Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Summer Reading

A shorter version of our annual Books of the Year round-up, for the summer months, since there are a few lists floating around at the moment.
  • First of all, of course, are our own summer reading suggestions: for teenagers, for adults (and the extended version is here, including past editions). One that didn't make it in on time (review coming soon): The Boy Behind the Curtain: notes from an Australian Life, Tim Winton's superb collection of essays. As Roger Cox in his Scotsman review says, it's " a book that grabs you by the scruff and forces you to take a good, hard look into the author’s soul."
  • The English & Media Centre has a good list of recommended reads, with Young Adult books, including Sara Baume's latest, A Line Made by Walking. In the young adult section, Daniel Pennac's The Eye of the Wolf sounds interesting.
  • The Irish Times gathers writers such as Anne Enright, Joseph O'Connor and Anne Emerson. Claire Kilroy recommends John Banville's memoir Time Pieces.
  • The Guardian has two bumper lists from authors: part one and part two. Several writers recommend the latest novel from Colm Tóibín, his version of the story of the House of Atreus, House of Names. There's also this shortened list, "If you only read one book this summer … make it this one"
  • The TLS's list has plenty of ambitious reading. Ian Sansom writes that "June Caldwell’s first short collection, Room Little Darker (New Island Books), promises to do for the Irish short story what Jeremy Corbyn has done for the Labour Party" which gets the award for most opaque comment of the summer. 
  • The New York Times has Books to Breeze Through This Summer by Janet Maslin. No One is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts sound intriguing: "Set in North Carolina, Watts’s book envisions a backwoods African-American version of The Great Gatsby. The circumstances of her characters are vastly unlike Fitzgerald’s, and those differences are what make this novel so moving."
  • PBS in America has "19 summer books that will keep you up all night reading". Louise Erdrich rightly goes for the brilliant Donna Leon Brunetti series.
  • The Washington Post has 37 books on its summer list, with links to the original reviews.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Summer Reading list for parents

Last time we posted the Library reading suggestions list for pupils. Now it's time for the annual/biennial reading suggestions for parents. Here are 26 books over 6 pages, but if that's not enough there's an extended list of 26 pages with all the previous editions here. See both below via Issuu.

Happy summer reading.

Extended version:

The Submarine, June 2017

The latest (bumper) edition of the Library magazine The Submarine is now online. Edited by Fifth Former Nyla Jamieson, it contains articles by pupils on our four long-serving retiring teachers, Felix Alyn Morgan on Samuel Beckett's connection with the College, an article on 'Lucid Dreaming' by Nevin McCone, Mr McCarthy on 'what really annoys me' (spoiler: Jose Mourinho. A lot), Dr Bannister on the dangers of rugby, a book review by Alex Lawrence, the author Joseph O'Connor on how a novel changed his life (romantically), poems by Eliza Somerville and Tania Stokes, Garry Bannister again on Patrick Ussher's book on POTS syndrome and plenty more!

Read it below via Issuu. Use the arrows to navigate, and click for closer view.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Summer Reading List for pupils

The summer reading list returns, compiled by Librarian Jean Kent-Sutton. This one has an excellent array spread across sections such as Junior Fiction, the shortlist for the 2017 Carnegie Medal (young adults), Irish authors, Classic fiction, Poetry, Gender and Identity, Non-Fiction and Biography.

You can read it on Issuu below (flip through the pages, and zoom in too), and can download it directly from this link.  Happy summer reading...

Friday, June 09, 2017

Leaving Certificate Paper 2

(See analysis of Paper 1 here).

The hordes poured out of exam centres an hour ago after the marathon which is the English literature paper.

No reasons to complain here at Higher Level. Our central text, Hamlet, had two questions all should have been able to handle comfortably - the play as a 'disturbing psychological thriller' and a question on Laertes and Horatio, both of whom our pupils have been well-prepared for (again, the single text questions on The Great Gatsby were very straightforward).

