From September 1971 to June 1972 I attended an Irish speaking school called Scoil na nÓg (School for the Young) which was located in Trabolgan, Co Cork. It was a boys only school with about 60 students, which was run by two teachers (a Mr Kelly and a Mr O'Riordan). It was an excellent preparation for Secondary School where I learned lots of Irish - I even graduated with a Fáinne Nua (a pin worn by speakers of Irish). In Trabolgan I was known by the Irish spelling of my name - Eoin Ó Lochlainn.
The School no longer exists as it was closed in 1973 - my brother Joe was in the last ever class. Even the building, which I remember was a very old house with huge pillars at the front, is gone. I revisited the location a few years ago and found no trace of the old School. This location is now better known as Trabolgan Holiday Village. The school was a great location for 11/12 year old boys - it was beside the sea at the entrance to Cork Harbour, there were lots of woods about with plenty of bamboo shoots which made great swords and spears. We played lots of football and hurling and generally had a good time.
On my first day I was shown to my bedroom which I was to share with another boy who had not yet arrived. As the room had bunk beds I naturally put all my stuff on the top bunk to reserve it. Later on in the evening at bed time I met my room mate for the first time and I said to him that I hoped he didn't mind that I had taken the top bunk. He said "not at all" and told me that he wouldn't have been able to use the top bunk in any case. What happened next was quite shock for an 11 year old - the boy knocked on his shins which made a hollow sound. He had artificial legs! I had never seen or heard of this before. He removed his "legs" and showed me his thalidomide affected short legs. He had three toes on each foot which he called Curly, Larry, and Moe on one foot - Turny, Fuffo, and Jinks on the other.
This boy was none other than the now well known tenor - Ronan Tynan. We shared a room for the year 1971-1972 and I soon got over the shock on the first night. In his autobiography he mentions the school (though not me!) and he tells the story of playing football in his wellingtons which I remember well. The picture on the right is taken from Ronan's web site.
I have only met Ronan once since 1972. During my college days in Trinity (I'm guessing about 1985) I was walking through College Park when somebody called out "Eoin!". Curiously, I turned around to see Ronan - we had a great chat, he was doing Medicine in Trinity and by this time he was reasonably well known for his achievements in Para-Olympics. We promised to keep in touch, but never did. I have his Christmas "Irish Tenors" album which I play every year. I don't recall him singing or even being musical at all in school - but then again we were only 11 or 12 and our voices had not yet broken!
One of my favourite memories of Scoil na nÓg was during a History class. Our teacher was Mr O'Riordan who struck terror in our hearts every time he mentioned that the next subject was "Stair!" (history). He had a habit when testing us of asking each boy a question - if you got it right, he moved on to the next boy, if you got it wrong - you had to stand at the back of the class. The classroom was arranged in three lines - I was towards the end of the middle line. Mr O'Riordan started out with a few questions and after about three boys in the front row had been asked a question he asked the next "Who was the leader of the 1798 Rising in Antrim?". I knew the answer, but there was nearly two rows of boys to go before I would have got asked. One by one, the boys could not answer the question and as Mr O'Riordan got closer to me I was starting to hope that maybe nobody would know the answer. Finally, it was the turn of the boy next to me - and I was hoping he would not know the answer. He didn't, and was sent to the back of the class. My turn - I answered "Henry Joy McCracken" (that's him pictured on the right) and a sigh of relief went up from the boys after me as it was the correct answer. I was a hero!