Thursday, October 08, 2015

King Lear 2: I i - Love, and be silent

The second key moment in a series from King Lear's opening scene.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

King Lear 1: I i - confusion and uncertainty

Here is the first of a series of video/audio analyses of key moments in King Lear for sharpening up revision. First, the very first lines of the play. This is the fine new James Shapiro book referred to, 1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

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. October 2015: 'How much can you really learn while you're asleep?' by Jordan Gaines Lewis, The Guardian, October 6th 2015 [neuroscience, learning, adolescence].
  2. 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].
  3. September 2015: 'How Mum's dementia changed our relationship' by Jenny Downham, The Guardian, September 5th 2015 [dementia, family, parenting].
  4. September 2015: Why your memory sucks: the science of remembering in the internet age', by Lindsay Kolowich,, August 19th 2015 [memory, neurology, internet].
  5. September 2015: 'Syrian boy deserves better than moment of voyeurism' by Breda O'Brien, The Irish Times, September 5th 2015 [regugees, media, slavery].
  6. May 2015: 'Our Mockingbirds' by Fintan O'Mahony,, May 16th 2015 [marriage, equality, teaching].
  7. February 2015: 'Secrets of the teenage brain' by Katie Forster, The Guardian, January 25th 2015 [teenagers, neurology, parenting].
  8. January 2015: 'Does competitive sport in school do more harm than good?' by Matthew Jenkin, The Guardian, January 29th 2015 [sport, school, health].
  9. January 2015: 'Where are the "Je suis Nigeria" banners?' by Patrick Cockburn, Independent, January 18th 2015 [terrorism, Nigeria, censorship].
  10. January 2015: 'Dorchester Grill: restaurant review' by Jay Rayner, Guardian, December 28th 2014 [food, luxury, taste].
  11. January 2015: 'Sugar Season. It's Everywhere, and Addictive' by James J. DiNicolantonio and Sean C. Lucan,  New York Times, December 22nd 2014 [diet, nutrition, health].
  12. November 2014: 'Caring for my mother' by Alex Andreou, The Guardian, November 28th [dementia, old age, parents]. 
  13.  October 2014: 'The kids aren't all right' by David McWilliams,, October 23th 2014 [Ireland, recession, emigration]. 
  14. October 2014: 'Curiosity prepares the brain for better learning' by Daisy Yuhas, Scientific American, October 2nd 2014 [brain, learning, neuroscience]. 
  15. September 2014: 'Students protest 'slut shaming' high school dress codes with mass walkouts' by Rory Carroll, The Guardian, September 24th September 2014 [school, uniforms, sexism, personal choice].  
  16.  September 2014: 'Can Reading Make You Smarter?' by Dan Hurley, The Guardian, January 23rd 2014 [reading, intelligence, education].
  17.  September 2014: 'Why ISIL is worse than al-Qaeda'  by Bobby Ghosh, Quartz, August 10th 2014 [current affairs, politics, terrorism].
  18.  May 2014: 'Do Our Kids Get Off Too Easily?' by Alfie Kohn, New York Times, May 3rd 2015 [education, psychology, childhood]. 
  19. May 2014: 'Missing Nigerian schoolgirls: Boko Harem claims responsibility for kidnapping' by Monica Mark, The Guardian, May 6th 2014 [Nigeria, Islam].
  20.  March 2014: 'Can 10,000 hours of practice make you an expert?' by Ben Carter, BBC News Magazine, March 1st 2014 [education, skill, learning, talent].
  21.  February 2014: The Disunited Kingdom by Kathleen Jamie, New York Times, February 23rd 2014 [Scotland, democracy, politics].
  22.  February 2014: A giraffe has been killed - why the fuss? by Mary Warnock, The Guardian, February 10th 2014 [ethics, animals].
  23.  January 2014: The Roma - review of I Met Lucky People by Yaron Matras, by Sukhdev Sandhu, The Guardian, January 29th 2014 [Roma, prejudice, society]. 
  24. January 2014: 'We're a nation of mass dog murderers' by Aaron McKenna, The, January 18th 2014 [animals, society].
  25. January 2014: 'How Language Seems to Shape One's View of the World' by Alan Yu, NPR, January 2nd 2014 [language, bilingualism, brain].
  26. December 2013: 'Why European women are still smoking like chimneys' by Carmel Lobello, The Week, December 6th 2013 [health, marketing].
  27. December 2013: 'How Music Makes Us Feel Better' by Maria Konnikova, New Yorker, September 26th 2013 [music, brain].
  28. November 2013: 'How Do Spies Bug Phones?' in The Economist, October 31st 2013 [spying, internet, privacy]. 
  29. October 2013: 'A Tiny Pronoun Says a Lot About You' by Elizabeth Bernstein, Wall Street Journal, October 7th 2013 [language, psychology, status].
  30. October 2013: 'Best. Column. Ever.' by Shane Hegarty, Irish Times, October 4th 2013 [sport, language, journalism].
  31. October 2013: 'Westgate mall attacks: urban areas are the battleground of the 21st century' by David Kilcullen, The Guardian, September 27th 2013 [terrorism, conflict, cities].
  32. September 2013: 'Synesthesia Sells' by Laura Spinney, Slate, from the New Scientist, September 22nd 2013 [science, marketing, commerce].
  33. September 2013 : '12 things we know about how the brain works' by Shane Parrish, The Week, August 26th 2013 [science, learning, studying].
  34. September : 'Never be lost for words' by Richard Fitzpatrick, The Irish Times, September 13th 2013 [sport, language, rhetoric, motivation].