Comparative study featured General Vision and Viewpoint, and Theme or Issue, with all four questions being remarkably undemanding, and pulling away from the tighter more defined questions of recent years.

Robyn Sarah's poem 'Bounty' was the unseen choice, a good one which provided plenty of material for consideration. Boland, Donne, Keats and Bishop were the line-up of prescribed poets, and again the questions seemed less defined and constrained than recently (there's a fondness for 'doubles' - 'symbols and metaphors', 'playful and challenging', 'style and content', 'sensuous language and vivid imagery'...).

At Ordinary Level, it was good to see the playful 'poet of Twitter', Brian Bilston feature with the unseen poem being 'For We Shall Stare at Mobile Phones'. The rest of the paper was as straightforward as always at this level.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Leaving Certificate Paper 1

The Leaving Certificate exams started this morning, as always with English Paper 1. Now, this afternoon, this evening and tomorrow morning there is the annual stress-fest which is final-hours' preparation for the literature papers.

At Higher Level, this year the 'general theme' was 'Different Worlds' (though it is doubtful if this theme ever sinks into the consciousness of most candidates, or ever matters). There was an interesting selection of comprehension texts, starting with 'The World of Poetry', which combined images, poetry and prose in its use of this Guardian article from last year from by Marta Bausells on the poet Robert Montgomery, and his work on billboards. There was plenty here for candidates to get their heads around. The 'B' question which followed brought Paper 2 into Paper 1 (not the first time this has happened), by asking candidates to choose three poems from their course for display, and an article on the school website (any real purpose to this in terms of language register?) explaining the choice.

Text 2, 'A Connected World' was by the fine political and cultural commentator Timothy Garton Ash, with some thought-provoking analysis of how 'the internet subverts the traditional unities of time and space'.  Again, this will have challenged candidates. Online news appeared in the B question - very much a subject de nos jours.

Another excellent writer, Paul Auster, produced Text 3, 'The World of Childhood', an extract from his memoir Report from the Interior, followed by a radio talk for the B essay on the candidate's own childhood.

Overall, this added up to a well-selected and interesting triad. Nothing bland or predictable there. 

There were plenty of accessible options for candidates in the main composition section (though number 4  - "write a short story in which a tattoo plays an important part in the narrative" seemed what teenagers would call 'random'). A descriptive piece called 'Night Scene' and a personal essay about insights and revelations offered wide scope.

Then there was the playful Question 5: 'Imagine it is the Stone Age and you have just invented the wheel. Write a dialogue in dramatic form, in which you introduce and promote your invention to your sceptical friends and neighbours.' Now that's one to steer clear of unless you've got real ability. One that could go downhill quite quickly, or at least run out of steam, or at worse fall flat on its face (after going downhill and running out of steam).

At Ordinary Level, which a handful of our candidates sat, there was another excellent author, Donal Ryan, whose most recent novel All We Shall Know, is just out in paperback, and is highly recommended, as well as a piece by a Syrian refugee, Nujeen Mustafa, and a piece comparing schooling in the past with the future (teachers as robots - yes please! Now we can all go off to the beach). The Compositions, as always at this level, were straightforward. A piece about childhood items discovered in your parents' attic was good. A short story about a family regretting adopting a robot would stretch Ordinary candidates.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Transition Year English Evening, 2017

On Tuesday last we held the 24th annual TY English Evening in the Big Schoolroom. The guest speaker this time was Professor Colin Graham, Head of the English Department at Maynooth University.

Eight pieces from the recent Work Portfolio were read out by their writers: Ross Magill (his first Primary school); David White (the nature of 'failure'); Lucy Maher ('A Picky Eater'); Toby Green (Blanche Dubois's diary); Anna Bofferding (Donald Trump and World War III); Andre Stokes (a poem called 'Young Musician'); Casper v d Schuelenberg ('The Oldest Person I Know' - the Holocaust survivor Marko Feingold); William Zitzmann ('Thought Bubbles', assisted by Grace Goulding).

