Tuesday, May 14, 2013

My Favourite Teachers - thank you Mrs Keating, Mr Hallahan, Mr Ó Riordáin, Mr Shanahan, Mr O'Loughlin, and Dr Jeal #thankateacher

Last week I wrote about Can Teachers Touch Students' Hearts? and listed some of the teachers who inspired me during my own education. Today I watched this short video about President Obama who talks about his fifth grade teacher Mrs Hefty who taught him that he "had something to say"...

...and I wondered what I would say about my teachers?

I attended two primary schools: Carnew National School in Co Wicklow, and Scoil na nÓg in Trabolgan, Co Cork. In Carnew my first teacher was Mary Keating. I don't remember very much about her Junior Infants class, but I do have one memory that I carry with me to this day. She was the first, and last, teacher to hit me in class. I don't remember her being cruel, but she did use a ruler as corporal punishment. When once I was slapped it was for not knowing the answer to a question. I figured out very quickly that if I learned my lessons, did my homework, and was able to answer questions - I would not be slapped! Perhaps this is one of the most important influences I have ever had during my school years. But my favourite teacher in Carnew was Seán Hallahan who was my teacher in 4th class (1969/1970). He was funny, passionate, caring, and tough. He had a brilliant way of making things simple and stating the obvious. He often asked "What is white wash?" to which his answer was always "a wash that's white" - I use this a lot in my own classes to this day. In Scoil na nÓg my teacher was Tomás Ó Riordáin - a tough, but fair teacher. I learned a lot from him, especially Irish and History. He was the only teacher I ever had that made Irish an interesting subject.

I also attended two secondary schools: Cistercian College Roscrea in Co Tipperary, and FCJ Bunclody in Co Wexford. In Roscrea, John Shanahan was my stand-out teacher. In teaching French, he spent almost the entire first year concentrating on the spoken, rather than written French word. He was also my introduction to technology in education - I posted about this last September. He was my French teacher for five years and I enjoyed his classes very much, though I now have very limited French due to lack of practice. In FCJ Bunclody, Tony O'Loughlin (no relation) was both my English and Geography teacher. He had much more of a focus on exams and getting the subjects done than my teachers in Roscrea had. He made you want to work hard, learn, and do well. It also helped that there were only a handful of lads in a mostly girls class, and I think he had a tougher focus on us.

In Trinity, I had many lecturers who I would rather forget. For example, one Physics lecturer used to come into class, and transcribe his notes onto an overhead projector for us to copy down. I don't think he ever looked up from the OHP, and certainly never engaged us. He was clearly bored with teaching, and he made no effort to hide it. But the standout lecturer for me in Trinity was Dr Frank Jeal. It was he who gave me an interest in Zoology (especially paleontology and marine biology). He regularly delivered lectures with no notes, and he had a knack of telling interesting stories about long dead dinosaurs. He was also very approachable and accessible, and to me, was one of the few Trinity lecturers that had an interest in what students had to say.

So to my favourite teachers - a big THANK YOU!


  1. Hi Eugene. I was searching for Tony O'Loughlin's name and landed on your blog and searched within it. When did you leave FCJ? The funny thing is that I also went to BOTH Cistercian College in Roscrea and FCJ Bunclody. I'm from Enniscorthy. I enjoyed Roscrea for sport and freedom (smoked like a trooper, played poker, played sports) but damn near failed my Inter. Was yanked out after 5th year. Repeated 5th and did 6th in Bunclody - like you said, Tony and the nuns gave me so much homework that I couldn't but learn and I did much better, not great, in my Leaving. Squeaked into UCD and ended up with a Masters there and a PhD at Michigan State Univ. Went on to become a good scientist and later into more commercial roles in the pharma world. Just left Merck after 18 years. Anyway, I credit FCJ with turning me around! All the best. William PS: There was a Carnew lad in my class (finished 1976) called Damien ??

  2. Hi William,

    Class of 1978, I was in FCJ for just one year - I am originally from near Carnew on the Wicklow/Wexford border. I certainly enjoyed my time there, girls in the same classroom was definitely a novelty for a CCR lad!

    The "Damien" you refer to is probably Dr Damien Doyle from Carnew, he has recently been unwell. Coincidentally his son Harry and my brother's son Niall are good friends and went through FCJ together.

    I have great memories of Tony O'L (no relation) - he was certainly vastly different from most of the teachers I had in CCR. I believe he is now retired.

    You probably would not recognise FCJ if you went there now - it's a much bigger school (more lads), less nuns, and there has been a lot of development work. The 1970s in CCR was not very disciplined (which I needed), and I did not do well in the Leaving. Like you, FCJ turned me around and kick started my academic career, ending up with a PhD from Trinity in 1988.

    Many thanks for reading my blog, all the best for 2014!


  3. I must disagree with your comments on Sean O'Hallahan, I also had him for both 5th and 6th class in the early 80's and found him sarcastic,petty, cruel and vindictive. He was also not adverse to using corporal punishment.
    I suspect that your family connection to the Musical Society may have spared you the worst.
    I must say, it's great to see the more enlightened approach taken nowadays, the School is also so much neater and better maintained than it was in those years.

    1. Hi "Anonymous",

      First - many thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my post. Your thoughts are most welcome.

      We certainly have different memories of Seán Hallahan, though I did say above that he was "tough". Corporal punishment was common in all classes as I recall - even Mrs Keating (the last teacher to hit me) used two rulers to beat children across the back of the hand for not knowing the two-times tables or getting a spelling wrong. By the time I got to Seán's class I had learned that a good way to avoid slaps was to learn my lessons and behave. Hallahan never slapped me, though I do remember him slapping other lads (never girls) in class. Frank Fitzgerald was the Principal at that time - I don't recall him slapping anyone either.

      I'm glad you say that the school is "more enlightened" - I must confess that I probably have not crossed the doors of the school since 1970. Time has cost me many memories, including my time in Carnew NS - but for me it was a happy time growing up and Seán Hallahan (along with all my teachers) had a big part to play in my formative years.

      All the best,


      Your comment about my "connection to the Musical Society" was not welcome, and I reject it.