By John Wid
You could almost pinpoint, with definitive accuracy, the exact moment that triggered the series of events that led to the end of Thomas ‘Tos’ Falvey’s 32 year tenure at Father Billy Brosnan Primary School, Scubber, on the 15th February 1985. ‘The end of a great era’ some said sadly, others wept, more offered private prayers in hope of rescuing any lingering sanity left from the grasp of progress. Another portion celebrated wildly and agreed that the old adage ‘you get what you give’ was never more applicable. It is, of course, important to understand the nature of the man and consider this in the context of the circumstances leading up to that final moment.
History often speaks of great men whose drive and endeavour serves to push humanity forward – men to whom institutional dogma and accepted wisdom are mere triviality, to whom derision and scorn are a source of focus and energy, whose unrelenting passion seems to overcome the largest of obstacles. Such men serve to define epochs. None of this is applicable to Thomas ‘Tos’ Falvey. A man who embodied perfectly the qualities of a generation of civil servants whose slavish devotion to bureaucracy and sycophantic drooling over superiors in the pursuit of advancement neglected any true dedication to their chosen profession. Unfortunately for Falvey, the rural backwaters of Scubber left him rooted in frustrated mediocrity, overlooked all too frequently for advancement, a victim of the very system he sought to embrace.
When externally changing social and economic factors forced teaching from the dark ages of pre-1960’s brute force despotism to the more benign pedagogical application seen today, Thomas ‘Tos’ Falvey was caught firmly in the old school. He greatly lamented the restrictions imposed by a progressing society which forced him to put his wooden ruler and leather strap back into the desk drawer. No longer the halcyon days of whipping off the belt and laying into whomever took his dislike, Falvey was forced to suppress his best intentions more and more.
Of course, this new relaxed approach did not encourage Falvey to apply any real restraint in dealing with successive generations of the ill reared Scubber populace passing through the Formica halls of Father Brosnan’s. Forthright manifestations of anger turned from overt physical abuse to a repressive campaign of mental anguish he waged against the unsuspecting youngsters on a daily basis. Through this thankless work, coupled with an emotionally distant, childless and sexless marriage to a socially ambitious wife, Falvey developed a thinly veiled misanthropic nature. He brooded dangerously, focusing his energy on deconstructing the world around him.
That such a man was allowed the responsibility of schooling children is as much an indictment of Irish society as well as a worrying reflection on accepted norms in Scubber. Nevertheless, he remained, within the village, during his tenure, a well respected character with a reputation for ‘getting the job done’. He went to church on Sunday, tipped the hat to the various dignitaries and displayed no such outward eccentricity that could have marked him as a troublemaker in the minds of those who really mattered. Over time, he became an institution, a pillar of the community, his name synonymous with hard work and end product.
After former principal Jerry Regan’s stroke back in ’78, a Dubliner called Jason Pierce, whose uncle was head of the appointments board, got the job above the more senior and livid Falvey. The following years served the purpose of essentially reducing him to a dribbling lunatic, seeing out his remaining teaching days in anticipation of his pension and maybe some solace. The pendulum of life swinging with clockwork regularity until the hand of fate so suddenly intervened…
February 15th 1985
On a cool spring morning Thomas ‘Tos’ Falvey pulled up outside Father Billy Brosnan Primary School at 8.40 in a light green Opel Ascona. Parking the motor in the familiar spot, he strolled gruffly towards the teacher’s entrance. Upon entry, he headed for the staff room where he proceeded to make himself a customary morning cup of tea before classes commenced at 9 o’clock. Most of his fellow teachers were already present, bunched in their separate cliques around the room, exchanging banalities. Falvey acknowledged no one, he was many years beyond pleasantries and his contempt for them all was thinly guarded. He took the scalding beverage and picked up a copy of the prior day’s Irish Independent where he scanned the bereavement notices.
Falvey chuckled heartily upon observing the school principal Mr. Jason Pierce hobbling into the room. Falvey’s dislike of Pierce was particularly well known and he derived a particular thrill from his ailing figure. Falvey took his tea, grunted and moved towards his classroom, liking to get in there early. It afforded him the chance of letting his presence settle upon the room.