Professor Graham commented with great attentiveness and sympathy on these pieces, saying how much he was impressed by the writing on display. Each piece had made him think of another writer. He stressed the vital importance of a multiplicity of voices in today's world, and how important it was that young people lead this way (in many ways his own generation has failed them).  He quoted from Sam Riviere's controversial book of poems Kim Kardashian's Wedding.

Finally, the Premier Awards were announced after this year's course:  
Ross Magill, Helen Crampton, Harry Oke-Osanintolu, Catherine Butt, Caspar von der Schülenburg, Julius Reblin, JiWoo Park, William Zitzmann, Toby Green, Isabelle Townshend, Sophia von Wedel, Nicole Birlain Zeigler.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Voices of Poetry 2017

 Last Sunday evening saw the annual Voices of Poetry magic in the Big Schoolroom. Expertly marshalled by Mr Swift, a mixture of pupils and staff read out short poems in English and many other languages.

Primary pupil Carl Krenski kicked off with a Robert Service poem, and, from the other end of the school Senior Prefect Blanaid Sheeran gave us 'The Voice You Hear When You Read Silently' by the fine American Poet Thomas Lux.

The first Nigerian language, Urhobo, was represented by a poem read by Ella Ejase-Tobrise, and the second, Yoruba, by Seyilogo Braithwaite. Mimi Garcia (Catalan) and Casper von der Schuelenburg (Spanish) followed, and this foreign language section was completed by Elena Sirazetdinova reading her own poem in Russia with compelling intensity.

The winner of the Junior Poetry Prize, Tania Stokes, read this poem, 'Resonance', for which she was awarded the prize.

Kim Voggel (German), Aleksandra Murphy (Polish),  Lucas Cho (Korean), Vietnamese (William Zitzmann) and Irish (Katherine Kelly, with Megan Bulbulia providing the English translation) were next up.

Three long-term teachers, who are shortly retiring, gave their poetic 'valetes' - Dr Garry Bannister, Mrs Frances Heffernan and Mr Fraser Morris. There was a mixture of the light-hearted, the deeply personal and the grippingly emotional in the five poems they recited.

French (Nyla Jamison), Yoruba again (Harry Oke-Osanyintolu) and Latin (Julius Reblin with some Horace, and JiWoo Park with the translation) completed the foreign language poems, before the Warden gave a memorable rendition of Hilaire Belloc's 'Matilda', which he knew off by heart.

Finally, another Primary pupil brought us full-circle, with Nikolai Foster reading Yeats's beautiful 'Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven', an appropriately magical end to the evening.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Peter Dix Memorial Prize for Poetry 2017

Congratulations to Nevin McCone, who has won this year's Senior Poetry Prize, presented in memory of Old Columban Peter Dix, who died in the Lockerbie tragedy in 1988. Here are three of his poems.


Connecting trains sever hearts,
Ending stories before they’ve even begun.
On lonely platforms lovers depart,
Two separate journeys, both ending one.

Palms on glass that never quite touch,
“I’ll write to you,” lies, he’ll miss you too much.
Smiling you hear him, tightening your disguise,
Yet he can see through you, to the tears in your eyes.

As the train pulls off, amongst smoke and commotion,
Your heart skips a beat; cardiac locomotion.
Suddenly he’s gone, far back in this distance,
But you think of him still, savouring his existence.

Alone he stands at the connecting train station,
Yearning for you in romantic desperation.
On the lonely platform, lovers have departed,
Destroying the journey they’d only just started.


We bump into strangers, mumbling hello,
And ignore some, letting them wander by.
Yet we pick up others, as friends to grow,
For these few join us, companions for life.
To be in close proximity of friends
Is a foundation, which friends deeply need;
Though hearing their tales of love and love’s end
Is the actual meaning, note, take heed.