Friday, October 02, 2015

The Refugee Crisis

At last Sunday's Transition Year House Speech Competition, Felix Mertes came second with an excellent speech on the current refugee crisis. Here is the text of his speech:

You might have heard of the father and his son,  who were running for their lives through Hungarian border control. The father, carrying his 6 year old son on the back, was tripped up cruelly by an camerawoman and fell on the ground. A few weeks later, the two Syrian refugees arrived in Spain, and the father was offered a job at a football academy. As it turns out he was one of the best Syrian football coaches. Last weekend, his son accompanied Real Madrid superstar Ronaldo into the stadium. Things had changed. The refugees had found a safe, new home and a job while the camerawoman had lost hers.

Not many stories about refugees end well. About a week ago, a three year old refugee was washed ashore. The toddler had drowned after the boat he was on with his family had sunk.
The people in those two stories were Syrians, fleeing from their war torn country. And so do 12 million other Syrians, nearly twice the Irish population. They flee from the dictator Assad's reign of terror and Isis's horrible regime. There is no peaceful spot left in Syria.

Of the twelve million Syrian refugees, only 2% have reached Europe. On their way they faced obstacles such as dangerous boat trips, difficult walks, harsh border controls and barbed wire. Not many could overcome those difficulties. Families were split, people died and some got stuck on the way.

The Syrian refugees who have reached their destiny now face the struggle of being allowed to stay. That shouldn't even be the case, as under international law all refugees have a right for asylum, or simply a right to stay.

However, Europe in general is not very willing to accomodate those Syrian refugees. Some refugee opposers for example claim that "only" economic refugees, refugees who flee from poverty, are trying to stay in Europe. That is wrong as 62% of refugees come directly from war torn countries like Afghanistan and Syria.

There are also claims that there is not enough space for all the refugees in Europe. But how come then that Syria's neighbouring countries like Lebanon or Jordan can hold so many refugees? In underdeveloped Lebanon, 1 out of 5 people are Syrians. So how come strong Europe is struggling with only a little amount of refugees ?

