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Boarding School

Boarding School

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Boarding School

322 pagine
5 ore
Oct 3, 2017


Willie Doyle is not the genius everyone thinks he is. After he fails the primary certificate in 1952 and is denied access to any secondary school in Ireland, his annoyed mother abandons him at an exclusive boarding school in Dublin and forces the priests to adopt him.

Willie survives for six years, only because the academy is a bee-hive of midnight businesses managed by students. After Willie starts a lottery on predicting football results, he makes enough money to support himself. While suffering from persistent insomnia in a forty-bed dormitory, Willie explores the secret lives of the academy’s priests, the unusual sleep habits and behaviors of its students, and the possibility of ghosts who purportedly wander the halls, planning to scare students.

In this coming-of-age tale, a boy abandoned by his mother in a Dublin boarding school must learn to fend for himself while exploring the lives of the priests, students, and ghosts who surround him.
Oct 3, 2017

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Boarding School - Frank Sheehy


Copyright © 2017 Patrick Sheehy.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted by any means—whether auditory, graphic, mechanical, or electronic—without written permission of the author, except in the case of brief excerpts used in critical articles and reviews. Unauthorized reproduction of any part of this work is illegal and is punishable by law.

ISBN: 978-1-4834-7019-1 (sc)

ISBN: 978-1-4834-7021-4 (hc)

ISBN: 978-1-4834-7020-7 (e)

Library of Congress Control Number: 2017908227

Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.

Any people depicted in stock imagery provided by Thinkstock are models, and such images are being used for illustrative purposes only.

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Lulu Publishing Services rev. date: 08/11/2017

The Primary Certificate

"Y ou have disgraced the family." This was my mother’s painful summation after I got the result of that important exam, The Primary Certificate.

There is a logical explanation why I failed but it’s much too subtle for the ordinary to understand. While it is not impossible not to pass an exam in a language one can speak fluently but which one cannot read, academia has more subtleties to deceive than a jigsaw puzzle made only of plain white cardboard pieces.

So you’re not the genius we thought you were, my younger sister said, Mother was betting on you to be the brightest; this will break her heart.

Mother’s heart is made of rubber snobbery, my dear girl. It’s unbreakable.

I’ve had to live with this major error for much longer than I should and suffered the humiliation of having been classified as a not so-well-rounded scholar, especially by my own family, who were snobbishly academic and worse still, competitive more than a champion race horse.

This has always bothered me: for people began to believe that there were holes in my intellectual balloon before it took off to soar and which, somehow, never repaired itself in midair. I was considered to be like a two-year old colt, beautifully conformed but did not have the yen for competing. I was the bird of the egg the cuckoo dropped in a wren’s nest.

In Ireland, the primary certificate is given gratis to many students who don’t even sit for it; an assumption is made by teachers that the candidate would pass, based on past evaluations of the student’s cognitive acumen. The shawleys in Cork will sell you second hand certificates because they look similar to the ones their children received years before and never used, preferring instead, never to continue with school. But if you sit for the exam with arrogance and fail without excuse, the future becomes a daytime nightmare.

This was an exam designed by our nation to separate its not-so-bright from its normal population and the left-over English aristocracy, who were dumb to have stayed behind after Ireland became a republic. The nation needed to acquire for itself a clue as to who possessed the intellectual skills that could understand and maneuver through the intellectual gyrations of Ireland at the ripe old age of age of eleven. The exam was initiated because the farmers wanted to know if their sons and daughters could not make it at school, having spent six years being studious, with reading, writing and arithmetic from the age five to twelve; if they could not, they wanted their children back on the land helping out with the farm. Since Ireland had very few technical school positions in its very few technical schools, they let almost everyone pass the primary cert, presuming one could read Gaelic, a language the Irish government presumed to be spoken fluently throughout the nation, though never checked for the fact that no one spoke it, hardly at all.

In the forties, intellectuals were plentiful and as dispensable as our thoroughbred horses; we had a country so full of intelligent priests, bright nuns, and well-conformed horses that we sent abroad to convert and compete; the clergy to convert everybody and their cats to Christianity; the teachers to teach English and mathematics to the same student body, and the horses to win all the prestigious races being run in the surrounding confines. Our home born technicians could not make or manufacture anything but could repair everything. So, if one didn’t pass Gaelic, one often could not be offered a place in a technical school because there were too few spots. These students were encouraged to become priests or religious brothers, where a Primary Certificate was not needed.

