Tuesday, August 30, 2016

English 2018

For the third year in a row we are publishing our own Leaving Certificate textbook incorporating one of the comparative texts. This is the latest in a series of books published by the Department using the terrific self-publishing service from Lulu.com. A hat-tip again to the very generous Ian Johnston for his pellucid translation of Antigone. Ian is Research Associate at Vancouver Island University in Canada.

English 2018, which will be given to Fifth Form pupils at the start of term, includes plenty of other material, including advice about the Leaving Certificate exam (of course) and wider reading. For the first time this year we will be distributing it easily in electronic form using the new Firefly Learning system.

Thanks to Iryna Byshenko, winner of last year's Photography Prize, for the images on both front and back cover (above).

Sunday, August 28, 2016


Simon Lewis is known to some of us through educational and technology circles. But another side is his work as a poet (he won the emerging poetry Hennessy Literary Award last year). Now Doire Press has published his collection Jewtown, and it's well-worth buying. His fine first book of poems takes an interesting angle on a mostly-forgotten episode in Irish history - not Irish immigrants in the USA or England, but the arrival in Cork in the late 19th century of Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia.

In 'Shalom Park' near the end of the collection we see the cyclical nature of immigration. In 'Zedekiah' an immigrant with English loses his purpose as the fruitseller Mazel starts not to need his words any more. In 'Cobbler' the narrator is proud of his expertise in creating a better boot than any 'lousy American'.

Here Simon writes in the Irish Times about his book: "In the five years I have spent creating Jewtown, I’d like to think I have thrown a little bit of light back to a city... I also hope that I’ve managed to convey how any immigrant might feel when they arrive in a new country."

Our Souls at Night

One of the sadnesses of last year was the death at the age of 71 of the American novelist Kent Haruf, author of the Benediction trilogy. As he was dying he wrote Our Souls at Night, a final short novel which is a beautifully-created story of the surprising relationship between two older people, Addie Moore and Louis Waters. Within the relatively few pages Haruf packs the sense of the amplitude of entire lives. It is told in his characteristically understated manner, and its ending is sad, beautifully modulated and deeply moving. Highly recommended.

Here is an interview with his widow Cathy (you can also read the first perfect chapter).

(Apparently Jane Fonda and Robert Redford are playing the parts in a forthcoming Netflix film version: that should take the understatement out of the story).

Leaving Certificate results 2016

Congratulations to our candidates on their results in the Leaving Certificate, which set a new College record of 473 points per person. More details can be read on the College site here.

In English, 88% of our candidates sat the English exam at Higher Level. National %s to follow.

  • 4% of all our candidates achieved an A at Higher Level
  • 9% achieved a B
  • 27% achieved a C (nationally, 27.2% of all candidates).
See previous results by clicking on the years for 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Writing on Brexit

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Submarine, June 2016

This year's final edition of the Library magazine, 'The Submarine', is now out and you can read it online above (click on the arrows for a closer look, and again to navigate).

As usual, there is a terrific mix of writing and artwork. These are seen to good effect in the pages with poems written for the Junior Poetry Prize by Imogen Casey, Megan Bulbulia and Tania Stokes (the winner), as well as (in Russian) Elena Sirazetdinova. The main feature is another piece by architect John Somerville-Large, this time most significantly focussing on the creation of the Library itself, which opened in 1994. Review follow by Blanaid Sheeran (The L-Shaped Room), Nyla Jamieson (The Eye of Minds), Catherine Butt (Room, recently discussed at the SCC Book Club) and Nicole Dickerson (All the Light We Cannot See, which she also mentioned in her TY English Evening reading).

Friday, June 17, 2016

Digitisation of the College magazines

An exciting and unique project in the College's history is reaching its final stage, and on Thursday 16th June this was marked by an event  attended by members of the College community (including staff, Fellows, Old Columbans and parents) as well as first-time visitors.

Over the last three years, Patrick Hugh Lynch of the Department of the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, assisted by the Sub-Warden, Julian Girdham, has been digitising both the school magazines and the Old Columban Society publications. An extraordinary resource is being created for future generations and historians, and the end of the school year was a good time to take stock.

Following a reception in Whitehall, the Sub-Warden gave a presentation on the origins and progress of the project. About 7000 pages and 4.5 million words have been saved for posterity. In some cases there was a single perishable copy of magazines, and now there is a treasure-trove of material saved permanently. He picked out some editions of particular historical interest, including the very first edition in September 1879 (produced on a Prestograph), the innocent last edition before the Great War, and the first edition following the Easter 1916 Rising (called 'this deplorable insurrection' in the editorial).

