It’s the best time of the year
A Primary School Christmas from Long Ago
I attended primary school between 1957 and 1963 at Scoil Mhuire CBS in Marino. It was a tough and sometimes cruel regime. We dreaded the Christmas examinations which took place in early December. Each of us had to bring a stamped addressed envelope so that the results could be posted home to parents.
I distinctly remember the postage stamps. The 2d stamp was green, depicting a small map of Ireland while the 3d stamp was blue with a Celtic cross design. An envelope with a green stamp couldn’t be sealed and had to have the flap inserted inside unlike the one with the blue stamp. I always insisted that my envelope had a blue stamp as I had an irrational fear of others peeking inside to see my results. When the exams were over, the regime relaxed a little until Christmas. Some of the Christian Brothers and lay teachers appeared human and let their guard down temporarily.
The bumper Christmas Number of the monthly Our Boys magazine went on sale in December. It cost 6d compared to the usual 4d. Kitty the Hare (Victor O’D Power) always had a suitable Christmas story within. The magazine was published by the Christian Brothers. There was a pull-out section in the centre in Irish featuring Labhrás Leipreachán and Tadhghín Trean (An Leanbh Láidir) but these characters couldn’t compete with the likes of Roy of the Rovers, Dennis the Menace or Desperate Dan in the more sophisticated British Christmas annuals.
The highlight was the Christmas film show. The Brothers had a 16mm projector and hired out the films. They hadn’t a clue about titles and would seek recommendations from pupils. As there was no school hall, several of the upstairs classrooms had folding doors separating them and these were opened to create a makeshift cinema.
The windows were blacked out and the desks shoved tightly together to accommodate an audience of over a thousand boys aged between seven and thirteen, packed in like sardines. There was no ventilation and as most only bathed and changed their clothes once a week, you can imagine the smell in that enclosed space.
Before the film commenced, large cans of boiled sweets were opened in each classroom and their contents distributed to the pupils, who wrapped them in cones made from old newspapers. The show usually opened with highlights of some past Gaelic Football or hurling match. This was followed by the feature film contained on several separate reels. As each reel ran out, the lights had to be turned on so that the next reel could be attached. The resulting delay would be greeted with howls from the impatient audience. That was bad enough but nothing compared to the uproar resulting if a film broke and jammed in the projector, as often happened.
Merry Andrew, starring Danny Kaye and our own Noel Purcell is one film I remember being shown. The Guns of Navarone, starring David Niven, Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn is another. After the show, we got a half-day and rushed home, free for a few weeks to enjoy our Christmas holidays.
Soon after Christmas, thoughts would turn to the imminent exam results and the envelope containing them would eventually drop through the letterbox. I really had nothing to fear as I was a good student and always did well. A few days later it would be time to return to school where there were no longer any vestige of the Christmas Spirit among the teachers, and the Easter school holidays seemed so far off in the future.