“Always remember, Never forget,
‘Twas in Ballyvourney, We first met”
In 1987 I spent two weeks at Coláiste Iosagáin, the Gaeltacht College in Báile Mhuirne in Cork. I and two other girls from St. Mac Dara’s in Templeogue had been lucky enough to win scholarships to the college, and we had journeyed down together on the Dublin/Cork train, excited and nervous, not knowing what to expect. I remember wondering if the food would be allright, would my room be nice, would the other students be ok, would I like them, would they like me, were my clothes ok??
We arrived at Ballyvourney along with students from schools all over the country, although mostly from Cork. The girls were taken into the college while the boys were brought to local houses where they would stay for the two weeks. I got talking to a girl called Máiread. I remember the other girls telling me ‘not to touch off her’ because she had warts and I’d wake up with them all over me if I even brushed off her. I kept my hands behind my back when I spoke to her.
Our Bean an Tí was a fierce looking woman. She had a face that would have turned milk into yoghurt! My heart was in my throat while she showed us to our dormitories and commanded us to return to the kitchen for supper in ten minutes. I was disappointed when I saw the ‘cubicle’ I was to sleep in but I didn’t let it show. When the Bean an Tí had gone I sat on the small ironframe bed, staring at the only piece of furniture – a dark, battered wardrobe – and wondered how I was going to endure this for the two weeks. I bemoaned the absence of a door too. There was a worn curtain that I could pull across the front of the cubicle to afford myself some privacy.
Máiread’s ‘lodgings’ were directly across from mine. She had made herself at home. Her clothes were on the bed and she was busy hanging them up. I took my queue from her and got up from the bed and opened the wardrobe. A dark grey woollen blanket was folded up at the bottom of it that I decided to remove to make room for my shoes. I should have left it where it was. Underneath was an uncovered, biscuit tin with half the biscuits in it. The tears welled up in my eyes and I turned to look at Máiread.
“I want to go home. I can’t do this”.
Máiread looked surprised.
“What’s up girl?”
“There’s a tin of biscuits in my wardrobe” I wailed.
“There’s a what?”
She came over to see what I was talking about.
“Look….gulp…..biscuits…..sniff…I can’t stay here….”
“What’s wrong with the biscuits?”
Oh Lord, but every time I think back at Máiread asking that question in her Limerick accent and staring at me, genuinely puzzled, I have to laugh. She was a good natured soul who patted my hand to calm me down and then covered the offending biscuits back up with the woollen blanket and told me to forget all about them. I tried, but they dwelt on my mind until I was fortunate enough, in the second week of my stay, to move to a room with a girl – Margaret – from Cork that I befriended.
Apart from my initial shock at the accommodation side of things, I had a fantastic time in Coláiste Iosagáin. All the girls in the college had a serious crush on Muiris, the headmaster. He was gorgeous! Unfortunately I was to come to his attention twice, and not in ways I would have wished to.
The first time I had dealings with Muiris was when I and four others were caught speaking English while on our break. One of the teachers had heard us and promptly frogmarched us to Muiris’s office. While we were lined up in front of Muiris, I realised that there were only four of us present. A skinhead lad from Dublin had managed to break free, the lucky sod, leaving us to face the music on our own. Muiris read us the riot act, walking up and down in front of us, while we stood up as straight as we could and kept our eyes on the window in front of us. The wrong place to keep our eyes because the next thing we saw this bald head bobbing up and down outside the window – the skinhead trying to see in. I began to laugh. The others did too. Muiris stopped dead in his tracks….stunned! He looked at all of us, his eyes opening wide, his mouth following suit. He was livid. We stopped laughing and tried not to look at the window. I remember hurting from trying not to laugh, even though Muiris, at that stage, was practically screaming fire and brimstone at us and threatening to have us sent home and our parents brought to the college. Why he wanted our parents to take our places I’m really not sure. After what seemed like ages we were allowed to leave the office after apologising and promising that we wouldn’t speak English again. That promise lasted all of five minutes until we reached the garden where we had to have a great laugh (in English) at Skinner!
The second time I came to Muiris’s attention was extremely embarrassing. It was during the second week of my stay there and I had moved to Margaret’s room at that stage. I woke up one morning and realised my face was puffy and swollen – an allergic reaction to something I’d eaten. My eyes were massive in my head.
I called Margaret who was in the bunk bed above me and her immediate reaction was to reassure me.
“Oh Jesus Chr*st, what’s happened to your face!!” she shouted.
“I don’t know. What’ll I do” I wailed (I was becoming good at wailing).
“I’ll call the Bean an Tí” she cried, stumbling backwards in her haste to get away from me and save herself.
A few minutes later the Bean an Tí arrived. She told me to get dressed and she’d take me to the doctor. I got dressed and, horror of horrors, she took me to Muiris’s office!! I could have cried! It was the most awful thing in the world to have the gorgeous Muiris see me in that state, although, I have to say, he was a bit more reassuring than Margaret had been.
“What happened to your face?” he asked, although he asked in Irish.
“I don’t know” I said, although I said that in Irish too, not wanting a rehash of our first meeting.
Muiris brought me to the doctor. They chatted for a while and then the doctor brought me into the surgery and told me that I had had an allergic reaction to something. He said he was going to give me an injection that wouldn’t hurt a bit. He lied. It hurt for about two days afterwards. The swelling was gone from my face by the following day though, and Muiris asked how I was too, which was almost worth it.
I met up with two girls from Dublin – twins – who were great craic! They embarrassed themselves daily, much to the delight of all of us. They were good sports. They used to wash their laundry every morning and drape it on the windowsills to dry in the sun. One day when we were out in the garden a roar of laughter went up from some of the boys who were walking up the avenue to classes. They were pointing up at the wall and when we looked up, there attached to the front wall of the college, was a pair of bright red knickers that had blown off the window sill. It was hilarious watching the girls trying to get them back. They stuck brushes out the windows from above and below but to no avail. Eventually the wind blew the offending garment to the ground.
Those two weeks in Ballyvourney hold some great memories. I’m not sure if my Irish improved but I had a great time. I kept in touch with Margaret up until about nine years ago then we just seemed to drift apart. On our last day in the college we passed notebooks around and signed them and wrote little poems and verses in them. The verse above was written by Deirdre.
The other day a discussion came up about Irish colleges and I mentioned that I had attended Coláiste Iosagain. I was given a link to AbandonedIreland.com where I was saddened to see that the college is now falling into a state of disrepair, despite the fact that €600,000 has been spent so far on planning for an Irish educational centre. What a waste of a fabulous building.
The photograph below is from AbandonedIreland.com. There are more photos on the website showing the deteriorating interior of the college.
I lived in a house once that was condemned and demolished. I wasn’t upset over it. But to see such a fine, historical building like Coláiste Iosagáin fall to ruin makes me so emotional. One only has to do a Google search to see references to all the successful people who’ve studied there – Micheal O’Muircheartaigh is just one of them.
If the walls of a building could tell stories, then I’m sure Coláiste Iosagáin would have thousands of them. I hope some day that it gets the opportunity to tell them.