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Past-Pupil and Author of 'Lagan Love' Peter Damien Murphy Remembers the College

April 16, 2012

De La Salle College Churchtown was a legend in our household when I was a young 'un. My mother, who was a teacher in the Loretto College on Haddington Road, knew and approved of many of the staff.

The 'new' building was opened in 1959 and my brothers, Richard and Paul, were among the early students. Richard was academic and Paul was not, causing the legendary Mr O'Rourke to remark to my mother that 'it's hard to believe they are from the same parish - let alone the same family'.

Richard studied Greek and Latin because back in those days, good schools had a Latin motto and observed the value of teaching long dead languages. Paul didn't and, instead, suffered minor head injuries in the glorious cause of 'the Wine and Gold.' Perhaps that's why Mr Fahy predicted that he would end up 'sticking sticks in ice-lollies in a factory in England'. He didn't.

My brother Ciaran enrolled in the mid-sixties and distinguished himself on the playing fields and, to a lesser degree, in the classrooms. He was on the Senior Rugby team of 1970 - the one that yer man from the 'The Irish Times' backed as a dark horse before they fell in the semi-s to the great enemy - Blackrock - 33-3!

Ciaran, however, was the leading try scorer in Leinster that year.

I went to school with the 'brothers' in the autumn of 1968. I remember it well - it was a fine day with intermittent showers in the afternoon. Having been preceded by half of our brood, Mick Daly spotted me on the first morning and warned: 'You are a Murphy and I've seen your likes before so keep your nose clean or else ...'

And for a while I did.

I remember many of the teachers to this day. Mr Fennel taught me Latin and I had almost forgotten him until walking through the streets of Rome a number of years ago. I was trying to impress my teenagers by deciphering inscriptions on an obelisk but all I could remember were the terrible jokes he told - and I mean terrible.

Mr Grace was my Geography teacher and taught me enough to make emmigration possible, even if I did end up in Canada rather than the States. In a resounding piece of personal history, I wrote considerably well on my 'Leaving' because of my passionate interest in Chile. A man called Salvador Allende governed Chile at that time but by the time my results were returned Allende was dead and replaced by a man named Pinochet. But at least Allende got me an Honours!

Mick Daly wore his hair brushed back in those days and had a sparkle in his eye. He was a character but I didn't learn to fully appreciate him until much later. When he became the Dean of Discipline he stood by the school gates each morning to greet the latecomers - of which I was often one - except for those mornings, in my last year, when, leaving our shared neighbourhood, he would offer me a ride in his car.

'You are going to get your Leaving?' he'd ask as the matter was somewhat undecided and becoming an issue. 'You have to,' he'd remind me, 'or your poor mother will die of shame.'

Brian Farley was my coach on the Junior Rugby team and masterfully hid his disappointment when he discovered that I wasn't the second coming of Ciaran. I played wing-forward and, for a while, terrorised scrum-halfs, and their sisters - out-halfs!

Now it is a part of the school's historical culture that one can't think about DLS rugby without thinking of Aidan Kennah (with an accent - not Kennay). His religion was rugby and his denomination was French. He struggled in vain to teach me that language and some years later, while trying to gain the attention of a stunning young woman on the streets of Paris, I wished I had paid far more attention.

He once said something, in the spring of '71, which has stayed with me. He was frustrated at our usual lack of interest. 'Okay!' he said closing his textbook, 'We will do nothing for the rest of the period and you will all go on from here and, in time, the school will have to close the book on the class of seventy-three. And we'll shake our heads and say - 'it wasn't a very good year.''

He was right! You see, back then, the Ireland that had been built around the smoking ruins of 1916 was crumbling. Our future in the Common Market beckoned and we were to become a part of Europe - a Post-Nationalistic Europe - on equal footing with them all - even England, and Germany!

Those of us who were busy absorbing the '60s protest culture, and witnessing the re-kindling of 'the Troubles,' supposed that what our teachers had to offer was no longer relevant to what we would have to live through. Latin was dead. Greek was dead. History was dead. What other subjects should be thrown on the bonfire?

The times were changing.

When I was in my first year, a student was expelled if he were caught smoking tobacco at any time, in any place in or outside of school. A student was sent home if he did not wear the entire uniform of white shirt, school tie, grey flannel pants, grey socks, black shoes and the school blazer. A student was sent home if his hair touched his ear or his collar.

In my final year we could wear jeans if they had no holes. We could wear our hair at any length as long as it was clean and we could smoke in the assigned room as long as we only smoked tobacco!

But when the class of '73 had their farewell, we played a staff versus students rugby game. Admittedly there was a settling of scores but for the most part the game was played in the fashion that rugby games were played in back then. 'Forwards' came in small, medium and large and never touched the ball. Some of them even had normal necks. Only the 'backs' were fast and tricky and all the wingers were blond.

And we had a good night afterwards.

Mr O'Sullivan, who had a great physical presence, played jigs on his penny-whistle and I strummed along on guitar - as well as I could with the hand he had stepped on during the game.

We weren't a 'good year' but we were always wary of the likes of "Locksie."

You see Mr O'Loughlin was the fiery maths and science teacher that my brothers had warned me about and he invoked a terror in me long before I met him. Yet he treated me fairly and made huge efforts to nurture my feeble attempts at learning things that later became the basis for one of my careers.

Fourteen years later I had a chance to re-visit the old place and met O'Loughlin. Although he was somewhat older, I froze as he reached out his hand to me.

But the man I owed the greatest debt to was Austin Quirke. A quiet man who challenged my assumed ideologies with hard facts. He taught me Economics and forced me to rationalise my Communistic blathering from that perspective. To support my rhetoric and I was forced to learn something of matters that I wanted to hold opinions on. He also read my early poems and encouraged me - which is remarkable because they were so bad.

He was a determining factor when I was in danger of getting lost in turbulent times, mine and those around me. I couldn't tell him that but I suspect that he knew because that is why they do the job. It can't be for the money alone, can it?

Since then I have done many things.

Having struggled through a textbook about Irish Navvies, in Irish, no less, I navvied with the best of them in London and spent summers doing a bit of busking around the streets of Europe.

When I came to Canada, I became an adult and settled down (sleeping on park benches in Toronto, in the winter, was not for me.) For years I worked as a computer programmer back in the days of COBOL and RPG and when I couldn't do that anymore, I became an IT Manager and raised my family.

Back in 2008 the company I worked for was bought out and I was cashed out and replaced by a stuffed sock. It might be coincidental that when I stopped working the Global Economy collapsed but I'm sure there were other contributing factors!

Since then I have occupied myself by doing the one thing I have always wanted to do - write. My first novel, 'Lagan Love', was published last year and I have just completed the first book of what I expect to be a trilogy.

Surprisingly, 'Lagan' Love takes place in Dublin - just before the Tiger came over.

Have a read and if you like it, you can put it down to having had a good education.

Peter Damien Murphy


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