Wednesday, September 28, 2016

'O that this too too solid flesh'

Pupils should check out the soliloquy pages on Firefly, where you can check out many versions of the four main speeches. Here is one of four on the first soliloquy from Hamlet (by Jonathan Slinger of the RSC):

Monday, September 19, 2016

Articles of the Week

This is an ongoing listing of links to the Articles of the Week used with our Leaving Certificate pupils, from September 2013 onwards.

The idea came from the American teacher and writer Kelly Gallagher, and it fits very well into the Leaving course, getting pupils used to reading interesting articles and thus helping them in both the comprehension and composition sections of their Paper 1, as well as expanding their knowledge base and vocabulary and providing interesting topics for discussion.

Click here for Gallagher's current articles, and read more about the theory behind the scheme in his excellent book Readicide: how schools are killing reading and what you can do about it. Pupils have to mark up the articles with annotations before class discussion.

  1. September 2016: 'Why Parents are Getting Angrier' by Nicola Skinner, The Guardian, September 3rd 2016 [parenting, psychology, childhood].
  2. September 2016: 'Burkini beach ban: must French Muslim women become invisible?' by Delphine Strauss, The Irish Times, August 22nd 2016 [culture, Islam, France].
  3. May 2016: 'How can Lidl sell jeans for £5.99?' by Gethin Chamberlain, The Guardian, March 13th 2016 [economics, retailing, manufacture].
  4. April 2016: 'Teaching men how to be emotionally honest' by Anrew Reiner, New York Times, April 4th 2016 [gender, adolescence, masculinity].
  5. February 2016: 'Then and now: how things have changed for teenage girls since the 1950s' by Clare Furniss, The Guardian, January 29th 2016 [teenagers, gender, sexism].
  6. January 2016: 'Teenagers risk being defined for life by their social media posts' by Karlin Lilllington, Irish Times, January 14th 2016 [social media, teenagers, identity].
  7. January 2016: 'Welcome to the Anthropocene, a new geological era for the world', The Week, January 8th 2016 [geology, climate change, environment].
  8. November 2015: 'Birth Order Determines ... Almost Nothing' by Jeanne Safer, [psychology, parenting, childhood].
  9. November 2015: 'How psychopaths can save your life' by Kevin Dutton, The Observer [psychology].
  10. November 2015: '10 benefits of reading: why you should read every day' by Lana Winter-Hebert, [reading, entertainment, education].
  11. October 2015: 'How much can you really learn while you're asleep?' by Jordan Gaines Lewis, The Guardian, October 6th 2015 [neuroscience, learning, adolescence].
  12. September 2015: 'Fifth of secondary school pupils wake almost every night to use social media' by Sally Weale, The Guardian, September 15th 2015 [social media, learning, teenagers].

Thursday, September 15, 2016

SCC Book Club Choice

The choice this term (all pupils are welcome) is Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It will be discussed on Tuesday 25th October in the Library at 1.20pm. See Mrs Donnelly for further details, and to discuss getting a copy.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award

Many congratulations to Tania Stokes, now in Third Form, who has been awarded third place in the Junior category of the Patrick Kavanagh Centre Student Poetry competition, 2016. Tania is the current (repeat) holder of our own Junior Poetry Prize.

The awards will be presented on Sunday 2nd October, during the annual Patrick Kavanagh Weekend at Inniskeen in County Monaghan, with the ceremony presided over by adjudicator Noel Monaghan.

Friday, September 02, 2016

10 Years Old

This site started ten years ago, with a post during the summer holidays. But really it got going properly at the start of the autumn term in 2006. At the time it was one of the very few blogs in Irish education.

In ten years there have been almost 2000 posts, and the site has generated a huge number of connections and opportunities, hosted lots of resources, gained a few awards and plenty of recognition, and been the showcase for the excellence of pupil work at our school.

This term we become the first school in the Republic of Ireland to use the Firefly Learning system, and our connections with pupils from now on will be through that (a 'walled garden' open only to the College community). Many of the resources developed here will be embedded into our Firefly pages, too. But this site will still be the outward face of our Department, and indeed resources and writing developed within Firefly will still make their way here.

And we're always on Twitter.

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 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.