Now in fairness, some countries do show some support. In Germany for example, refugees arriving at at a train station were welcomed by a cheering crowd. Citizen initiatives are  providing language classes, food and other basic needs. But the support is limited: for example right-wing extremists attack asylum seekers and burn their homes. You don't really see those pictures though as the image of the helping German has become more dominant, although asylum homes are attacked as much as ever before. 

Now I don't want this to become a speech about the German refugee crisis, but I just want to say that I think it is on Germany, which has a powerful status, to welcome and integrate refugees in order to set an example. If my country could do that, I would be very proud of it.

But in general, the refugee crisis affects us all. It will be on all of us to help and welcome these people. Cultures will clash and there certainly will be difficulties. But if we do help, it will benefit to us all. Many, not all, of the refugees are educated and young and countries with an ageing population will need those people. Welcomed refugees will be thankful and even the smallest things will make a difference.

Also, see it as a test for Europe. Europe has been very peaceful and dealt with the past issues successfuly. If we can represent the ideas of Europe like peace, friendship and unity, we will be able to deal with this issue as well. It is on us. Will we accept behaviour like from the camerawoman ? Or will we deal with those people and integrate the refugees ? If we do, they will be a great addition to us and will make us even more colourful. Thank You.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Temporary Full-Time Teacher of English

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English Department

We require a temporary full-time teacher of English Literature and Language from Wednesday 6th January 2016 to Friday 24th June 2016.

Applicants must be fully-qualified teachers, ideally with some experience, must be native English speakers, and have appropriate Garda vetting.

Applications, including a CV and the names and addresses of two referees, should be forwarded as soon as possible, and by 9am on Monday 19th October at the latest, to:

The Warden, St Columba’s College, Whitechurch, Dublin 16, Ireland. e-mail:

Further information:

The person appointed will be a member of a tightly-knit and hard-working team of four teachers, and will teach small sets in the following years (numbers are set sizes) : Primary (12, equivalent of Primary school 6th class), First (11), Third (14), Fourth (15, Transition Year), Fifth (15) and Sixth (16).

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Poem of the Week 78

After a hiatus, today we are resuming our 'Poem of the Week' scheme, in which poems are posted around the College, and read out and discussed in English class. The idea was originally prompted by 'Poems on the Underground'.

On resumption, our 78th Poem of the Week is Wendy Cope's 'Names', about her grandmother.

Monday, September 07, 2015

TY Extended Essay 2015: choosing your books

Here are many suggestions for TY selecting their books for their major Extended Essays this term (there is plenty of overlap).

Sunday, September 06, 2015

'Hamlet' pre-reading

Here is a simple pre-reading activity for Hamlet, which we are currently starting in Fifth Form: six sentences taken from the first scene, without any context or explanation. Either individually or, better still in class discussion, consider them. Each slide moves on after 5 seconds, so pause each for proper thought/discussion or just use the 'forward' arrow.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

English 2017

Pupils return today for another school year. When we see our Fifth Form tomorrow, we will be handing out our second self-published Leaving Certificate textbook, English 2017 (front cover above - photography by Pippa Moritz. Click on it for a closer look). We've written before on the excellent self-publishing service, which has again done us proud, with 70 perfect copies arriving a few days after ordering. 

Last year's English 2016 incorporated a fine translation of Antigone by Ian Johnston, Research Associate at Vancouver Island University in Canada, and again Iain has generously given us permission to use his (again, excellent) translation of Oedipus the King. Both plays by Sophocles are used for the comparative module of our course (this time, with Donal Ryan's The Spinning Heart alongside The Great Gatsby).  Ian's site is here, dedicated to the memory of his son, Geoffrey.

