The following piece is by Anna Brioscú, and appeared in the 2000 / 2001 Year Book. The images used in this piece are photocopies of photographs taken of the school in the 1940s. We have now sourced the originals and will put them up as soon as we get them. They are so beautiful!
In September 1938 at the age of five years and nine months, I started school in the ‘Babies’ class in The Green. My mother Una Byrne (Begg) had been a pupil in the Secondary School in the 1920s.
In June of that year, she brought me to meet Mother Clare, who had taught her piano and violin. We also met Mother Rita, who was in charge of the Junior School. It was then known as the Kindergarten and Preparatory College. I was shown around the classrooms. We came down the lane with all the presses for the coats and shoes belonging to the ‘big girls’. The Junior School cloakroom was on the right-hand side, opposite the steps leading into the concert hall. There was a cloakroom for the small boys on the left, then a tiled lobby and a short passageway leading to the babies’ classroom on the left. The ‘Big Room’ had three classes – 2nd Class was in the centre, 3rd Class was nearest the door, with 4th class at the top. The Entrance Grade room was accessed through a door in the top left hand corner. The 1st class was taught in the lunchroom.
The Side Garden
Miss Mulholland [!] was my first teacher. There were seven or eight boys in the class including the identical twins Paddy and Jimmy O’Connor, who delighted in confusing all of us by swapping their names. I took to school like a duck to water. Reading, in both Irish and English, and sums were no trouble. Unlike the beginners of today, we were given homework from the start.
A real leather school-bag was bought in a shop in Anne’s Street which specialised in bags, cases and briefcases. I had a wooden pencil case with sliding top which doubled as a ruler, a pencil, rubber and pencil parer. My navy blue overall, with detachable white collar, was bought in Todd Burns, a large department store in Mary Street. There were also regulation socks and indoor and outdoor shoes to be got there. Text books were bought from Brown & Nolan on Nassau Street. Copy books, with the school name and crest, were available from Mother Rita’s press in the top right-hand corner of the ‘Big Room’.
My father was diligent in helping me with my homework and was very proud that I had a flair for sums. I skipped from babies to 2nd class. I found this a little difficult, as I had to pick up
multiplication and division for the first time, while the other class members were doing it as revision. Miss Meagher was an excellent teacher.
In 3rd class I had Mother Rita for all subjects except Irish, which was taken by Áine Concannon, a native speaker from the Aran Islands. I had a reasonable fluency as my father always spoke what he knew of the language to us as children. This endeared me to Miss Concannon, who could be quite cross with those who may not have had the same interest in the subject. We had weekly tests in 3rd class. The results were put up on the wall. The pupil gaining the highest aggregate marks wore a large silver medal for the week, with DUX written on it. It hung from a red ribbon.
In 4th class we had Miss Patricia Carton. Every Friday we had weekly spelling, and towns and counties contests. The class chose two girls as captains, who in turn picked their teams. As a team member spelt a word incorrectly or matched the wrong town and county, she had to sit down. The side with the most surviving members at the end was the winner. A weekend free from homework was the prize.
Entrance Grade was taught by May Lillis with Sr. Anne O’Keefe, who was a young nun not yet fully professed. She was appalled at my hand writing and insisted that I do several lines in a headline copybook each evening as part of my homework.
First Holy Communion
I made my First Holy Communion on 23rd May 1940. We were prepared by Mother Rita with regular visits from Fr. Robinson, a curate in St. Andrew’s Parish, Westland Row. He heard my first and second confessions. Unlike nowadays, pupils were allowed to receive First Communion in their parish church or elsewhere. I was very fortunate that my first cousin once removed, Sr. Fedelis (Carmel Begg), was an Irish Sister of Charity in Stanhope Street Convent. She was a Green Past Pupil. Her community invited me to join them for Mass at 7am on the morning of Corpus Christi and receive my First Holy Communion in their chapel. This was a privilege I shall never forget. I wrote about it a few years ago for my family.
I received the Sacrament of Confirmation in St. Andrew’s Church, Westland Row on the 25th February 1943 from the hands of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid. We were almost five hours at the ceremony which included a catechism examination beforehand. Thankfully I was not asked a question! Miss Carton came with us as the nuns were not allowed to leave the convent at that time.
