I couldn’t sleep; I spent the entire night imagining what it was going to be like? This was the day when the boys from the village, who had graduated from primary school, left to go to secondary school in the town. My brother went to the secondary school in town but he had to cycle the 8 miles. I, on the other hand was getting’ The School Bus’. As luck would have it, the Government had introduced free school buses for the entire country that same year.
I remember the day well. I made my sandwiches of bread and corn beef and headed down to the Village Square to await the arrival of the bus. The bus was yellow in colour and the shape of a huge rectangle – this was the time before aerodynamics. When we got in, the driver said ‘Well lads, my name is Mick’. Mick was the best friend a secondary schoolboy could have. The buses were notorious for breaking down. As my academic career evolved, you could always rely on Mick to oblige, if he was told that the first two classes were Latin and you hated the thoughts of it, by breaking down and miraculously starting again to arrive just in time for the third class, at least that’s how it felt to me.
I remember arriving at the school gate and been greeted by a man in a black dress, which of course was a robe worn by a Christian Brother. His first words were, ’Ah, the Borris Boys have arrived, I can smell the smoke’. This was strange to me but in the months ahead, I realised that you couldn’t see the lads at the back of the bus because of the smoke.
It was strange to be in a room with only first year students. I was used to a room with four classes 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th.Not alone that, the class was made up of a lot of people from other parishes, as far away as Co. Laois. It turned out that the Borris Boys lived further away from the school than the Errill Boys. That would be Geography.
The day went on and lunch time came. Out came the sandwiches and off down the town. I had been given the price of a cup of tea from my father. The tea for the students could be bought in a place called Maher’s Pub or more affectionately known as ‘Annie’s and Biddy’s. These were the two old ladies that ran the establishment. You sat at the counter in the shop area and the ladies gave you the tea. As part of the process the ladies would inspect the content of your sandwich and compliment you on the ingredients. In later years, I came to realise that there probably was a hint of sarcasm in what they were saying and perhaps corn beef and banana sandwiches were associated with the working class and ham was a cause for greater investigation into the student’s family background. I always envied those with the ham sandwich. I was sad when I heard of Annie and Biddy’s death in later years as they were gentle and caring souls.
The rest of the day went without any fuss except for the English Teacher. He was a fascinating guy, came to teaching the hard way, working to pay his way through college. He had an array of stories to explain the curriculum in an interesting and fascinating fashion due to his life experiences. One of his great lines, when your result in an exam was poor was ‘Hey Mister, I’ve got a shovel with your name on it’. His nickname was ‘Cowboy’ as his accent and demeanour was more like a scene from the Virginian.
The day finished with the return trip home on the bus. The hierarchy of the bus became evident that evening. First Years at the front and the Sixth Years at the back. So when you elevated to smoking Major or Carroll’s you would also be allocated one of the coveted seats at the back.
I would like to say that the fairytale story continued but like most dreamers you have to wake up and smell the roses.
The Source Writers Group