Publishing our own book also gives us the ability to distribute it electronically to teachers and pupils. We incorporate advice, reading lists, lists of podcasts and other resources.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Summer Reading 2: 'I Was a Boy in Belsen'

Last year senior pupils had a memorable visit and talk from the Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental, and many bought copies of his memoir I Was a Boy in Belsen. We hope many have read it in the months since Tomi's powerful talk, and the summer, on holiday with family, may well be the best time to do this: time to count our blessings that we have never had to experience what Tomi did. He writes clearly, directly with without adornment about the Jewish Slovenian experience, and then the horrifying conditions in Belsen itself (the section about the death of his grandmother is particularly heart-breaking). In the earlier pages, describing his rural upbringing, he is more expansive and almost lyrical: this makes the experience of the Holocaust seen by a child all the more devastating.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Leaving Certificate results, 2015

Congratulations to our candidates on their results in the Leaving Certificate, which set a new College record of 472 points per person. More details can be read on the College site here.

In English, 89% of our candidates sat the English exam at Higher Level (compared to 68% nationally).

  • 7% of all our candidates achieved an A at Higher Level (nationally, 6.1% of all candidates achieved this).
  • 39% achieved a B (nationally, 18.4% of all candidates).
  • 36% 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 and 2014.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer Reading 1

For lots of books to relish during the holidays, go to our summer reading list (which includes an archive of previous years). During July and August there will be intermittent posts on other books.

One of the books of poetry on this list is Anthony Wilson's recent superb anthology Lifesaving Poems (Bloodaxe). The best introduction of the moving spirit of the book is Wilson's own on his site.  Essentially, it his selection of poems (one per poet) which have meant a lot to him at various points in his life, followed by a personal explanation, each a page or so long. There are relatively few anthology 'regulars' here, and one of the delights of the book is the number of poems picked from magazines and small independent publishers. Another delight is Wilson's commentary: his pieces are highly accessible, passionate and persuasive.

Perfect for the summer: start the morning with or two poems and their commentaries over breakfast (we failed to keep to this discipline, but it's now time to revisit the poems in a more leisurely way).

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Summer Reading list, 2015

In 2010 we started issuing parents' summer reading lists after some requests (to match the ones we were providing for pupils - click here). Here is this year's (read it online below via Issuu: click once for a closer view, again for the closest, and download it directly here). Go past the 2015 picks and you have the accumulated choices over the last five years: 113 books over 21 pages. Enjoy.

The Oldest Person I Know

For her TY Work Portfolio, Robyn Brady wrote this piece, which she also read out at the TY English Evening last month:

The Oldest Person I Know

I don't actually know that many old people if I’m honest. I know “of” them, like my mum's uncle, and aunt, who I’ve heard stories of but never met in person. They’re old, possibly nearing their 80’s. But no one can compare to my to the little old lady who lives in the house in front of mine.

She’s a very mysterious creature. I’ve only met her three times. The first time was when we had just moved into our house after re-constructing it. She had the loudest dogs in the neighbourhood. Two enormous huskies. They barked all through the day and night non-stop. There was a little forested area between our houses at the time: it was overgrown and unkempt, much like relationships she had with all of her other neighbours.

Not many people try to get to know her: she isn’t pleasant on the eye, but also not unpleasant either. Her hair is mostly white, with a slight purple undertone. She keeps it under a clear hat, but this isn’t any kind of rain hat: this one is triangular in shape and she ties it under her chin. The skin under her eyes droops over the top of her cheekbones. 

The rest of her skin is worn with age, and she spends most of her summers abroad, giving her the appearance of an old leather bag with cracks. The rest of her face is very wide and bony; her jawline is speckled with hairs that make her face look like a peach, fluffy and round. Her eyebrows are always immaculately filled in, which surprises me because her hands shake all the time. Her neck is long and veiny, and constantly covered by her collection of rosary beads.

She lives alone in a large two story Victorian house. The house appears gothic to me, but it has an air of elegance. Its large white doors tower over her when she opens the door. I have never been inside the house but from my glimpses through the door I can tell she is a pack rat. Boxes overflow with trinkets and clothes. Her staircase is full of books. On a marble table beside the door sits a vase with dead sunflowers. They areher prize and glory. In the summer she grows them high enough for them to peek through the forested area, brightening up the dull browns and greens. She comes out of her house everyday at the same time, just before noon. She limps heavily to a battered red car that is covered with cobwebs. Then she leaves her house and comes back just before the six o’clock news.