Seeing joy (a result of your presence)
And joining up with different people,
Is addictive, despite rare occurrence.
A monumental social upheaval.
Savour these beings, place them in your heart.
Never lose them, or let them drift apart.

I went fishing with grandad,
Once upon a time,
To catch memories in the cove.
Grandad never lied.

We walked down together,
Both hand in hand
To that quiet stony inlet,
The sun splitting the sand.

“There are mermaids that live here,
Believe me I’ve seen them.
It’s said they emerge
To brave hearted sea-men.”

So with laughter as bait
We cast out our lines,
Disturbing the tranquil
With a twinkle in our eyes.

Yet the day still grew old
and the light, it defected,
But we made our way home,
Feeling evermore connected.

“What did you catch?,”
Inquired mum when we arrived.
“Memories in the cove,”
Grandad never lied.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

'Hamlet' resources

This post summarises useful resources for our pupils studying Hamlet as their single text in the Leaving Certificate. [updated May 2017]
  1. The whole text of the play: put it on your own computer...
  2. A series of 15 video/audio analyses of moments, using the ShowMe app for iPad.
  3. The whole text of Hamlet as a Wordle (click on the image for a bigger view). \
  4. A recording of the 1993 BBC radio version with Kenneth Branagh.
  5. SCC English revision podcasts are here, on 'The first soliloquy','The first scene', and two ones which gather the 10 Characters series (below).
  6. 10 Characters in Hamlet: our 5-minute podcasts on 'lesser' characters: Fortinbras, Horatio, Laertes, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Polonius, Ophelia, The First Player, Osric, The First Gravedigger.
  7. An excellent resource: the BBC Archive Hamlet.
  8. Miriam Poulton's review of the excellent National Theatre Live production, starring Rory Kinnear.
  9. Radio documentary by 'This American Life' called 'Act V' on a prison production of the play.
  10. Links to six press reviews of the Kinnear Hamlet.
  11. Shakespeare Searched: a 'Google for Shakespeare' - terrific resource for looking up quotations, self-testing and so on.
  12. The Ten Best Hamlets.
  13. The Hamlet Weblog.
  14. Alan Stanford's Hamlet masterclass, on RTE Radio (4 programmes in January 2011).
  15. A quotation auto-test (and below; see the first slides for instructions)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Minds Made for Stories

One of the essential books for English teachers is was Thomas Newkirk's The Art of Slow Reading. Another excellent read is his 2014 book Minds Made for Stories: how we really read informational and persuasive texts. Newkirk's central idea is that all good writing has narrative at its core, and that narrative is not a discrete 'genre' (despite the crude divisions of our English Leaving Certificate course).

He starts 'Our theories are really disguised autobiographies, often rooted in childhood. That is the case with this book', and there are plenty of good stories and interesting references to back up his own theory. His writing, also, is blessedly free of educational jargon.

'We need stories, not simply for aesthetic pleasure, but to reassure ourselves that we live in a comprehensible world'.

'Narrative is not a type of writing. Or not merely a type of writing. It has deeper roots than that. It is a property of mind, an innate and indispensable form of understanding, as instinctive as our fear of falling, as our need for human company.'

There's lots more to explore. English teachers should do so.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Dragon

Emma Hinde from First Form wrote this poem for the Junior Poetry Prize recently:

The Dragon 

The dragon
Coiled like a loaded spring
Preparing to pounce

His till-now dormant energy
Going to hit reality
Ready to jump

His leg muscles relaxing
His tail up for balance
Leaving the ground

His wings spread wide
His eyes ever alert
Up in the air

His mighty mouth open
Revealing huge, toothy jaws
Breathing a flame

His ruby red belly
Now visible to all
While he’s spiralling lazily

O what a majestic beast
To take to the skies

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

There Will be a Time

For the recent Junior Poetry Prize, Aleksandra Murphy wrote this poem:

There Will be a Time

There will be a time
When the earth will be drained
Depleted of fuel, that was yesterday
It will be empty and pained
Leaking from its punctures and hollowing everyday

There will be a time
When there will be nothing left to burn
Gases clog the atmosphere, a major concern
Your permanent footprint
Embedded in the sky forever will exist

There will be a time
When there will be no more green
Where vegetation was once seen
It will be barren and bare
Left in dried despair

There will be a time
When you won't distinguish night from day
There won't be any stalking shadows following your way
None of this worries me, you said
You will be long dead.