Falvey stepped into Classroom 6, where he taught 10-11 year old students on a variety of mandatory subjects including Maths, Irish, English and Geography. The room was cold and empty but for the rudiments of the everyday classroom. He took his tea and made for his desk where he proceeded to run the rule over some English assignments he had previously collected from his students. Falvey picked up the copies and made an arbitrary number of red marks on each one. For variation, he added the comment “Must try harder” on every third one and marked each book with a random number. He severely reprimanded two of the children for consistent grammatical errors and lack of general comprehension. Falvey read none of the exercises through.
The familiar clap of the school bell signalled the children’s entry into the room. They entered in single file, ruddy cheeked from the early morning air. Falvey noted their military like discipline and felt happy enough with the morning’s proceedings not to single anyone out for special treatment. He also observed the snivelling boy Markham wiping a runny nose with his sleeve. Falvey hated such vulgarity; he scowled and ordered the children to be seated. In the mornings he liked to maintain a period of about 30 seconds of unbearable silence before commencing lessons. The palpable fear gave him that special buzz he needed – he thrived upon it.
Falvey’s approach to teaching reflected his attitudes to the educational system in general insofar as he treated the process as an inconvenience. It was merely another obstacle in his path designed to test the lingering remnants of his sanity. Liable to descend into incoherent rage at any given moment, the children generally remained in a state of mortal terror for the duration of the period he was in front of the class. Teaching methods largely consisted of correcting faults in the students work, sneering and pouring as much derision upon pretty much anything that took his dislike.
After the brief pause, Falvey opened with some Maths. Mathematical tables really put children on the spot he found. Depending on his mood, Falvey could have this section last up to 20 minutes. First a group chanting ‘2 by 2 is 4, 2 by 3 is 6….’ and onto the individual efforts. The boy Tudor, he noted, was particularly poor on the seven times multiplication tables today. They could all sing the tables alright but ask them singular sums and they hadn’t a notion. “Six by Seven Tudor”, he could see the boy singing his way to an answer “Six by seven is, eh eh 38 sir?” the boy answered hopefully. Falvey interjected abruptly “No Tudor! No!! Learn Tudor learn – or there’s no hope for you”. “What are you Tudor, what are you?” – “An imbecile sir” – “Exactly Tudor, a glorious imbecile”. The end didn’t matter to Falvey, he wouldn’t have to answer for the boy’s stupidity. Society’s fault, society’s loss.
Falvey continued to wage mental warfare against the children for the next two hours in his time honoured fashion. Irish poetry, English composition, Geography, Falvey set about destroying the children’s self esteem with brutal efficiency. The man was a psychiatrist’s wet dream. The clap of a passing bell signalled the early morning recess and the children shuffled gingerly from their seats and out into the yard. Falvey himself welcomed the 11 o’clock break made for the staff toilets. His bowels mirrored his own consistent nature.
Falvey completed his trip to the lavatory with the minimum of fuss before moving towards the playground to cast an eye over the children and take the time to smoke a quick Woodbine. Out in the late morning, the children’s cries and laughter rang through the air filling temporarily the once and future noiseless serenity of weekday Scubber life. Falvey savoured the lingering taste of each prolonged pull from his cigarette. He cast the butt towards the ground and stubbed it out with a swift stamp of his patent leather brogue before strolling back inside.
At this time Falvey noticed with some suspicion that the door of his classroom was ajar. His curiosity suitably piqued, he moved towards the door hoping to catch the intruder unaware. He was veritably salivating at the prospect of some confrontation and the release of some righteous anger but was disappointed to fling open the door and find the room empty. What he did notice, however, was a vague unpleasant odour penetrating his keen nostrils. It seemed to float from the front of the room.
Falvey strode angrily towards his wooden desk in search of the source of the offending smell, stopping intermittently to poke his sniffing snout about in pig-like fashion. The further forward he advanced, the more fetid the smell became, to the point that when he reached the front desk it was almost unbearable. The culprit soon became apparent to a horrified Falvey. Gagging, he grabbed at his brown leather satchel at his feet and was dismayed to find a large stool inside. The cheese sandwiches he had prepared for lunch, his wallet and all his papers were caked with the faecal matter.