He said that the project was still not complete; some checking needs to be done, but when this is complete the archive will be available electronically on disc form and in due course online, and will be a fitting way to mark the 175th anniversary of the College in 2018. A sample CD of about 40 editions was given to those who attended.

The former editor of The Columban, and current editor of the OCS Bulletin, Ninian Falkiner (former Head of History) then spoke about his own experience of working on both magazines, and ended by saying that the true 'hero' of the evening was Patrick Lynch, in the work he has done for the College community.

In his own words, Patrick Lynch spoke powerfully about the 'fun' he has had on the project. The Warden as he retires has left 'its vast cultural history in a position where it can be interrogated by future scholars'. Read Patrick's full address here.

Finally, the Warden paid tribute to the extraordinary work Patrick Lynch has done in this 'utterly captivating' fashion. He looked forward to being able to peruse the archive at leisure in his retirement, and ended by presenting a gift to mark the occasion.

See a set of photographs of the reception and talks here. Many thanks to the Chaplain for taking this.

A report from the Diocesan website can be read here.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

'The Columban', April 2014

This Thursday sees the launch of our project of digitising historical copies of the school magazine, 'The Columban'. Here is another one, this time from before the Great War, in April 1914.

Reading this, one cannot help but think of Philip Larkin's great poem 'MCMXIV': 'Never such innocence again'. As the world is about to hurtle into the horrors of Flanders, notes in the school magazine include: 'Why should not Inter-Dormitory Tennis teams be formed?' and 'Two excellent sets of picture postcards, showing views of St Columba's College, have been produced, and may be obtained from the Matron, price sixpence a set.'

Thursday, June 09, 2016

SCC from the Air

A new film of our campus, produced by Dependable Productions. Lovely visual story-telling:

English Paper 2 2016

Our Sixth Formers have just finished their marathon in the sticky heat. English Literature is over, and most seemed tired but happy with the exam papers.

First, the answer to the tedious question: Emily Dickinson, T.S.Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop, Paul Durcan. Only worth just over half the marks available for the Unseen poem (this time one from the Polish writer Czeslaw Milosz - why not a poem originally written in English, and why no credit for the co-translator of 'And Yet the Books'? Robert Haas), but still. The questions were fair, and not too wordy.

Our candidates, like most others', studied King Lear as the single text, and both questions were untroublesome: Lear and Gloucester compared, and 'the destructive and redemptive power of love' (those two adjectives may have sidetracked some - were they both properly addressed, and did all candidates understand 'redemptive'?).

For the comparative, it was Cultural Context and Genre. 'Challenging aspects' of cultural contexts might have tested some. 'Authors can use various techniques to make settings real and engaging' for Genre will have had some candidates straying into Cultural Context, but no problem if under control.

No problems either for the small number of Ordinary candidates. Evidence that life is sometimes difficult for Gloucester is not exactly hard to find. Relationships and social setting for the comparative, and easy enough poems too ('Filling Station' and 'I felt a funeral' we'd already tested). Good choice for the Unseen, too: the lovely 'Mother, Washing Dishes' by Susan Myers.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

English Leaving Certificate Paper 1 2016

In November 2011 our Second Formers would have been among the audiences for the most recent Shakespeare Society production, The Comedy of Errors. Today memories of that evening may well have come back on opening the Higher Level Paper 1 on the first day of their Leaving Certificate, since after turning the cover page they would have been confronted by no fewer than four different posters for Shakespeare's first play (described in Andrew Dickson's text as being unfairly categorised as 'a creaky and mechanistic farce' - we were aiming for lightness in a production backed by the Bee Gees). The number and busyness of the images in this question was a welcome challenge compared to some rather thinner 'image' questions in the past.

Another SCC connection was seen in the second text, from Sara Baume's 2015 novel spill simmer falter wither, an interesting choice that was first published by Old Columban Sarah Davis-Goff's Tramp Press: it is good to see such recent innovative Irish writing on the paper.

On a different note, the third text was a more familiar standard public speech, this time by President Obama at NASA in 2010 (see below), with quite predictable questions about such rhetoric.

The three 'B' questions were quite detailed; some concentration was certainly needed to get the register just right. Text Three, on Obama, asked for a blogpost - not an entirely helpful direction for register, if no context is given about what kind of blog it is.

Composition titles were also straightforward, and candidates can't complain they would not have plenty of options.

Six of our 61 candidates took the Ordinary Level paper which, as usual, was designed not to frighten. The Easter 1916 Rising made its appearance in extracts from diary entries by two eye-witnessses, one a volunteer and the other a British officer. Several of the composition titles could easily have been on the Higher Paper.

