Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Summer Book recommendations 6: This Boy

This Boy: a memoir of a childhood is by the British Labour Party politician (former Home Secretary, among other things) Alan Johnson. The first thought on reading it is that his life experience is light years away from the cohort of younger privileged politicians currently at the head of British public life, who have known little other than that life. Johnson's childhood in pre-developed Notting Hill was very different, being both materially deprived and emotionally tragic. However, this cleanly-written memoir has no self-pity and does not over-egg the deep sadness at its core, the awful life of his mother Lily. And it has a real life heroine, his extraordinary sister Linda, who tried to save her mother and did save her brother in all sorts of ways. She grew up very early indeed, and her brother followed: towards the end he writes "At eighteen years of age I was about to move house for the seventh time. I'd left school, had four jobs, been in two bands and had fallen for the woman I was about to marry, in  the process becoming a father as well as a husband."

This is a great read for anyone, but a real eye-opener for teenagers today, being both a fascinating social history and a story to make everyone think about their - we hope - fortunate lives.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Leaving Certificate results, 2014

Congratulations to our candidates on their results in the Leaving Certificate, which came out yesterday. The College's overall average points total was 441, maintaining the high standards of recent years, with the five-year average 452.  More details are here on the College website.

In English, 83% of our candidates sat the English exam at Higher Level (compared to 67% nationally).

  • 9% of all our candidates achieved an A at Higher Level (nationally, 6.2% of all candidates achieved this).
  • 36% achieved a B (nationally, 17.7% of all candidates).
  • 32% achieved a C (nationally, 27.1% of all candidates).

See previous results by clicking on the years for 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Summer Reading Recommendations 5: Darkness, Darkness

One of the very best crime series has just come to an end: John Harvey's Nottingham detective Charlie Resnick first appeared in Lonely Hearts in 1989. The 25 years since have seen a succession of excellently-written novels (there was a 10-year gap after Last Rites in 1989), culminating in the end of Resnick's career in Darkness, Darkness, the 12th in the series. This revisits the Miners' Strike of the 1980s and has all the virtues of the series, being beautifully paced, elegantly written and, in the final pages perfectly pitched, and not at all as dark, despite the title, as the end of Mankell's Kurt Wallender (though we miss the slavering sandwich descriptions of the earlier books).

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Summer Reading Recommendations 4: Love, Nina

This one has an odd and perhaps unpromising premise: subtitled 'Despatches from Family Life', Nina Stibbe's first book is a collection of her letters to her sister about her experiences as a nanny to a literary London family in the 1980s is enormously funny, with the highlights a series of dry and bizarre conversations. In the words one of the recurring figures, Alan Bennett, "It's funny. I'm not sure what it's about. A bunch of literary types doing laundry and making salad - or something." Love, Nina is a great holiday read (a great read full stop - it would cheer you up in the depths of winter too).

Monday, July 28, 2014

Shakespeare podcasts

A recommended resource and some interesting holiday listening: Oxford University has a series of podcasts from 2010-2012 called 'Approaching Shakespeare', with lectures by Emma Smith focussing on individual plays and an ePub version of the relevant text. 

Here is the iTunes link.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Summer Reading Recommendation 3: One Summer

Appropriately, our next recommendation for summer reading is about a summer. Bill Bryson's One Summer: America 1927 is the story of a few months of scarcely credible drama, built mainly around the story of the Orteig Prize for flying non-stop across the Atlantic. Bryson tells the story of this summer with his characteristic brio.  It's also interesting for readers of The Great Gatsby; although that masterpiece was about the summer of 1922, Bryson's popular history gives a very vivid sense of the same culture.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

English Matters

Notes for teachers at this morning's English Matters session in TCD.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summer Reading Recommendation 2: Eyrie

This blog is a fan of the excellent author Tim Winton, whose writing about Western Australia is powerful and atmospheric (see comments on his short story collection The Turning and his surfing novel Breath). His latest novel, Eyrie, is also recommended. It tells the story of Keely, now living in a high-rise block in Perth's port Fremantle, in the aftermath of personal and professional disaster.  

Opening with one of the most memorable hangover scenes in recent literature, the narrative structure drives us on by parcelling out what happened in the past and marrying this with a page-turning compulsion to find out what will happen to Keely in the future. The other main characters are Gemma, a neighbour and figure from Keely's past and the other main emotional centre of the book, her grandson Kai. Among the novels many strengths is a vivid portrait of Fremantle.