Why did you fail that bloody exam in Gaelic? my siblings kept asking me. You made the family look like a clutch of idiots. No one will give us a job.

The explanation was logical but no one stayed around long enough to listen because the idea of a sibling failing that exam was such an embarrassment that the failure was usually kept a family secret.

Did you pass the primary certificate? was a question never asked around our town. It would force everyone to tell lies on a daily basis for no sibling could admit they had a brother or sister who could not burst a taut balloon with a pin.

But then there was my mother, who believed that there was nothing her children could not do, even jump over the bloody moon!

God gives me trouble and brilliant children, was her favorite saying, until I failed and then the saying got dropped from her conversation with her neighbors; the language she expressed her happy nightmares in and her lexicon’s prepared repartee for joy were omitted forever.

When given the news that I failed the exam, mother went pale, sweated, and then collapsed to her knees, demanding, in a sarcastic prayer, why He sent her such a lute with no strings; none of her other seven children ever failed anything.

Every single child of mine was potty-trained long before anyone else’s. But then the cuckoo got into the family’s nest.

When the reality of my failure remained fixed, and was not a bad dream, she picked up the phone and called Father Eugene, her go-to priest for educational problems.

I’m just about to send my fifth son to your boarding school. Isn’t that amazing? She said with feigned joyful enthusiasm.

That’s wonderful. You are sending him to us here at this boarding school?

I would not think of sending him anywhere else. Your boarding school is the best in the country.

How did he do in the Primary Certificate? asked her friend, Father Eugene, expecting to be told One Hundred Percent. Instead he hears my mother asking another question in response to a question. Everyone knows such behavior is devious and priests who hear a lot of confessions knows what it means.

What’s that now? queried my mother. It always made me sad to see her trying to avoid a question she did not want to answer; it was like watching a rabbit using its differential size to burrow its way between stuffed bags of grain to avoid a chasing dog; none ever could. She had the brain to manufacture lies as quickly as a sinful saint can praise God.

Knowledge of my mother’s psychological antics came from my older siblings, who had her pattern of psychological behavior evaluated by the time I came along.

It’s the national exam we use to separate idiots who can add and subtract from those who still use their fingers to count? Father Eugene spoke extremely loud when talking on the phone, as if the instrument was deaf. I heard everything he said and he could be sarcastic, dipped in subtlety, when he wished to be unkind.

Never heard of the primary certificate? Mother said. Her lies were often of the simplest types. With this particular issue, this was her second lie and there would be lots more. Telling lies for mother was like sex; once she discovered its pleasure, she thought there were no consequences imbibing endlessly.

Just call up the government for exam results, Father Eugene suggested in an angry voice, And they’ll tell you in a jiffy.

What difference does it make?

Because if he did not pass the primary certificate, we don’t want him!

But why?

Because you can’t back up a mule who wants to go forward.

That makes no sense, shouted my mother.

Then try the opposite.

Jesus! said my mother, under her breath and moving the phone away from her lips. In her mind, she said, None of my children will ever go to a technical school. Only over my dead body. Mother was a socialist at heart but a dictator with her own children.

Her disdain for technical schools was much worse than that because she always wished that one of her offspring would become a Classical Scholar and she had her eyes on me to do that; to speak seven languages, wear long hair and a beard, anglicize the accent to a hybrid Gaelic-English affair, and wear dandy clothes similar to what the great Oscar Wilde did to change a Hibernian into an Englishman, a Dubliner into a Londoner and then only ended-up synthesizing a new Latin word for fairyhood and, of course, using English syntax to write comedies for mankind.

