Paul Flaherty & Marie Fitzgerald
Marie Fitzgerald and her brother, Paul Flaherty, both grew up in Fairhill Road, Claddagh, and now live in Ennis, Co. Clare. Paul and his brother Tommy were born in a house on Long Walk. Their family moved into a thatched cottage in the Claddagh before moving to a Corporation house in 26 Upper Fairhill Road in 1936, the house where Marie was born. Here, Marie remembers less happy times in Claddagh N.S., while Paul tells of his time at the school on pages 16 and 17.
There was nothing in the classrooms, they were very bare, the radiators were old water heaters, the frost would be on them, you’d be purple from the cold, people didn’t have warm clothes like the clothes and fleeces today.
Every week you’d get Seargent Gill to the school, the biggest guard in Galway, he was huge, from the Aran Islands. “ Why weren’t you at school last week?” he would shout. You could have been out with a cold or a ‘flu. You were terrified!
My father (a carpenter) used to make wheels for carts and they had to be shod. So, my job in the morning, before school, was to go to the blacksmith with a wheel to be shod for my father. I remember once meeting Quinn (the teacher) cycling up the hill and I rolling a big wheel down the hill. “You be there for 9 o’clock Flaherty!”, and the wheel, didn’t it run away from me, and I only small running after it. Luckily someone helped stop the wheel, there was no traffic those days thankfully.
We were there from nine to one and then we’d go home for dinner, everyone went home, some people went home and there would be nothing to eat anyway so they’d go around the table and back again! And then the highlight was we got bread and jam, supplied by the Government, at school, big loaves, the baker would come every day. Three or four pupils were allowed to cut the bread and jam was taken from big round seven and half pound crocks, mustard and brown in colour on the rim, that’s how they were delivered. 3.30 would come and you’d queue up. Class One would come out first and you’d get a slice going home, straight into the bag and try to get a second one if you could. You were starving with the hunger as there was very little at home!
The dentist would come to the school. Oh, whether you were going to need teeth out or not, you were going to have them out. The day would come and a dozen or so of you would line up. The dentist and nurses, all dressed in white. You could hear screaming and you were terrified. You’d try to get to the back of the queue and you’d be pushed up. “Next !” with a whistle and the last poor lad would come out with blood spurting. When you’d be with the dentist, you’d sit on this chair, lie back and there’d be no such thing as anaesthetics. The nurse would hold you down and the dentist would put a knee on your chest and pull. After he’d say, “Go home and tell your mother to put some salt on that and don’t bother coming back.” You’d get the afternoon off because there’d be so much blood.
Life was tough. The teachers were so hard and everything was hammered into you. If a child was slow there was little compassion. There was no such thing as resource teaching. He or she would be just put to the back of the class and forgotten about.
At aged 10 or 12 you’d know your prospect. You’d be going to England to make something of yourself. You knew your destiny. You could not stay in Galway. There was nothing there.
I often wonder if the large Crucifixes are still up high on the wall in the classrooms. The teacher used to tell us that the pupils in years and years to come would be able to say that their fathers and grandfathers were involved in the money for those crosses. We were asked to contribute a shilling each towards the cross. My mother freaked out when I was looking for the shilling for Conboy (the teacher). A shilling, where would she get a shilling? I couldn’t go back to the school till I got it.