Read a good interview with Tim Winton by Kim Forrester in Shiny New Books here.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Summer Reading Recommendation 1: Americanah

Recently out in paperback is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah, an intelligent and engrossing read for the holidays. Her first novel Purple Hibiscus has been on the comparative list for the Leaving Certificate in recent years, and her novel Half of a Yellow Sun, about the Biafran War, is also recommended, as is her TED talk, 'The Danger of a Single Story'.

In one sense, Americanah tells a single story, that of the enduring love of the central character, Ifemulu and her teenage boyfriend Obinze, ('The Zed') but from this central strand Adichie spins much more - keen and often funny observations on race in America (Ifemulu 'becomes black' on arriving in the US) and Britain, sharp descriptions of contemporary Lagos, blog entries and literal strands in the form of a recurring scene set in a hair salon in Trenton, New Jersey. In the latter, Ifemulu's uncertainty about her own identity is to the fore. When she returns home, cultural and romantic uncertainties provide the climax of the novel: "She was no longer sure what was new in Lagos and what was new in herself".
Americanah could have done with tighter editing, and the ending seems both hurried and predictable. But don't let that put you off: it's very enjoyable.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summer Holiday

And so finally we make it to the end of the academic year. This blog will go into semi-aestivation over the summer, but there will be some posts on good books for holiday reading, and a few more on things English. Now off to the beach, literal or metaphorical, to start reading...

Photo courtesy: Flickr User cmcgough. (CC)

Voices of Nigeria

Here are two poems from Iyobosa Bello-Asemota from this term's Senior Poetry Prize competition> Iyobosa writes:

These poems were inspired by the haunting voices of the marginalised and the vulnerable in my homeland Nigeria, especially the voices of those missing girls recently stolen from school and taken from their devastated families.


Is Nobody okay
With nobody to care?
nobody to search
While Nobody lives in fear?

Nobody to lead
As Nobody cries
nobody to mourn
As Nobody dies

Nobody is gone
But not forgotten
As Somebody stands
Against a system gone rotten

If Somebody remembers
nobody will be lost
As long as nobody stops
No matter the cost


Amid national outcry, disaster strikes again.
Blood-red soil lines streets already flooded with tears
For those now forced to act older than their years.
The currency changed: pain in exchange for more pain.

What a bargain! What a find! 12 dollars for a life,
A future, a lineage, a slave, and a companion.
A nation on its knees yet raped with abandon.
Unity be damned. I’d divide it myself had I the knife.

If the Janus-faced leeches in Aso Rock are our only hope,
Ours is a cause doomed before its start.
Joined with thousands in mind and heart,
To free the girls from the horror with which they’ve had to cope.

Free them to a life of slavery?
Where they would be viewed as damaged goods
Sold for less. Discounted for bravery?

And what about us? Who will free us?
Besieged by parasitic rulers, harangued by insurgents
Whatever the outcome, we are at a loss
We will never be free. Perhaps only in our heads
Count no man free until he is dead.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

'The Submarine', June 2014

The latest edition of the Library magazine, 'The Submarine', has just been published, and it is, of course, the last of the year. It can be read above by clicking once, and again for closer view.

It features Mr McConville's editorial thoughts on key skills and information literacy in the new Junior Cycle, a list of the many new books in the Library in the last six months, Junior Poetry Prize entries, an appreciation of the late David Sowby by Dr Bannister, and one of the late Patrick Scott, artist, by Mrs Morris. Another more recent Old Columban, Richard Mosse, recently had his exhibition 'Enclave' on show at the RHA Gallagher Gallery, and several Transition Year pupils respond to it. There is also a report on the work of the Library Committee, and a feature on memorable characters in fiction. On top of all this, art by Pia Gromotka, Samuel Clarke, Leslie v Negenborn, Kitty Morris, Polina Shikina, Molly Dunne and Hakon Schug.

Actiontrack 2014

On Saturday evening last the Transition Year concluded their programme with an excellent Actiontrack Showbuild. See photographs here.  One of the participants was the winner of the TY English Prize, Hollie Canning, and here is her account of the week:

Our highly anticipated five days of Actiontrack began on the morning of Tuesday 10th June. Most of us were still wrecked and drained from our active time in Achill but the Actiontrack team brought much enthusiasm, which immediately boosted the mood. 

We began the morning with a name learning exercise. I was astonished to see how quickly each of the instructors remembered everyone’s name and got to know the relatively large group. We then played the famous game "Zip Zap Boing". This game never fails to boost everybody’s energy. We then did some improvisations in small groups. These improvisations would give ideas for our show on the Saturday night. We advanced our improvisations by altering them to different genres or styles. Ours was in the style of an action movie. We showed our improvisations to the rest of the group and they commented on things they liked, found quirky, or disliked. This was a critical stage in our Showbuild because some of the ideas from these improvisations featured in our show. 