We had two Churches in our hometown; one was run by the secular priests and was located half-way up the town’s rapidly rising hill; the other was run by priests called the Brown Order, located at the top of the hill and for the obvious reasons, they desired a separation; that their brown color would distinguish them from the black of the secular priests. That color brown was the least liked color in the world and so awful that God did not include it in the colors of the rainbow. These priests dressed their long-john covered bodies in a brown tunic, a cincture about the waist from which the rosary beads hung and a piece of cloth to remind them of their need to be celibate. They wore a scapula -- again a piece of brown clothing that fitted over the head and hung fore and aft over belly and buttocks. A hood which covered the head and shoulders concealed the upper part of the scapula. Their heads were tonsured; a haircut following the lines of a small bowl compressed into the apex of the hair-growth; it was nicely befitting their attire. They wore a Cross over their hearts and sandals on their feet. The brown color reflecting on their facieses made them look more like monks than priests. While the main function of a monk is to cogitate and mourn, these priests’ thoughts concentrated on how cold their heads and feet felt on wintry days.

The secular were ordinary humans; drawn from the common vulgus and didn’t have to pass the Primary Certificate. They said Mass, heard confessions, helped to distribute the hosts at Holy Communion, baptized children, confirmed teenagers and buried parishioners when no longer self-propelled; they performed Benediction to empty churches three days of the week and were mostly clerical malingerers. The Brown Order’s priests played second fiddle to the secular priests by prestige, importance and were always outsmarted by them, socially. So, to get something done in a divine nature, if one wanted something like a miracle to be performed or a good education to be received, the Brown Order were the ones to go to. They seemed to have a closer cooperative connection with God than the secular priests, who seemed to exist to give Ireland the appearance of being Catholic and were allowed to have a drop or two every evening on the quiet. The Brown Order could drink only left over altar wine and only on a Sunday afternoon when they had time to sleep off the fumes.

I’m heading for the Friary, Mother said as she knew exactly where to go to get the miracle she desired.

Do I have to go, Mother?

Of course, it’s better if you have a pig in the bag to explain the wriggling.

This Brown Order of mendicant priests ran a very snobbish boarding school in Dublin named, for secular reasons and not to offend Protestants, Jews, and the remaining aristocratic West Briton boarding schools, The Academy of the Yew Tree. But in our home town, Kinsale, the same mendicant Order had a Church and monastery on tip-top of the town and had spectacular views of the harbor and ocean. After Father Eugene suggested that his school would turn me down as a student-boarder, Mother headed up the hill to the Friary and tried to make the journey in one breath, for schools were about to open for the new year. She was obsessed with her children having a secondary education, though she never knew why, since she herself never went beyond sixth class and believed she had had enough learning.

Her snobbishness, which was much more effective than her intelligence, came from one of her father’s clients whom he boarded horses for; his wife was English and the true source of mother’s snobbery. Enough said. Her finest culinary recommendation was to tell Mother that chicken should never be overdone when presented at dinner. After that, Mother always undercooked chicken --to do as good as the English --and that was one bird mother could never get us to eat. This same sterile English woman told mother, If you have children, consider each one golden; dress them like gentlemen and make a classical scholar from at least one of them.

Would your fine and famous school in Dublin be interested in taking my son? Mother asked, with prideful glee and some tears when we had been led into the Friary’s parlor and we were standing in front of its Prior. He is a very brilliant boy and needs to go somewhere special other than the schools around here, where I sent the rest of my kids and so far, I have not been rewarded with any great scholars.

Oh, we’d love to take him, said the Prior, Father Moynihan and who knew my mother more as a penitent than as one he did business with. When Mother had those small venal sins to confess, she went to the Parish Church; when she had whoppers to confess, she went to the Brown Order’s friary, which was more secure; its confessionals had more cork in their walls and usually there was no one in the Church other than she and the priest to hear how she had broken God’s law. The priests of the Brown Order, Mother noticed, seemed to like to mourn quietly, keen for long periods and cogitate about the irregularities of human nature. Her confessions needed to be long rather than rapid, for her sins needed all of God’s attention to properly assess and be judged. Mother was more an intellectual sinner than a physical one, although one of my siblings wondered about that as he, more than once, saw children with faces similar to mine when he was growing.

The familiarity between the priest and confessor caused the interview to go quickly:

School starts next week so get him some new clothes and buy him the books he needs and pack him off to Dublin.

Father Moynihan made an immediate phone call.

We have a wiz-dig of a kid, Father Moynihan told his Dublin colleague, here in our little town. All his siblings were geniuses too but this one is brilliant: a stand out.