Falvey was quivering with rage, a purplish colour rising from the base of his neck gave his face a manic tinge. Overcoming his nausea, he rushed back down the classroom towards the door, satchel in hand, throwing it back causing it to smash loudly against the wall. One of his fellow teachers in the corridor looked up in alarm at the figure that appeared in front of him. Falvey, gripped in some sort of apoplexy stood panting in the doorframe, small specks of saliva flying from his mouth. It was quite apparent that the man was teetering on the brink of a mental breakdown.
Falvey bellowed loudly an almost feral roar from the pit of his stomach and flew down the corridor with dangerous intent. Exactly what he intended to do was unclear but the other occupant in the hall did not hesitate to move away briskly, his momentary panic directing him towards the seeming safety of the teacher’s lounge. This movement only served to direct the focus of Falvey’s anger and he moved after the fleeing man with savage briskness.
The pursuit was brief, Falvey stalked his prey with animal intent and was on the man’s heels as the former burst frantically into the teacher’s lounge panting and gesturing incoherently to the bemused audience before him. Falvey’s prompt entry provided them with an explanation of sorts. Alarm gripped the teachers as the old man burst through the door and fired a brown satchel onto the long table in the centre of the room, its contents spilling out. The rank odour of human excrement pervaded the air as the smeared papers and sandwiches spread across the table. Falvey’s roar diverted eyes from this unexpected detritus as general attention settled upon him. His aggressive posture and contorted facial features inspired a sense of collective panic among the group, who were by now quite frightened by the whole affair.
The principal Pierce was the first to overcome the initial shock and attempted to reason with Falvey. “Thomas, is everything alright? Can we help you in any way?” he ventured. It would be fair to state that he had misread the situation; Falvey was clearly not open to reason by now. He launched himself towards Pierce with a suppleness belying his years and pinned the man against the wall, gripping his throat with both hands and bawling loudly.
Pierce’s imminent asphyxiation was the catalyst that provoked two of the male teachers to take affirmative action. The first, advancing cautiously towards Falvey, tried to attract his attention, the second rushed at Falvey and fired a precise fist into his bowels. Falvey groaned and his grip faltered. The first teacher grabbed him from behind but the old man lashed out an elbow that connected with the man’s face, knocking him backwards. With Falvey’s attention diverted elsewhere, a visibly struggling Pierce looked for escape and moved jerkily away from the scene. Falvey caught him unawares with a wild swipe to the jaw that sent him to the floor. The second teacher caught Falvey in a vice like headlock that rendered the old man helpless. Initially he attempted to free himself with frenzied movement and shouting but it soon became apparent that something was amiss.
Falvey’s arms fell limply by his side and his struggling stopped abruptly. His captor released him from his grip cautiously, expecting some retribution but was as surprised as anyone to see the old man slump to the floor lifelessly. A silence descended upon the room, punctuated only by the heavy wheezing of the stricken Falvey, who lay on the ground clutching at his chest. His body seemed locked in a series of convulsive spasms that climaxed with an inhuman growl and stopped all of a sudden. Rage and physical exertion had overcome Falvey’s circulatory system resulting in a cardiac arrest. The old man was dead.
Most of the witnesses to Falvey’s final scene were left with a residual sense of confusion. Indeed, most wished to brush off the details of the whole affair. Nobody had any real understanding of what had actually occurred and there was a latent sense of guilt that they all could have done something to prevent the veteran’s death irrespective of his deranged mental state at that time.
Nevertheless, details of a salacious nature crept out from the room that were damning to Falvey’s lasting reputation within the village and stoked many a controversial debate regarding the nature of the man. The realisation that such a maniac had instructed generations of local children was worrying enough without speculating on the darker nature of things at hand.
Why someone would have defecated in his bag and why he would have reacted so dangerously were both pertinent questions that evoked a number of speculative responses that varied from reasonable to ridiculous. Madness, it seems, is but a satchel full of excrement away…