On the Tuesday afternoon we did some writing exercises. We started by having 15 seconds to write anything we could think of to do witht the colour red. We then did some word association exercises. Some people ended up with extremely random lists but this was a benefit as we constructed some song titles from these words. I came up with the title "chocolate Euphoria" which was used in the show, and coincidentally I had to sing a solo on it. We then swapped around titles and tried to write songs. That night Nathan and Nick took these songs, altered them, and chose the best for our show. I found it strange how we had the songs we would use in the show because we didn't know what the show would be about. However, the improvisation exercises we did on the first day helped us to be able to link these songs together and form a somewhat crazy, random, brilliant storyline.  

On Thursday we all got our parts along with the script. After we had a quick read-through of the script, we put them down and made a start on the set design. We all did our part in the set design, whether it was collecting branches from the deer-park, painting canvases, or constructing props. Nobody was free to mess around or doss. That evening the soloists were taken off to rehearse our solos with Nathan or Nick. Penny also taught us some of the dances and Molly directed some scenes in the play. 

On the Friday we began our intense rehearsals. We ‘’blocked’’ the script. This means that we went through it very slowly and were directed where to stand or move. This took a while but with a lot of determination and motivation from Nick, Nathan, Penny and Molly, we got through it effectively. 

We spent most of Saturday just polishing off the dances and the set. However when we did a run through of the play we realized that many people didn’t know their lines properly. With the show being at 8 o'clock that night, we were beginning to freak out. When the time of the show came, we were all more excited than anything. We had all had such a great week doing the Actiontrack Showbuild that we were in good spirits. There was still that possibility that people would forget their lines or mess up, but we were ready to improvise if needs be.

The performance itself went very well. The was a great vibe in the BSR and I even saw a few of the teachers tapping their feet to our groovy tunes! Overall I think that it was a great experience to use our own ideas and make a show and I would really urge people to take part when it's their turn. It’s a brilliant few days and I can honestly say I learnt a lot, and my dancing moves have definitely improved!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Lucid Dreaming

Nevin McCone won the recent Second Form Public Speaking competition, and here is the text of his speech under the intriguing heading 'Lucid Dreaming':-

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, today I would to share my knowledge and experience on lucid dreaming.

So what is lucid dreaming? It is when you know you are dreaming, in a dream.  This enables you to control your dreams and therefore do whatever you want in them.  How many of you dreamt last night? Well as a matter of fact all of you did. Everybody dreams every night but some people may remember their dreams. This is because your brain makes you forget your dreams after you wake up. 

Dream recall is one of the key things involved with lucid dreaming. As soon as you wake up in the morning think hard about what you dreamt of when you were asleep. Then write you down the details on a piece of paper. With practice this will significantly improve your dream recall. 

So how many people here can control their dreams? Most people can’t do it. Being able to control your dreams is called lucid dreaming. This can have some very positive effects. For example let’s say you are worried about a speech that you have to present. In your lucid dream you could dream about being in the Colisseum in Rome with a full house. Then, because it is your dream you can dream that the speech went perfectly, giving you the confidence to perform your speech when you are awake. Also, let’s say you had a fear of spiders, you could dream that you faced your fears and overcame them. 

So how do you lucid dream? The most essential part of lucid dreaming is being aware that you are dreaming when you are in your dream. Some people are just able to do it. Is there a technique that makes you realise that you are dreaming in a dream? Yes. The easiest technique involves performing reality checks. Reality checks distinguish the dream world from reality.  For example, the reality check that I use is to look closely at the palm of my hand. In the real world your hand looks normal but in a dream your hand looks blurry. If you keep looking at your hand and asking yourself if it’s blurry and if you are dreaming, then eventually you will do subconsciously in your dreams, but this time your hand will be blurry and you will realise that you are dreaming.

So what is it like to be lucid? I am able to lucid dream and have experienced lucid dreaming twice. Lucid dreams are much more realistic than normal dreams. As soon as you gain consciousness in your dream everything becomes much clearer and comes into focus. And if you don’t find it clear enough you can demand to make it clearer because it is your dream. Also at the start it isn’t easy to stay in a lucid dream for long. This is because you start getting excited in the dream because you have finally achieved lucidity. You know you start to wake up when the world starts to shake and things get blurry. Then you feel like you are being put to sleep and your eyes close. When you open your eyes you are awake.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Transition Year Survey 2013-14

On Saturday the 2014-15 Transition Year completed their course with the annual Actiontrack Showbuild (click here for pictures). A report follows soon.