Monday, May 08, 2017

The Moment of a Force

This runner-up for the recent Junior Poetry Prize is by Eliza Somerville:
The Moment of a Force

Over the crest of the hill
I came, making steady progress.  
The sun beat down; the air became
A heavy weight upon my shoulders.

I crashed through the heather and bracken
On the hilltop, bright purple and dark green.
The scent of yellow gorse hung in the air,
Making the journey sweeter.

Finally, I reached the highest point;
A heap of stones marked the peak.
I turned to face the valley for the first time
Allowing myself to look back.

On the far side I saw houses, cars driving by.
A small stream snaked down the hillside,
Shining and rippling like a silver ribbon,
But my eyes came to rest on another sight.

There they were, perched atop the furthest mountain,
Wind turbines, gleaming blindingly white in the sun.
Their pointed arms cut through the air,
Steady and constant like the beat of a drum.

As they moved, a swishing noise reached my ears.
Making energy from air; an immense power.
They harness the forces of nature,
Allowing life in the valley to use their energy.

My own energy was depleted from the long climb
But the turbines will never tire.
Turning round and round, their cycle goes on,
As they create power for us all.

A comforting thought, somehow.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017


One of the runners-up in the recent Junior Poetry Prize was Aurora Higgins-Jennings, and here is her poem 'Burnout'.

The light went out
All energy gone.
The life in her eyes,
Lost for far too long.

Impossibly certain
Unnervingly sure
All the commotion -
Too much to endure.

The life heartbeats and energy
Left her existence so suddenly.

How was I not to crack,
If she would not be coming back?

Eyes once flames of fire.
Hers were dead,
Not just tired.

Shakespeare Prize

Congratulations to Harry Oke-Osanyintolu, winner of this year's Willis Memorial Prize for Shakespeare. The exam for this was held last term, and Harry wrote very well on the unseen sonnet, as well as in the general question, using mostly his knowledge from studying Julius Caesar earlier in Transition Year.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Junior Poetry Prize, 2017

Congratulations to Tania Stokes, winner of this year's Junior Poetry Prize. Here is her entry, and other good entries will be posted in coming days.

'Resonance' by Tania Stokes 

I balanced on the strings. 
Light as a tightrope walk: 
Tentative, timid.
The first sound crept

At the draw of the bow 
Like some small creature 
From the dark. 

I missed my mark.
The tone not true,
My arrow flew into 

Nothing. The music played 
Itself in my head. Pure, 
Featherweight. Nimble. 

I composed myself;
I could see it, crystalline, 

The filigree lines.
I fixed my aim.
No stray note would escape. 

I would catch it
And carve it to perfection. 

But I was mistaken
In my reflection.
A cello’s purpose
Is not to take away –
Music grows. Its source?
A spark. Music throws flames 

To the dark, illuminates hearts. 

I reached deep, my arrow
Steeped in power. The melody,
I let it fly and it soared high –
It felt alive. I dived
Into the rising tide, and once inside, 

I let it carry me to shore.
Music is more than perfection.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

William Trevor evening

As part of the College's Arts Week, on Thursday 23rd March we held an event to mark the life and writings of William Trevor, Old Columban.  The guest of honour was the novelist Joseph O'Connor (pictured), who talked about writing in general, and Trevor's writing in particular, after reading beautifully to the audience Trevor's great short story 'Another Christmas'.

This was preceded by a talk by Julian Girdham, Head of the English Department, on Trevor's connections with and writing about the College, which can be read here.