My mother had to save coupons so that she would have sufficient to buy me a new dress, coat, hat and shoes. Clothing was also very expensive. When coupons were introduced I thought that money was no longer needed! About a fortnight after Confirmation I was out in the rain in my new shoes. The soles disintegrated as they were made out of cardboard which looked like leather.
A Reception Room
There was a Junior Choir. Piano lessons were also available for an extra quinea per term. Miss Foley was my teacher. I sat Preliminary, Primary and Grade I, Royal Irish Academy of
Music Local Centre Examinations. The examiners were Dr. John Larchet and his wife Mrs. Madeline Larchet. The Local Centre was in the front parlour where there was an upright piano of ebony wood with mother of pearl keys.
When I went into the Senior School I was in the choir. The secular music examiner from the Department of Education was Eamonn Ó ‘ Gallcobhair. Dr. Weaving came from the RIAM and Fr. Moloney, who later became the Parish Priest of Rathgar, was the Diocesan music examiner. Choirs and orchestra were entered for the annual Feis Ceoil. While Mother Cecily prepared the performances with hours of hard work, Terry O’Connor, a famous past pupil musician, was the conductor for public concerts within the school and for our visits to the Feis.
I was thrilled years later when I took up my newspaper one morning to see a picture of Mother Cecily, in full flight, conducting a prize-winning orchestra from The Green at the Feis Ceoil. Liberation and recognition at last!
Ribbons and Sodalities
Fourth class brought me into contact for the first time with various sodality ribbons. There was the narrow green, then the broad green in Entrance Grade; the narrow and broad red in 1st and 2nd year, narrow and broad purple in 3rd and 4th year, culminating in the narrow pale blue in 5th year and the broad Child of Mary ribbon and medal at the end of 5th year as we were about to enter our 6th and final year.
I played tennis on the grass courts at the rear of the school. Miss O’Kelly was the coach. There was a hard court used as a play ground by the National School by day and by the boarders for tennis in the evenings. She also looked after the hockey which was played in Dartmouth Square. When I went to the “A” school I played camogie. Our coach was Neillí Mulcahy, who later became one of Ireland’s well known dress designers. She was the youngest daughter of General Richard Mulcahy, TD, who became Minister for Education in 1948.
World War & Christmas Plays
The 2nd World War broke out in September 1939. From the latter end of 1940 until 1946 all private motor cars were off the roads.
The Concert Hall
Buses, trams and trains were curtailed. The bicycle came into its own. I cycled to school most of the time while I was in Secondary School. Fuel was very scarce so there was little central heating. I was a day pupil but times were really hard for the boarders and the nuns. Food was rationed and coupons were necessary to purchase clothing and most food.
In spite of the hardship two plays were staged annually at Christmas while I was in the Junior School. Sinéad Bean de Valera was the author of the one-act play in Irish. She came in for about a fortnight before the actual public performance to help with the production. I have great memories of this very special woman whom I had the privilege of meeting many times in later years. There was also a three-act play in English with courtiers, a jester, king and queen, etc., produced by Ena Mary Burke, our elocution teacher.
We were allowed to invite a certain number of guests to see the plays which were staged over three nights. The gilt-edged formal invitations were like gold dust to us students. Each evening at the end of the performance one of the priests attending would make a speech in praise of our efforts and those of our teachers. A photographer from The Irish Press and Irish Independent newspapers would come along to record the occasion.
Sitting the Loreto Entrance Examination was my first experience of tests with a printed question paper. Each year after that there was a formal Loreto exam, except in 4th and 6th year, when we sat the Intermediate and Leaving Certificate Examinations of the Department of Education.
Secondary school was a very different regime. I chose to go to the “A” school, Coláiste Mhuire Loreto, where all the subjects except Christian Doctrine, were studied through the medium of Irish. There was also a range of new subjects. Arithmetic was joined by Algebra and Geometry. Irish, English, French and Latin were the languages,with a choice between Art, Domestic Economy and Science. I chose the latter. The teachers I remember were Misses O’Keeffe (sister of Sr. Anne), Cussen (sister of Mother Monica), Gretta O’Kennedy, Maureen O’Leary, Ring, Jo McIvor and Teresa Costello. The nuns were Mothers Frances Regis, Francis Raphael, Columbanus, Angela (Quill) and Joannes. All very special people in their own way. Mother Angela, who taught junior mathematics, went to the convent in Ballarat, Australia after her final profession.