Now on to Literature tomorrow.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Voices of Poetry 2016

Last Sunday evening saw again the lovely annual occasion which is Voices of Poetry, expertly co-ordinated for the eighth year by Mr Swift. As we have often mentioned, it is an infallible formula - lovely short poems in different languages read on the final 'full' weekend of the year. And so often it seems blissfully sunny outside, contrasting with the dark hush of the Big Schoolroom, which is broken by a single spotlight. The photograph was taken 15 minutes before the event began, on the way to the BSR.

Nyla Jamieson's 'Dancing', written for the Senior Poetry, was first up, followed by another entry, Oisin Large's 'The Time has Come'. Second Prefect Bunmi Oyateru then read a poem by Amiri Baraka. The foreign language poems started with one in Russian (Elizaveta Kozhevnikova). Douglas Boyd Crotty followed with Irish and Jack Thurk with 'American' ('On the Death of a Next-Door Neighbor').

French was represented by Ciara Gumsheimer and Spanish by Juliane Hastedt. Charlotte Moffitt recited her Poetry Aloud entry, Yeats's 'The Song of Wandering Aengus' and four poems followed in other languages read by Pia Zulauf (German), Swedish (Louvisa Karlsson-Smythe), Latin (Callum Pery-Knox-Gore) and Italian (Gabriella Castagna Rubio).

A tradition has it that retiring teachers are invited to read, and Mrs Haslett read out a hugely entertaining section of Carol Ann Duffy's 'The Laughter of Stafford Girls' High' (listen to a version in a Joanna Lumley programme here). She was followed by the Chaplain, who arrived this year, and who amused all by reading in a 'language' never heard before at this event: Cockney.

Catalan (Gemma Rodriguez, from Andorra) and Portuguese (Rafael Mendes) followed, and then the newest member of the English Department, Mrs Donnelly, read 'The Horses' by Ted Hughes. She was followed by the outstanding winner of the Junior Poetry Prize, Tania Stokes, with her winning entry 'Metaphorest'.

The Warden, Dr Haslett, retires at the end of this term, and he read two poems: Michael Longley's superb 'Ceasefire' (read by the poet himself here) and Tennyson's 'Crossing the Bar'. A real contrast was Chingrui Yan's short poem in Chinese.

Finally, three pupils wrapped up the evening: Helena Gromotka, winner of this year's Peter Dix Memorial Prize for Poetry with 'Maybe', Senior Prefect Harvey McCone with his favourite poem, 'He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven' by W.B. Yeats, and Sol Guitart Rivero from Primary with her own sweet poem 'Love'. A fine note on which to end an evening full of love for the written and spoken word.

Friday, June 03, 2016


Another poem from the entries for the Senior Poetry Prize, this time by Nyla Jamieson. Nyla read this out as the first poem at this year's Voices of Poetry.


The ashes danced in the wind
Teasing the grass below
The earth stretched out its short green arms
But the ashes flew just out of their reach.

Tears fell but the ashes soared
Oblivious to the pain they caused
Prayers were said and hymns were sung
The ashes pirouetted to this bitter sweet symphony.

Finally the dancers grew weary
They settled into the earth’s warm embrace.
As the mourners shuffled away they said they would miss her
But she was already gone.

The ashes may have been a part of her
But what made her her was well gone
While her ashes flitted in the breeze
Her soul had fled to that unknown place.

Years later her family still came
And shed a tear or two
Not even her ashes remained to see this grief
They were off touring the world.

This love was not for them to see
This grave was not for her
Graves, funerals and mourning are for the living
The dead dance on, indifferent.

Thursday, June 02, 2016


For the recent Senior Poetry Prize, Oluwakorede Oyegbade wrote this poem about his native country, which Mr Canning called 'exceptional'.

A fruitful land of magnificent, majestic grandeur,
Green pastures, blue sky and exquisite radiant sun.
How vibrantly the coloured plumages of birds soaring by,
The flowing mane of the horses jumping high.
The exuberance and ebullience of the natives
Dancing, singing and expressing their creativity,
For this is how we convey our passion,
The perfect epitome of self expression.

For supremacy and dominance have control over all things,
Their chains wrapped around our hands like handcuffs.
Inferior we are to them, who stare in the mirror beside many,
But notice only their two squinting eyes gleaming with self adoration.
An empty void fills their chest, they fail to provide for the rest.
The land becomes barren and unfruitful
As the superior laugh and purloin.
The situation worsens and we suffer in silence.
The idea of change becomes merely a facade.