A couple of weeks ago, IV formers completed online surveys on their experience of the English course. As always, we tweak the course after reading these comments. We encourage the pupils to be reflective and honest about their own development, and here are some of the comments made:-

  • I really enjoyed the Work Portfolio, because I was able to let my imagination run around and I love writing about tense and dramatic situations.
  • As a foreign pupil I was able to improve over the year massively. Through the Portfolio process I was able to improve my written English enormously. For the first piece I needed nearly two days, but in the end I was able to write an essay in 45 minutes.
  • Having to write an extended essay is very challenging and it improves your English a lot.
  • I think it was interesting to look into the books from another point of view, not just the story.
  • Overall I have learned loads. 
  • I think my creative writing has improved after the modules and I have a better understanding of English as a subject now.
  • We never had to do essays in my old school, and when we had to write something it was more than 300 words; I think the Extended Essay and the Work Portfolio helped my writing a lot.
  • The Portfolio was a great thing for me, because it forced me to write different kinds of essays.
  • I found analysing the books in the Extended Essay a good challenge, as I have never done anything similar before.
  • I really enjoyed the English TY; it was one of the subjects with the most work to do, but my essay writing and English in general improved. I also enjoyed reading the books, especially A Thousand Splendid Suns.
  • The books we read were interesting; they gave me the idea of what books I am into for further reading.
  • The way I talk, the way I write and the way I generally express myself has improved a lot this year.
  • (In my previous school) our English classes consisted mainly of copying notes about nouns and synonyms and other such stuff. We literally spent 40 minutes writing things down in our exercise books, with no time for the imagination or anything.
  • I think  the modules were very useful and a good idea. The change of subjects and aims was interesting and never got boring. I also found it good that we had a lot of opportunities to write about what we want, like for example the Extended Essay and the Work Portfolio. Completing big projects like these was challenging and I never really did something like that before over a period of time. I found that very interesting and I could improve my English a lot through writing and reading in class over the year. I especially liked reading A Streetcar Named Desire in class, because everybody could take part, read roles and we discussed the story a lot. 
  • I think I really improved my English this year. When I think about the beginning of the year I remember I was really bad at writing essays. We never had to do essays in my old school and when we had to write something it wasn't more than 300 words and I think the Work Portfolio and the extended essay helped me to improve my writing a lot. My speaking wasn't good as well and it was really embarrassing to talk in class but by the end of the year it felt better and wasn't embarrassing any more. This year really helped me to improve my English.
  • I feel I have both really improved my essay writing skills this year with both the Extended essy in the first term and the work portfolio in the second, and also my debating and public speaking skills. Even though it didn't seem like a good thing at the time, I am very glad now that Mr. Canning made me participate in the House Speeches competition. Unfortunately I feel I didn't take advantage of the extra time given for reading books. Especially in the last term, I only managed to finish one novel.
  • Through out the year I found the work load in English quite demanding but I feel like I have achieved something. When my work from the year was handed back to me it felt satisfying and rewarding even if I was disappointed with my mark. Reflecting back on the year I really enjoyed English in TY. I put everything I had into English so I hope I have improved. However it is hard to judge whether I myself have improved but we will see in the years ahead to come.
  • I think the fact that this survey is present reflects on the greatness of the English department.  I liked the solid stucture of the year so we knew what was ahead of us from the start. It was very well run and I feel like I have achieved something from it. The only improvement I can think of is that more of our portfolio work should be done in class, not in our own time. I would have also liked more feedback on my work.
  • I don't think I've improved much over the year. I enjoyed the reading the books and plays and became more confident answering questions about the books, and voicing my opinion. I have improved in my poetry writing from Ms Smith's module, but I believe that my creative writing and essay writing has not improved. I was too rushed with my work portfolio which was my fault; it just made me write bad rushed essays that I was not happy with. I like to think I took advantage of the opportunities, but my pieces were not up to par to the other pupils. 
  • I don´t think Julius Caesar was really useful, another play from that age would have been better to read.
  • I have enjoyed the English year; it's been interesting and fun. I've learned a lot throughout the whole year, in the way we've been doing work and building up our to the final term. I've tried to my best  to take opportunities in English and in TY. I took part in the TY English House Speech, which was definitely a challenge, I've never done anything like it before and I'm glad I did.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Letter to Romeo

Camille Lauron in Second Form recently studied Romeo and Juliet, and produced this letter from Juliet to her lover: -

Saturday, June 14, 2014

II form Public Speaking

Recently we held the annual Second Form Public Speaking competition. Here is Richard Dennis's piece, on stem cell science:

"Pretty much all animals can grow back something.   