I was registered immediately as a student into the Academy of the Yew Tree, as a first-year student for the coming year. The school’s name could do with changing.

Will I be living with those priests, dressed like that in Dublin? They have funny haircuts and wear sandals.

Of course, not. Their attire is to remind you and your fellow students to be humble and follow the life of Christ.

I wasn’t aware I was supposed to pursue humility as a career choice.

Humility makes the pressures of life acceptable; makes truth a skeptical reality so one learns that every problem does not have a soft landing.

And where does snobbery fit in, Mother?

Don’t be such a smart ass. She said casually. Snobbery magnifies the here and now so dignity becomes an emotion above self-pity.

Before Mother and I got on the train for Dublin, she called Father Eugene yet again. She had so many ways to injure those who humiliated her; she had to spit them out and bring the man down.

Yes, I did check the government and my son did pass that exam but I’ve decided to send him somewhere else. That was another lie and there would be more and more confessions before this story finishes.

Where? asked Father Eugene.

To the Academy of the Yew Tree.

That place is terrifically expensive and hides its Catholicism in its wooden name. He was coyly confidential. And you won’t see many pictures of the Virgin Mary hanging in its corridors.

That won’t bother me.

Why not? Father Eugene asked.

When I have a problem, I go straight to the Head Man. Mother replied.

How can you afford such fees?

It’s only money, Father, said my mother, who always considered money to be a concept, rather than an entity composed of pennies, shillings and half-crowns one had to possess, accurately count, and actually transfer to someone else as a way of paying a debt.

Mrs. Donovan, there is still a balance needing to be paid off here at our school, Father Eugene said with a slightly sarcastic tone to his voice.

Don’t I know that? But one thing at a time; I’ve got to get this boy better educated than the job you people did on the rest of my sons. He might be the pick of the litter. Then mother put the phone back on the receiver and whispered under her breath:

Big debts I can’t pay; small ones, I don’t intend to pay.

In the nineteen fifties, Dublin was at the other side of the moon, distance wise, from Cork City and further still from Kinsale; but Mother was desperate that she gets me into any sort of boarding school and out of the house for the winter months. Mother lived with the dictum; If one got the child out of the house, you got him out of the mind as well.

We took an eight-hour train from Cork to Kingsbridge Station and then a one-hour bus ride to the Academy of The Yew Tree. There was no difference between Cork and Dublin in the smell of the air, the color of the river, or the greyness of the sky, so the transition was minimal; minimal that is if one did not have to understand what Dubliners said.

Mother never once asked what the fees at the Academy were; neither Father Moynihan nor the people in the front office of the school itself, though everyone knew the Academy catered to the cream of Dublin; the rich and thick. The Order, who donned themselves most frequently in brown, would occasionally put on their cream mantle gowns which completely covered the brown habit; the act made all the priests change from monks to millionaires, from sad and mournful to happy and cheerful. The change that convinced mother that they did not need all the money they were charging as school fees.

When we got to the Academy, having gone around and round in the shanty streets of Yew Town because mother treated addresses like she treated money, she never asked how much? or exactly where? The Academy of the Yew Tree distinguished itself from the town by having one yew tree growing on its land; the town had none. Mother was euphoric with this find, for she loved subtle differences between things.

This is where you belong: at an academy in the periphery of a large city, Willie-boy! We have finally hit the big time! That other boarding school in Cork where your brothers went was no bigger than a few pubs pushed together in the middle of a village to make an estate house!

The entrance avenue from the school gate to the school buildings was abuzz with human voices chattering and in the dusky evening of that night, one could see acres and acres of land around the school. It was so large that I became filled with the fear of getting lost if I wandered too far abroad. But not Mother; she became as familiar as a large land owner surveying her property rather than a small pub owner in the middle of a dying town. There were so many boys, from ages twelve to eighteen, chatting with parents on the avenue and at the school’s entrance. They sounded more like bees fanning at a lower octave preparing for bedtime and emitted a drone mixed with the uncertainty of their place in the world. That made us feel at home, for I was very familiar with confusion.

Mother and I had trouble finding a pathway through the thick population of people that were hesitant about getting out of our way.

