Friday, March 30, 2007

End of Term

The Hilary Term ended today. There may be occasional posts over the Easter holiday, but full activity will resume when the summer term starts.

Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box

In a January post, we referred to Alice Quinn's fascinating book Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box - uncollected poems, drafts, and fragments. Last night Alice Quinn gave a marvellous talk at the Pavilion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire as the opening event of the Poetry Now Festival. Quinn, the poetry editor of the New Yorker, gave a tremendous insight into the life and work of Bishop, over almost two hours, with illustrations from the notebooks, and her often charming paintings and drawings. Bishop is now a very popular poet on the Leaving Certificate course.

There is a short audio slide show on the New Yorker site here in which Quinn discusses putting the book together and covers some of the ground in last night's talk. She also reads and discusses the poems 'In a Cheap Hotel', 'Foreign-Domestic', 'Keaton' and 'Dear, My Compass' and you can see the relevant illustrations too. Click here for an article and interview in The Atlantic.

There are many wonderful things in the book (including the love poem on page 44,
'It is marvellous to wake up together
At the same minute; marvellous to hear
The rain begin suddenly all over the roof ...' continued)
and, valuably, 16 facsimiles of the various stages of the work which eventually became her famous villanelle 'One Art.'

Alice Quinn's book has been the subject of some controversy, especially since the distinguished critic Helen Vendler (here) criticised it as a form of invasion of privacy and betrayal of trust.

Here, Anne Stevenson shows 'Why Elizabeth Bishop is so good.'

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Recently all our II form had drama workshops with the Actiontrack Performance Company. Nick Brace and Cindy Watts introduced II to some of the basic ideas of drama. Actiontrack return in the Trinity Term for the showbuild week at the end of the year with our Transition Year. All 40 II formers wrote 'logs' about their experience of the workshops, and two pupils - Rebecca Moran (here) and Susannah Cooke (here) give these accounts of the days they spent in the BSR. In Rebecca's words "I really enjoyed Actiontrack because it is not something I would usually do ... I am really looking forward to when they come again."

Actiontrack are based in Somerset, England, and we strongly recommend their work. They also come over to some other schools in Ireland, and they be contacted via their website here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

TY Academic Prize

Last night in the Big Schoolroom we had our annual Academic Prize Presentation evening by the Transition Year, judged by Professor Brian McGing of TCD. The winner was Aoife Kenny on 'Rock and Roll in the 1950s'. Two other presentations were by Rebecca Feeeney-Barry on nuclear power in Ireland, and Joseph Millar on World War I, the Easter Rising and the College.

From the English perspective, Jane Quigley gave an interesting presentation on the life and influence of J.D. Salinger, discussing in particular his unbringing and his experiences in World War II. The traumas and distress he suffered there seem to have had profound and lasting effects on his work, especially of course his only novel The Catcher in the Rye, which the Transition Year studied last term as part of their course, and which continues to be avidly read by teenagers more than 50 years after its first publication.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Last week Mrs Heffernan and Mrs Sherwood took our Primary form, the youngest in the school, on an outing to see Lifeboat by Nicola McCartney at the Civic Theatre, Tallaght. FH writes : "This is a true story based on two survivors of a ship that was taking almost 100 evacuees from British cities during World War II to Canada from Liverpool docks. Unfortunately it was torpedoed by a U-Boat in the Atlantic and there were very few survivors."

Click here for reviews by three Primary pupils - Sam Harley, Kezia Wright and Cormac Ryan.

This was a Janus Theatre Company production, currently on a national tour. There is a podcast of a panel discussion on the 'Emergency' and Lifeboat on the Cork Opera House website.

Monday, March 26, 2007


A reminder to candidates that three prizes are due this week : tonight in Cotton at 6.45pm, there's the Shakespeare Prize exam for seniors (a general essay on Shakespeare, a sonnet to analyse and an extract from a play too), and both Senior and Junior Poetry prizes are due in by Friday.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


As mentioned in a previous post, last night we put on Mozart's great Requiem in the Chapel. Four teachers in the English Department were part of a 60-strong choir. The Chapel was full, and afterwards there was a reception in the BSR, decorated with entries for tonight's Arts and Crafts Prize exhibition.

