hand and drawing with my left. It was all very embarrassing for me. I don’t think he knew how I had been punished and forced to use my right hand when I was a young child. History was not my favourite subject. I would sit and gaze out of the window and daydream and listen to his voice droning on and then he would shout at me,


“How many wives had Henry VIII?”

I could not answer and I would get a hard slap on the hand and it would sting for an hour or more.

When I was about ten years old we moved to a house on the Mill Road. I was very happy there for two of my school friends Betty and Lizzie lived on that road and we had good fun playing together. During the school holidays Mammy would take us for walks through the fields looking for bird’s nests and gathering wild flowers and she could tell us the names of these things which was educational for us.

On Saturdays we had to help Mammy to clean windows with screwed up newspaper, dusting and brushing below beds. My friend Lizzie would help me to do my chores so we would have more time to play.

My sister Sadie and I were the tomboys in our family and our favourite things to do were climbing trees and swinging from rafters and walking across the tops of iron gates. All very dangerous things to do and Mammy would have been very cross with us if she had known what we were doing.


In the Autumn we would gather crab apples and blackberries for Mammy to make jam or jelly. It took about two days to make the jelly as the juice of the boiled fruit had to be strained through a muslin bag but when it was finished it was well worth waiting for.

I spent some very happy times with Lizzie Boyle at the Lough Shore. She was very good at swimming but I was unable to do so. I spent the time in the water paddling and having fun. Sometimes when we were playing at the shore fishermen from other places around would come by. Lizzie knew them all by name. They would call with Lizzie’s mother who made fishing nets. I liked to watch her making them, as she was very skilled at her work. The house they lived in then was very old with cobblestones on the floor. I thought they were very lucky not to need to scrub the floor, as it just needed brushing with a broom.

One day Lizzie’s sister Teresa had gathered some hazel nuts around the shore and she was going to put them in toffee she was making. While she was doing this Lizzie and I came in and she told us she was putting dried peas in the toffee. Because she was older than us we believed her and told her she could eat it herself, as we did not want any of it.

The twenty ninth of June, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, was a special day for us children for we had a fair on the shores of Lough Neagh at Cranfield. We children looked forward to it for weeks and saved our pennies to spend at the stalls buying sweets, yellowman and ice cream. The older people would walk around the ruins of the old church and visit the Holy Well to say prayers.

Once a year we had a traveling show called ‘Sparks’ which came to Tate’s Hall at Cranfield. They put on a different show every night and adults and children all attended it. We all enjoyed it very much and were sorry to see them leave at the end of two weeks and go to another part of the country.
One winter we had very heavy frost and a lint dam in front of the school was frozen hard. A lot of us were playing on it and the ice cracked. Dan McAteer and myself both went into the water. It was lucky it was not too deep but we were wet and cold. Dan was able to go home and get changed as he lived quite near the school but I had to wait until home time. I must have been a healthy child for it did not do me the slightest bit of harm.

We had a big garden at the back of our school and when the weather was good we spent a lot of time working in it, digging and planting and then weeding. We had a lot of different vegetables growing and a few flowers. We were allowed to take vegetables home when they were ready for harvesting and they were much appreciated by Mammy even though we had a vegetable garden at home. At the beginning of the war our school garden got a write up in the Belfast Telegraph for the way in which every inch of ground had been used for growing extra vegetables. We were all very pleased at getting a picture in the paper of us working in the garden.

One day while we were working in the garden Master Duffy got a message to go home. He told us to continue working and he would be back within the hour. We worked for a little while then we started chasing each other up and down the paths and sometimes accidentally stepping on the vegetable plots. That is what we were doing when Master Duffy arrived back and he was very angry. We were all brought back into the classroom and punished and he told us we were no better than a pack of wild animals.

When war was declared in September 1939 I was thirteen years old. We had heard it on the radio that Sunday morning, as we were getting ready to go to Mass. We had three miles to walk and we were not long left home when it started to rain very heavily and in a few minutes we were drenched to the skin. It was so bad we thought it was the end of the world and we were very frightened.

At school every morning after Master Duffy had read the newspaper he would get out a large map of Europe and throw it over the blackboard. He would then explain how the war was progressing and what country Hitler was taking over. I do not know what the rest of the class thought of it but I was not very interested and could not be bothered listening. I was too young to realize the terrible tragedies that could come from countries at war.

Nineteen forty was the year our class would leave Creggan School. Seven of us, five girls and two boys, were picked to do the Leaving Certificate exam. So we had to study hard and do extra homework in the evenings. The day of the exam arrived and we had to travel by bus to Antrim town where the exam would take place. A few weeks later we got the results and five of us had passed, one of the boys and four of us girls. We were very pleased.

The following week Master Duffy invited us to his house for a celebration tea. He lived alone so we were surprised how nicely everything was set out. There were little sandwiches and cakes cut into fingers. We really enjoyed our tea and afterwards he asked us girls would we wash some dishes for him. We got a bit of a shock when we went into his kitchen and saw the table covered with dirty dishes. It took us ages getting them finished and then we thanked him for tea and went home. We were worried he might think up some more jobs for us to do.

When we went back to school after the summer holidays Master Duffy continued to keep us informed how the war was going and the news was not good.

At the end of nineteen forty I was leaving school to help Mammy look after four of our cousins who were evacuated from Belfast. Although we did not have conscription in Northern Ireland we had food rationing, we needed coupons to buy sweets, we had blackout on all windows and a scarcity of so many things.

We learned how to make do and mend – it was not unusual for girls to get coats made from army blankets – but it became just a way of life.

I was sorry to leave my schooldays behind but strange to say a ceilidh at Creggan School is where I met my husband Seamus when I was nineteen. That was fifty-five years ago and another story to be told.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Another great story from Matty. This was lovely to read.
Mel.x x

d@\/ e said...

Maybe these stories, Matty's Memoirs, deserve a blog of their own sometime.They are great to read :-)

Nelly said...

I wish she would. She's just finished a piece reminiscing on her mother but she tells me I'm not allowed to put it on the blog as it's too personal. She's a bit suspicious of the internet.

sexy said...
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