When she talks she cocks her head to the left, and with a monotonous voice she slides her words together. She never shows any large amount of affection, except for two things: her dogs and her husband. Her dogs howling incessantly causes many of the neighbourhood disputes. One neighbour even tried to muzzle her dogs while she was out one day, which I thought was a very forward and disrespectful act towards a woman whom these people never got to know. This was the day that I heard her speak for the first time. As her mouth let out a hoarse croaky gasp, her eyes were just as amazed as ours, they slightly watered, but her bottom lip pushed up to her top lip to show her look of despite, and her eyes turned to slits. It was possibly one of the scariest moments of my life: her words didn’t slide into each other and as she roared at the man who had muzzled the dogs. Steam must have been trying to come out her ears because her face was so red. She screamed a lot of descriptive words in between her cursing. One line I distinctly remember was: “That flaming man will be the death of all of us.” Needless to say that man was just as flabbergasted as we were.  I was practically pushed into my house so I wouldn’t see what happened. All I know was that the police came by.

I said she was also affectionate towards her husband, this was towards a certain extent. He was also quite mysterious. He had a cleft chin with a little white stringy beard. He wore big round glasses that fell off the tip of his nose a lot. He had a very lop-sided walk that made him look like he was limping, but it was because one leg was shorter than the other. He left earlier than she did in the morning, and he arrived back way after my bedtime. 

The day of her husband's funeral was the last day I saw her. She looked even older than she normally did. Her hair wasn’t as purple and her lips were weighed down on the corners. Her wrinkles pressed together so hard that her face couldn’t even relax. The clothes on her shoulders just hug there aimlessly. She sat in the first pew alone. But if she hadn’t have been sitting alone, you could still see she was alone. Her presence was dim and unwelcoming, like she didn’t want anyone to fill the gaping hole in her heart. She’s the oldest person I know, and I think she's the oldest person she knows too, because with the few people that came to her husband's funeral, I began to see why she didn’t want anyone to fill the hole in her heart. There was only one person who could.

The Importance of Rugby

For his Work Portfolio in Transition Year, Luis Diaz Pines Cort wrote about the importance of rugby in his life (as a new pupil this year), an essay he read out at the TY English Evening last month:

Good morning everybody and welcome to “Luis On Air”. Today we’re going to talk about the importance of rugby in our own lives. Quite often people thinks that rugby is a hooligan’s sport and that rugby players are just big beasts without brains, but that’s completely wrong. Rugby is a very intellectual and complex sport that not everyone can play.

Rugby has taught me a lots of things, and not only things related to sport, but values and principles that are very useful for life. To be more precise, I have learned from rugby values like effort, humility and the desire to excel. 

To be honest I think that rugby has been more important in my education than various classes and teachers that I have had during the years. Once an Irish monk said: “Rugby is my main tool to teach the children a good way of life”. I strongly agree with this sentence because I think that if everyone has played rugby for a couple of years this world would be better.

Rugby plays a very important role in my daily life. My life is sometimes stressful, above all during exams time or when I have an especially important essay or whatever. Rugby helps me to relax and get out of my life for a couple of hours. When I’m down the pitch, whether playing a match or training I don’t need to think about my problems or responsibilities.  It’s just do my best and, after that, I feel really good and relaxed.

Actually the thing that makes me be more thankful is the friendships that I have made thanks to rugby. Almost all my friends play rugby and definitely all my best friends play rugby. This is not because I don’t like people who don't play it, it’s just because when you play rugby with someone that makes a kind of a brother relationship, you protect that person and you trust him completely, first on the pitch, and then off it. 
To keep playing rugby through the years is one of my goals for the future. In Spain the level is lower than here in Ireland so I think I will be able to join the Spanish Selection and play in a professional league to earn some money while I’m studying a career in the university, because I would also like to do so.