On our knees we get down and pray
To the Most High, who makes it possible to see another day.
Our desires they diminish and trample, but our spirits they shall not devour.
Faith and hope our most prized possession,
As we put on our masks of pretence.
Therefore our creativity we must establish, our humour we must pursue
For although the body looks weary,

Our souls must never worry.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Two Poems

Oisin Large's poems in the recent Senior Poetry Prize competition were commended by Mr Canning: "Oisin wrote a strong body of poems and his experimental one ‘Opposite Line’ very interesting and his coming of age piece celebrating his mother whilst saying goodbye was poignantly sweet."

OPPOSITE line and other sorts

What exactly was it about?
Was it below the above line or
Was I absent from its presence?
It was my lack of abundance and
I refused to accept the truth of line,

Yet I must admit that I denied the signs
That the child gave me, I thought I was an adult
Who knew all about the opposite line.

What happened before the line after I asked?
Were you too afraid to be brave or
Was the line possibly impossible to see?

These modern questions do not answer these ancient riddles
This is beginning to end.
I amuse myself, knowing that I bore you.
A fine mess this is.

The opposite line is bitter-sweet.
It is black on white lines.
It has no body, no, only a soul.
It cannot be fixed, as it is broken in many ways.
When it is cloudy, then it will be clear to you as to were the line is.
Do Tell Me When You Find It…

The time has come

The time has come, mother; I am leaving.
Hear me, I am the last one from the nest
And know that you have helped me believing
That I have the potential to be with the rest.

The time has come, mother; for me to embrace the next life.
To learn of new friends and of old worlds
I can see their many faces, those eager eyes
That I can see from afar, I will have new wings.

I remember the little things that you taught me.
I remember your unconditional love
That you gave me in the darkest hours
Erasing my bad dreams.

I remember the toy soldiers.
I remember the little things
Even with the weight of me on your shoulders
And accepting my blame, again and again.

I am here now, mother; to pronounce my departure
I will leave soon, mother; to walk before you
The time has come, mother; to say Thank You.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Peter Dix Memorial Prize for Poetry 2016

Congratulations to Helena Gromotka, winner of this year's Senior Poetry Prize. 

Mr Canning, the judge, writes that her poems show "a very mature control of language, precisely distilled but intimately conversational. What was most impressive was how her poems contained and restrained powerful feelings and emotions."  Here are two of her entries (some from other candidates will shortly be published).


Maybe coffee stunted my growth, or maybe
It taught me to associate bitterness with desire,

To see the world through darkening eyeliner
And expect disappointment, and pain
that won’t be fixed through appointments.

Maybe cigarettes killed my lungs, or maybe
They just taught me how to breathe out negativity

To worry less about age and more about agility
And run out of breath running after buses:
Red-cheeked, like a sunset.

Every time the sun sets it rises,
And every time I’m born, I die.

The world is washed clean again
And again, it waits for me to catch up
Before moving on toward tomorrow.
And tomorrow, God help me,
I will wait for myself.


I’m drowning in a salty sea,
One I have produced.
Red, blue and yellow glares
As my breaths silently reduce.

I hear muffled voices
With words I can’t quite make out.
I think I hear my mother
How I wish she wouldn’t shout.

I think I hear my father.
I think that he is crying.
I think that he is fearful;
Fearful of me dying.

I feel my heart has stopped
But why am I still
If this is the afterlife,
I wasn’t thinking clear.

I see the doctors tell my parents
There was nothing they could do.
Their precious little angel
Just could not make it through.

Fast forward to my funeral
As I watch from the back
And everyone cries the same
Salty sea, in uniforms of black.

Monday, May 16, 2016

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Friday, May 13, 2016

'King Lear' revision resources

Six revision podcasts -
The opening scene
The play's bleak vision
The Good Guys - Kent and Albany
Quotation auto-test
Blindness and seeing
The End of the Play

Five ShowMe analyses (series not yet complete)
Act I scene i - Confusion and uncertainty.
Act I scene i - Love and be silent. 
Act I scene i - See better.
Act I scene i - Unruly waywardness.
Act i scene ii - Excellent foppery.

The Shakespeare Yippy search engine: look for key words, test yourself on quotations etc.

The entire play (copy to your device). 

The King Lear LitChart

National Theatre video talks:-
Kent and the Fool
Goneril, Regan and Cordelia
Gloucester, Edmund and Edgar
Lear - Simon Russell Beale 

Roger Allam as Lear below with 'Blow winds, and crack your cheeks...' below. And see Riz Ahmed here as Edmund with 'Now, gods, stand up for bastards.'