This Academy is one of the finest in the country, we heard stated frequently as we walked up the avenue, sidestepping Dublin and Ireland’s finest. The more that statement was repeated, the more mother became euphoric and began to see a genius in her head.

Maybe you will finally become my classical scholar. My Oscar Wilde?

Mother, I said to remind her and so the teachers would not expect too much, Let’s be humble; admit to the truth. I just failed the Primary Certificate, the easiest exam ever written and that’s a long way from knowing six other languages and being able to pen plays.

Oh don’t worry about that mishap. Simplicity is the soul of a genius; complexity complicates a fool.

Students, parents, and grandparents were collecting on the pathways around the school’s huge entrance; suitcases, in all shapes and sizes, were displayed as diffusely irregular as small animals and large animals standing around in the dusk of a farm. The stars were hazy in the distant sky due to Dublin’s smog, but the buzz of noise from the accumulating voices filled the air with excitement. Life was changing and we absorbed every breath of it. As she passed through the throngs of people, she would interrupt families by stepping in the middle and introduce me,

This is Willie, my son, she said. We were then introduced to the other students who all seemed to have more dignified names, like Peter, Donald or James. The ee at the end of my name made it sound cheap, but not to Mother.

We came all the way from Cork to be here, Mother said.

A man with an anglicized Dublin voice asked, Is Cork as far away from Dublin as it ever was?

By the time, my son finishes his education here, Sir, Mother picked up his sarcasm, the cities will be one hundred miles apart and if ya drive a big car only fifty miles. One city, one accent, one smell. And she walked away from the group.

I could have enjoyed the whole experience, but I knew my mother and I did not belong there. Ireland had three distinct classes and everyone knew which one they belonged to, except Mother; hers was the fourth class. I was so scared I could feel my asshole muscles form a band to stop either gas or liquid leaking to my underpants. I was the pawn in this game of chess and Mother was Queen waltzing around the chess board, as if she could take the King any time she wanted. Mother’s snobbery was on call to her knees and her skills learned from running a busy pub made her shine.

A single bell stroke announced that the families should now leave.

My God, I said to myself and I released a little gas. A few drops of rain fell on us to instill urgency.

Mother tried to hustle some more amongst the crowd before the crowd began to disperse. She wished to make more conversations with the families of that boarding school crowd but her Cork accent put them off and they shut her off as if she were from another country.

Nice crowd you got me mixed up with, Mother? When I saw how they treated her.

Dubliners never receive strangers kindly, unless they have posh English accents.

I feel like an ice-statue weeping away its size and weight to the hostility.

If when I come to pick you at Christmas break, you have a Dublin accent, I will leave you here.

I intuited from mother’s rapid movements that I was about to be abandoned on the coldest side of the moon. Soon she changed her plan. She tried desperately to locate the relevant priests who could check me in and take control of my body. I could see her being rejected by many friendly priests either because of her disheveled clothes or her funny accent. They noticed her preparing for the confrontation; whenever Mother was about to change her demeanor to face a stranger, she became as nervous as a mouse facing a cat, but she never ran away, even if the cat was a big dog.

The nice thing is that when you speak to Dubliners, you feel like you’re talking down.

Not a nervous twitch did I see on her face, as she bounded into the midst of groups of women dressed in clothes she would find expensive even to think about and ignored the richer perfumes which were making her cough a gentle Irish cough. The light of the evening glistened with reflections from large finger-diamonds, purposely flashing back and forth in the night air so one could hear the occasional piece of cheaper jewelry grate metallic. This was the most humiliating confrontation I had ever experienced and Mother didn’t even seem to notice.

Mother is a gypsy. My mind told my brain and I agreed.

She finally located herself lateral to a group of self-advertising Dublin snobs and pulled Father Lark, the Dean of Disciple, away from the surrounding women, who thought he was so brilliant. She introduced me and her with great panache, pointing out my past scholarly achievements, my successful horsemanship in local gymkhanas, and the fact that I was the best yacht’s crewman in my hometown.

Do you people have any yachting here? Mother asked him, using her usual skills at humiliating the customer, lest he, she or they prove superior later.

What? asked Father Lark, annoyed at being questioned and desperately wanted to get back to the women who thought he was brilliant simply for existing.

Yachting, She repeated. This

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