It’s pretty obvious listening to this speech that I think that rugby is a great sport that could help everyone and  make the world a better place to live. 

Thank you all for listening and I hope you enjoyed it! 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

'The Submarine', summer edition

The latest edition of the Library magazine, 'The Submarine', is now out online just in time for some holiday reading, and you can read it below via Issuu (click for a closer look, again for the closest, and use the arrows for navigation). 

In his editorial, Librarian Tom McConville writes engagingly about the importance of 'doing nothing' and of school leavers - in particular - not letting themselves being commodified during their adult lives.These wise words are followed by a series of individual pupil voices (evidently still very much themselves), including poems by Tania Stokes, Poppy O'Malley, Andrew Pollock and Johnny Pollock, reviews by Harvey McCone and Douglas Boyd Crotty, and essays by Valentina Munoz Ascensio (on going home), and Nyla Jamieson (on that 'other' recent referendum, on Presidential age).

Saturday, June 13, 2015

European Standards of Beauty

Transition Year are finishing their academic year today with the annual Actiontrack show. Some have already left, and they completed their academic work at the end of May. Coming up, some Work Portfolio pieces they did over the last two terms.

First, here is Seyilogo Braithwaite's 'European Standards of Beauty', which she read out at the TY English Evening:

As a child, I grew up thinking that my nose, lips and my tummy were too big, my hair too frizzy and ultimately, my skin too dark. I was exposed to television and media at a very young age and so were all the other children I knew.

All the television shows, cartoons, movies and even dollies depicted the same beauty standards: a slim woman or girl with long, straight hair, coloured eyes, a pointy nose and thin lips. As a young dark skinned girl, I obviously lacked all of those features and soon, I began to desire to resemble those beautiful women I saw on TV.

There was a point in my life when I aspired to be Caucasian. I was around the age of six. What I did first was convince my mother to let me relax the incredibly frizzy and curly mane of hair sitting atop my head. I remember thinking to myself that "no one on TV has curly hair so why should I?" I wasn't the only one who thought that. All my friends where perming their hair as well in our struggles to look more "beautiful". By the time I was eight, I knew just two people with unrelaxed hair. It was almost like a trend amongst us.

Can you imagine six year olds hating themselves and their skin purely because of what the television shows them? It's awful. Women of colour are so underrepresented by the media and it is so unfair. Whitewashing was so common that even the dollies that we were supposed to have fun with imposed European standards of beauty on us forcing us to feel inferior. All the Barbies I owned were white with blonde hair and blue eyes and I too wanted to look like them. I remember the first black doll I had. I thought it was incredibly ugly and wanted to throw it away. When my mother asked me why, I told her I thought it was ugly. The only reason I didn't want the doll was because of its colour. If the doll was white, I would have taken it with open arms because the only reason it disgusted me was because it was black. A doll the same colour as me disgusted me.

Thinking back, I am horrified by those actions and how much I wished to wake up white and beautiful. It wasn't my fault though. It's what the media depicts as beauty. It is unfair to subject black children to just those standards of beauty. The lack of black actresses, models and dolls in my childhood taught me to hate my skin. Not everyone is like me. I was able to get back up from that there is nothing wrong with me but some girls aren't so lucky. I have friends that bleach their dark, beautiful skin in an attempt to be lightskinned. People don't really understand the psychological damage these beauty standards can do to young, black children. They grow up hating the skin they're in because they aren't taught to love themselves. The media etches images into our heads of what we should aspire to look like instead of teaching us how to love ourselves.

It took me years to accept myself and I am finally at that point where I love myself. My skin is dark, my hair is curly, my lips are big, my eyes are a dark brown, and I love it. I am sick of subjecting myself to the European standards of beauty because I am not European. I am black and I am beautiful.