I owe my knowledge of written Irish and my introduction to the works of Máirtin Ó ‘Cadhain to Mother Regis. Her love of the language and her interest in politics endeared her to me. Mother Columbanus had an extraordinary spirituality. She taught me English and Christian Doctrine in 3rd and 4th year. The subject for the Diocesan examinations for those years was the Mass, along with apologetics, social science, St.Luke’s Gospel and ordinary catechism questions.
The only two medals I ever won were for 1st place in the Christian Doctrine exams in those years. I still have them and will treasure them until the time comes to pass them on as a keepsake to the next generation. She was far ahead of her time in her own understanding of faith. Her devotions to the Little Flower, St. Thérese of Lisieux, brought her eventually to leave the Loreto sisters and join the Carmelites where she went to Eternal Life some years ago. As I write, the relics of St. Thérese are making a special visit to our country. I live in a parish which is under the care of Carmelite priests. St. Thérese will visit us for 24 hours on the 5th and 6th of May. Mother Columbanus will be very much in my mind during this time.
Mother Joannes for me was the mathematical genius. She also taught science. I was good at these subjects and have very happy memories of her classes. The first phone call I received when my eldest son, Cillian, died at Christmas 1998, was from Mother Joannes.
A Reception Room
In the Senior School we had an annual 3 day retreat conducted by the Jesuit Fathers. They were very learned men whose talents may not have been really appreciated by us at the time. I have dozens of holy pictures from fellow students in memory of the various retreats. I take them out and look at them from time to time and say a prayer for these girls wherever they may be.
We had the Mission Committee which was responsible for organising the making and selling of the crepe paper roses on Mission Sunday. The very small buds cost a penny whereas the fully blown ones were bought for sixpence. We subscribed to the missions in other ways also. I have a small certificate saying that I am a godmother to two black babies, as they were then known, Michael Laurence and Mary Catherine. I also have a certificate as a member of the Mission Field Brigade of which St. Thérese was patroness. My duty was to pray for the welfare of priests and for vocations.
Pioneer Total Abstinence Association
I will always be grateful to Fr. Sean McCarron, S.J., who was a regular visitor to the Green. He was the director of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart. I became a juvenile member, a probationer and finally a full member in March 1949. I still have my three pins and the certificate signed by Mother Seraphia. She was one of the sisters who perished in the fire. Being and remaining a member of the Pioneers has been no great sacrifice for me as I have never tasted alcohol or felt the need to do so.
However, by saying the Heroic Offering, which it was called when I joined, morning and evening, I have in a small way helped to convert excessive drinkers. I firmly believe in the power of prayer. When I hear someone speaking on the radio or television about their addiction and how suddenly they got the urge to seek help, I know that the thousands of Pioneers worldwide are helping their less fortunate brothers and sisters.
I left The Green in June 1949 after sitting my Leaving Certificate and National University Matriculation examinations. When in the Senior School we were given a prayer to recite ‘for the choice of a state in life’. Some cynics said that it was designed to encourage us to join the Loreto Order! I said the prayer daily and when, after two years of studying Arts and Commerce in UCD, I decided to marry, I felt it was an answer to my petition. Although I was not quite nineteen I was confident that I was making the right choice. Fifty years later I know that it was God’s plan for me. The prayer books containing the Marriage Rite and Mass were given to me and to my husband, Aodhagán, by Mother Francis Regis with our names printed in writing special to nuns in those days. Mother Joannes sent me a Loreto Manual also with my name and the date in the ornate lettering. During my last year I was Head Girl of the day pupils. Eithne McGovern was head of the boarders.
The White Corridore
I say to the pupils of today that the points system is necessary for entrance to 3rd level courses but it is also a good idea to pray that you make the right choice. I come across many disenchanted people who opted for or were pushed into a profession because they got the required points. The academic subjects were important and were well taught when I was in The Green.
However, for me the general ethos in the school was the most important thing. It complimented that of my home, in creating a fully-rounded person prepared to do our best for the common good, to face suffering and disappointment in the knowledge that we are on a journey to a place where we expect to hear the words “Well done, you good and faithful servant. Come into the Kingdom prepared for you”.
Written by Anna Brioscú (née Byrne ) President of the GPPA – 1995-’97, reproduced here with her kind permission.