Memoirs of an Ageing Schoolboy (Nostalgic reminiscences on schooldays in a Co. Tyrone town during the 1980s and ’90s – coming out soon in paperback) Episode 2

John "Crokey" Smith

    Episode 2: (Christian) Brothers in Arms

My secondary education during the mid-1980s to the early 1990s from the age of 11 to 18 was formed at a Christian Brothers grammar school. The order has come in for much criticism of late in the wake of the major abuse scandals which rocked Irish society. But like any other sub-group in any society it was swings and roundabouts. There were good brothers and bad brothers. And mad brothers. By the time I had left the school there were very few of them left, but the “brotherly” principal was a despotic Kerryman called McC____ [Details suppressed for legal reasons] – known (not exactly affectionately) to the pupils as “Crokey” – and to most of the teachers as something unprintable. He resembled a taller leaner version of the former British Labour Party leader John Smith. In response to his supposedly dictatorial regime, a self-styled schoolboy “terrorist” group called the Pupils Liberation Organisation (PLO) was active at the time – but more on them later.

Retreat from Reality
Being a religious school, retreats were compulsory. They served little practical purpose though. Sending a bunch of unruly, frustrated adolescent boys oozing with hormones on a residential course of supposed spiritual renewal was a recipe for disaster. Although their purpose was supposedly to provide sacred reflection in the tradition of the school’s ethos, they were in reality, a complete waste of time – a view that I’m sure many of the teachers would even share. These retreats were usually chaired by an earnest young priest who liked to think he was in touch with the angst and frustrated minds of the modern youth. On one such event in the spring of 1991 was held at an old priory in the historic village of Benburb – a place famous for the 1646 Battle of Benburb.
The unfortunate youngish priest presiding over this supposed course of spiritual renewal happened to be German. For convenience purposes let’s just call him “Father Von Schumacher”. Unusually for priests of the day he had a moustache, and so as to appear more down-to-earth and informal he chose to dress in civilian clothes rather than the normal black garb and clerical collar. The cringe-worthy events which ensued were like that famous episode of Fawlty Towers about the German guests. Cue goose-stepping around the grounds, Nazi salutes, felt-tip pen Hitler moustaches drawn on upper lips, etc. Needless to say the war was mentioned once or twice.
The next day the entire class was hauled before the teacher in charge, a well-known county GAA official, who had a few stern words to say. Given the troubled political situation of the time he said he could understand why we were “angry young men”, but why did we have to take it out on this harmless man simply because of his nationality?

The following year – my last year at the school the retreat was residential. The high jinks on this excursion were even worse…




  1. Yes, if I rememeber correcly (without naming any names) it was Messrs McGr__ and McGu____ who were responsible for that particuarly cruel jibe.

  2. i had heard that!!! would’ve been the miracle story of the moving statue if her head hadn’t caved in, so i’m told!

  3. think animl and JB were responsible for that statue fiasco meself and Francie McD had a bottle of bush and a bottle of bacardi in us that night i distinctly remember the inside of the wardrobe….just sayin

  4. I was with the other group who went the week before, but I did hear about the statue incident. There were also rumours of intoxicated goldfish, stolen communion wine and the school minibus in flames (ok, so I just made that last bit up).

    Wee John was in charge of our group. After the bus arrived at the retreat centre we were all made to get off the bus, but leave our bags on it and wait at reception. This gave Wee J the chance to search everybody’s bag for hidden contraband. He struck gold, finding several cans of beer in Benji’s bag, which he promptly confiscated. It would certainly liven up the story if i said Wee John was looking rough and dishevelled the next morning and that slurred singing had been heard from his room the previous night. But unfortunately it wouldn’t be true. Apparently he did reimburse Benji the cost of the beer though.

    I also remember handball courts on the premises and playing a game with Pete Meehan and Ciaran Curran – till some immature tosser (who shall remain nameless) grabbed the ball and ran away with it.

    I was glad when that bloody retreat was over.

  5. i’m confused! Benburb wasnt a overnight, was it? I went AWAL into Blackwatertown for the day for some reason, was the overnight not down near Dublin where the teachers went through the bags. However failed to take my “mouthwash”.

  6. No, Benburb was just a day trip.
    Yes, the overnight retreat was in a place called Emmaus near Dublin. It was strong mouthwash if I remember correctly.

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