From An Ċraoḃ-ruaḋ, published by the Gaelic League in Belfast, 1913.
I have been asked to write here something about St. Enda’s College and its boys and masters. It is too early for me to make any “confessions.” And I have had certain deep joys and certain keen disappointments at St. Enda’s which I shall never “confess,” at least to the public. Also, there have been humorous passages in the history of the past five years which would make excellent reading, but which to recount here and now would detract from the grave and decorous character that parents and the public expect in a headmaster. In the spacious leisure of a future when the Intermediate shall cease from troubling and the Department be at rest I will write a school story whose incidents shall have all the wild improbability that only truth can have. The existence of St. Enda’s itself is one of the most improbable things imaginable, and yet it is a fact.
Belfast Gaels will hear with interest that the first definite encouragement to me to start St. Enda’s came from one of themselves. I sufficiently indicate whom I mean when I describe him as the dominant personality in Gaelic Belfast, and perhaps the strongest and sanest personality in the whole language movement. I remember that when I wrote round to my friends saying that I proposed to open near Dublin a school which should be more Irish in spirit than any school that had been opened in Ireland since the Flight of the Earls; which should be bilingual in method; which should teach modern languages orally; which should aim at a wider and humaner culture than other Irish secondary schools; which should set its face like iron against “cramming” and against all the evils of the competitive examination system; which should work at fostering the growth of the personality of each of its pupils rather than at forcing all into a predetermined groove; when, I say, I wrote all this to my friends, most of the answers that came back might be summed up in the word “Don’t.” From Belfast came the gallant message, “Do; and I will send you my boys.” The next word of encouragement was from Buenos Aires – from the late William Bulfin, with a similar promise. And the third was from an illustrious member of the Catholic Hierarchy. All this is sufficiently improbable; and our subsequent history has been of a piece.
Three Ulstermen (giving Ulster its Irish, not its Anglo-Irish geographical boundaries) have shared with me the main brunt of the financial burden of St. Enda’s; and one of these Ulstermen is a non-Catholic, while St. Enda’s is a Catholic school. Improbable again. And three of my most valued colleagues in our actual teaching work have been Ulstermen by birth or adoption. Add to this that if I were asked to select the six most promising of our pupils at the present moment, I should have to name four Ulster lads among the six. Ulster again is supposed to be the “dour” province; but my experience of Ulster boys and Ulster men is that they have more of the Celtic gaiety than the boys and men of any other part of Ireland, and also that their gaiety is more joyous and less mocking than the gaiety of the South. I speak of Celtic Ulster – Donegal and the non-planted parts of the other counties.
It was very improbable that when a person who (though he had been a teacher all his life) was known chiefly as a journalist and secondarily as a lawyer, announced that he was about to open a school which should challenge the whole existing education system of Ireland, any pupils should be sent to him. Yet thirty pupils rallied to St. Enda’s on its opening day, and the number has increased in a steady ratio up to the present year. The time was in fact ripe for such an experiment, and it only remained to see whether the right people had taken it in hands. Several improbable things that have happened since go to show me that we were the right people. We have accomplished the miracle of making boys so love school that they hate to leave it. I do not think that any boy has ever come to St. Enda’s who has not in a short time grown fond of it. It is not that we make things unduly easy for our lads; they work as hard in the study half and on the games field as it is healthy for any lads to work. I think that part of our success is due to the real comradeship that exists between boy and master. I mean not merely that we masters fraternise with the boys when off duty, but that we have put ourselves definitely into such a relationship with them that every boy is always sure that his point of view will be seen by the master and his difficulties sympathetically considered. And I have rarely found boys trying to evade punishment for faults committed; on the contrary, boys have many times come to me spontaneously, confessed faults, and asked to be punished. The reason is that they would consider it mean towards me and mean towards their companions to take shelter behind the excuse, “I wasn’t asked who did it.” Boys are proverbially honourable in their dealing with one another; our achievement has been to bring the masters within the magic circle and thus give a new extension to “schoolboy honour.”
It is improbably enough that the school whose main subject is the Irish language, and which leans rather to the “modern literary” than to the “classical” type of programme, should have gained the first Classical Entrance Scholarship in University College, Dublin; and it seems grotesquely improbable that we should have established a sort of “corner” in Kildare Co. Council Scholarships. But these things we have done. It was a comparatively easy matter for us to make our boys the best athletes of their age in Ireland and to win and hold the Dublin championships in football and hurling; and this success prepared us for the innately improbable event that our captain was selected to captain the Leinster Colleges against Munster.
I think our performances of Irish and Anglo-Irish plays, and especially our Passion Play of last Easter twelvemonth – intended to be a triennial event and due again at the Easter of 1914 – have meant something, not only in the development of our boys, but in the development of dramatic art in Ireland. As Mr. Padraic Colum has written of us, we have gone back to the beginning of drama instead of trying to transplant the full-grown art from an exotic soil.
Achievements such as these have made the first five years of St. Enda’s College memorable, but after all our main success must be looked for in the characters and daily lives of our boys, for the teaching that does not affect conduct is only so much empty breath. So I hope that what Mr. Eoin MacNeill said of us three years ago will always remain true, that St. Enda’s has been a success, not only in its classrooms and on its playing fields, but firstly and chiefly in the homes of its pupils.
P. H. PEARSE.