We grow back our hair, finger and toe nails. Even ribs grow back to a small extent. All animals which have fur grow it back if it gets shaved off. A deer's antlers which are very similar to your nails fall off and grow back every year – at a rate 60 pounds of them in three months. If we cut ourselves, cells will duplicate and cover up the wound. 

But there are some animals that do this much, much better than us. The spiny mouse, a small, shrew-like mouse in Africa can lose almost all the skin on its back, close the wound and grow it back in three days a cut the same size for us would take around nine days if where lucky

If a lizard loses its tail it can grow back a new, fully functioning tail in 3 to 6 months and if that tail gets cut off it can grow yet another one. But if I were to have my hand cut off I would just be left with a little stump

Some fish grow back there eyes and parts of the brain. Under the right conditions one starfish limb separated from the rest can grow a whole new star fish because it has all its internal organs in one spike of the star.

Tape worms, can regenerate an entire new tapeworm from one cell.  That would be handy, if you cut yourself and spilled a drop of blood, - OH LOOK, it's a whole new me!

There is a organization called Euro Stem Cell which is working on making regenerative medicine help us able to regrow internal organs. Stem cells are cells that can be told to duplicate themselves to create body parts.

But this could go further! like taking a stem cell from a pig and growing bacon or making a steak out of cow stem cells. You could breed the perfect sheep and make thousands of tons of the exact same wool.

This is not science fiction. They've grown a burger; admittedly it had no fat and it was pure muscle and it didn't taste as good. But it was a burger all the same. And you can buy this synthetic burger for a all time low of only €250,00. So it's not cheap to be a vegetarian and eat supposedly the best meat supplement in the world. 

But if this was mastered you could get any meat for the same price as any other venison (deer meat) for the same price as beef -  it would be the same stem cells. No more huge pastoral fields or road blocks because of cows crossing. The countryside would die ; imagine how hard it would become for farmers.

So maybe it's not a such a good idea. Maybe it won't take off. Anyway it's pretty odd, the idea of  synthetic meat.

Thank you for listening - and no, I'm not a vegetarian".

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Transition Year English Evening 2014

On Tuesday 27th May we held the annual TY English Evening (the first was in 1994). As usual, several pupils read out pieces from their Work Portfolio to their peers, teachers, III formers, parents and the guest of honour, Ms Tania Banotti, Chief Executive of the Institute of Advertising Practitioners of Ireland, former CEO of Theatre Forum, and Chair of the College's Arts Committee. The evening was presented by Mr Girdham, Head of the Department. 

After hearing eight pupils read from their work, Tania Banotti commented on these pieces, and also made some general points. She pointed out the centrality of writing in her two professional areas of expertise, and said that putting words on paper made things real; feelings were translated into coherence (she cited Julia Cameron's book The Writer's Life). The habit of writing is particularly important, and pupils should keep this up; it will stand you in good stead in life generally to be able to stand back and write about what really matters. 

She said that all the writing she had heard was real and authentic, and not at all derivative or showy. Darcy Maule's 'My First School' showed a vivid eye, especially with small details, such as colour. It was a confident piece of writing, in which images were undercut by reality. Keeping on the educational theme, Harvey McCone wrote about his experience of learning Latin: this was a very real and touching piece, with the satisfying shape of a complete story, and an insight into a world most of us know little about.  Next came Laia Casas Abella, who produced an impassioned persuasive essay about abortion; this, said Tania Banotti, was strong, provocative and well-structured. A second piece about a first school, this time in Sweden, by Louvisa Karlsson-Smythe, was incredibly rich and densely written, an elegy to a vanished world that was a most sophisticated piece of writing.

Valentina Ascensio Munoz came next, with a sensitively written personal piece about 'Escape'. This was about creating your own world of the imagination - virtually a manifesto for being a writer. Freddie Morris's piece about his hobby, hockey, give a real sense of the sport, and was a strongly individual essay. 

The penultimate reader was Eleanor Moffitt, with a vivid and often funny account of her family's annual holiday in County Sligo, which started in media res, and could well have been broadcast on RTE Radio's 'Sunday Miscellany'. Finally, Hollie Canning's 'Last Supper' was richly described, and a model of how not to leave the favourite things in life to the end.

Ms Banotti commended the English Department teachers on the work of this year's Transition Year, and announced the Premier Award winners:- Elizaveta Kozhevnikova, Hollie Canning, Andrew Holt, Darcy Maule, Harvey McCone, Louvisa Karlsson-Smythe, Laia Casas Abella, George Perceval, Ciaran Chisholm. Congratulations to all.