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…
TO BE CONTINUED…