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MY FIRST SCHOOL TOUR

Updated: Nov 22, 2020


Since I penned my piece entitled" Boithrin na Smaointe" I have been inundated with reminiscences from many members of RTAI Wicklow. I was given suggested titles for pieces I should write.Please keep the reminiscences coming.

Of all the reminiscences it was the school tours that evoked best memories. I beg your forbearance while I recall my first school tour 61 years ago.

When I look back on Edward Street primary school in Tralee, I have many happy memories. One in particular stands out and that was the school tour in fifth class.

A letter was sent out at the beginning of the year giving details of Confirmation and the school tour. The tour was in exalted company being given equal billing with the annual visit by his Lordship Bishop Moynihan to make us into the latest recruits to be soldiers of the Lord.

We had the date for our Dublin adventure and there was a direct exhortation to start saving immediately as we would need a lot of money for the tour. We were going to visit the city of Dublin to see the Zoological Gardens and all the animals and creatures contained therein.

We were gobsmacked that we were being endowed with such a privilege. We were left in no doubt by the principal that we were so privileged because we were being given the opportunity to go to Dublin. We were special.

We had lessons in Geography for a couple of months before the tour learning all the geography of every county that we were going to pass through. Then we had the test every week

Callaghan can you tell me all the counties we will pass through on the way to Dublin?

Casey can you give me all the main towns in Tipperary and Laois?

Sullivan can you tell me the main industries in Portlaoise?

O Connell. What mountains will we see on route to Dublin?

For your homework draw a map of Ireland and show all the counties on the way to Dublin and mark in all the main towns, mountains and rivers.

We had a world map and we had to pin in elephants ,tigers, zebras, giraffes , kangaroos, snakes, hippos, rhinos, rattlers in the countries they were native to. In addition, we had to learn about all these animals, what they ate, where they slept etc.

Those were the days when an education tour was really an education tour. It was the culmination of a years class work.

And so the preparations continued until we got nearer the day and the advance planning moved up a gear.The military operation code named "Zoo"really kicked in when we were told what to bring in our rucksacks for Dublin.

Every child should be ullamh for all weather because Dublin was so far away. They would have different weather up there. We all had the Cota packed in our bags in case of inclement weather.We would need to bring something to eat and drink on the train as it would be a long time till we ate in Dublin at lunch time .We would also need some food and drink for the home journey.

No money was allowed as we would be paying for everything in advance. We were warned that we should take travel tablets if we were going to get sick. I just couldn’t understand this bit. I mean how would we know we would get sick when so few of us had ventured outside the sanctity of the hallowed boundaries of the Kingdom of Kerry.

And finally, a grave warning was issued that if we got into any trouble at home or in school during the year we would not be going on the tour. We all knew they were so serious about this. There would be no messing’ with the Braithre Criostai.

And so eventually the eve of the great adventure arrived . I don’t think I slept a wink that night with the excitement. I was called around 5am and after a quicky breakfast it was off to the Railway station to board the 6.30am special bearing this precious cargo to the zoo. We were cautioned ,warned, threatened ,cajoled to do what teacher told us.

As the train chugged out of the station you had that feeling that you were leaving home for ever on this major odyssey. Parents were waving frantically at us and under orders we waved enthusiastically back to them.

Now we were heading for Killarney, Limerick Junction, ,Portlaoise, Kildare and all the way to Dublin town with our little maps on the tables in front of us.

It was like a Michael Palin train journey with all us gaping out the train window and in awe of everything we saw. We were discovering new territory all the way and ticking off landmarks that had been pointed out to us by teacher.

We had our pencils out taking notes because we had to write an essay about the train journey and also about the zoo when we got back to school. We wouldn’t want to miss anything.

And so eventually around midday we hit Ceann Scribe in the form of Kingsbridge Station.We were quickly shepherded on to buses and brought to The CIE Club for dinner.I remember this was a speed exercise in speed feeding as there were tours from all over the country waiting to be fed.

Having been properly foddered the military operation of toileting started with Hurry Up , don’t spend all day in there. This was quickly followed by next followed by next and the decibels rising with every next uttered until the final person was passed through.

Then it was straight on to buses again. As we headed for the Phoenix Park teacher lead us in singing Old Mc Donald had a farm followed by Zoo related songs.

Once we hit the zoo another military operation started. Pupils were herded around viewing the birds and animals with friendly reminders about taking notes for the essay.

We still managed to enjoy ourselves with the elephants and the kangaroos too.

It was a very tired crew who struggled back to the bus having teacher line us up in twos to count us properly and make sure no one was lost in transit or stayed in the zoo for the night.

When we reached Kingsbridge for the journey home, we were a chastened gang after our first big day out in the metropolis of Dublin. All we wanted was the welcome home embrace from our parents ,the cosiness of our very own leaba and sleep.

There was one final message as we trooped out of the station in Tralee.”beidh scoil againn amarach ar a deich a chlog”.

How tours have changed since those highly disciplined militaristic days and maybe there is a lesser emphasis nowadays on the education side of things. Which was, or is best?

I leave it to yourselves to reminisce .

Mick O Callaghan

10/11/2020

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