Professor Kevin Malone spoke powerfully about the cause we were supporting, 'Turning the Tide', and about the stilling of the voices of those young men and women who have taken their own lives in wealthy, 'booming' Ireland. He also said how important it was that our own voices are celebrated during what he called 'the fragility of the only life we have'.

€2000 was raised for Turning the Tide.

Poetry Aloud finalists

Congratulations to three pupils, Rosy Temple (Senior), Jessica Dean and Anna Traill (both Intermediate) who on Thursday were selected for the semi-finals of the Poetry Aloud competition in the National Library on Friday 11th May. The semi-finals and finals are held on the same day, and all participants now choose from a selection of Yeats poems for recital.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Crisis

In his recent English exam, Transition Year pupil Joseph Millar (who won the Junior English Prize last year) wrote a piece called 'The Crisis', based on September 11th 2001 :-

"This isn’t a JK Rowling. It’s not an Anthony Horowitz, or a Dan Brown. I don’t kill the bad guy, or save the day."

Read the whole story here.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Poetry Aloud

This afternoon, four pupils set off for the National Library to take part in the 'Poetry Aloud' competition, which was called 'Yeats Aloud' last year. In the first round, participants have to recite one of three set poems by Louis MacNeice, 'Corner Seat', 'Entirely' or, for the most senior, the evocative 'Soap Suds', and another poem from prescribed lists (2007 is the centenary of MacNeice's birth). In later rounds, there are set poems by Yeats and others. The competition is being run in conjunction with the superb semi-permanent National Library Yeats exhibition.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

'The Submarine'

The Submarine is the excellent magazine of our College Library. The third, bumper, edition is now online below and features :-
  • an editorial by Librarian Tom McConville (with fetching photograph of Ben Russell as Malvolio in our production of Twelfth Night),
  • a review of Robert Harris's Imperium by Robert Murtagh ("what a cliffhanger!"); one of Mark Urban's Rifles, by Michael Poulton ("superbly written"); one of Jack Kerouac's On the Road by Oli Smith ("it makes me yearn to hit the road"); and one of Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore by Crispin Maenpaa ("stunning"),
  • recommendations by staff and pupils based on their recent reading,
  • a list of some of the new books in the Library,
  • an account by Sophie Haslett of working at the Daily Telegraph in London over the summer (and see her recent Irish Times article here)
  • a cartoon in Irish by Molly Sanderson and Poppy Vernon,
  • a poem titled 'As Far as I Can' by "a shy individual",
  • a piece by Dr Garry Bannister on salvation and morality in the 'Shoot the Messenger' feature,
  • an article by Niamh McBurney on the musical history of Kieran Kelly, a member of our maintenance staff,
  • Joseph Millar's account of a Transition Year trek, and David Cooper's TY experience of collecting for charity,
  • Lauren O' Connell's account of Old Columban Richard Hemphill,
  • Laura Hatton comparing two different eras at the College.
  • and an entertaining piece by the magazine's designer Patrick Ussher on cricket in France (see his website here).Submarinejun07 Submarinejun07 sccenglish Library Magazine June, 2007

'Noughts and Crosses'

A book recommendation by Alannah Howie (III form, Junior Certificate class) :-

"Noughts and Crosses, by Malorie Blackman, is an extremely gripping novel, with unexpected twists throughout. Set in the Southern states of America, it presents some powerful imagery of life during its time, the hardship and how the characters dealt with racism in day-to-day life.

This novel is so well-written and the characters so vividly described that you can easily become attached to certain characters, and it makes you want to read on. This book lingers with you a long time after you have read it. A brilliant read."

(In a post here last December, Rebecca Scott also wrote about Noughts and Crosses for her Junior Cert book report.)

Monday, March 19, 2007

'Will and Me'

A recommendation : Dominic Dromgoole's Will and Me is subtitled 'How Shakespeare took over my life' and is packed with enthusiasm, humour and wisdom. Dromgoole is now the Artistic Director of the Globe Theatre. He writes an engaging account of how completely Shakespeare has been in his blood since early childhood, and stitches Shakespeare's writing into his own personal, intellectual and professional biography.

Dromgoole's attitude is that Shakespeare, in Walt Whitman's words, 'contains multitudes', that the Bard's works are full of the mess of life, good and bad. He's refreshingly unprecious about the plays, not pretending that every moment of every work is genius, and insisting that easy patterns cannot be enforced on the drive of the stories. The shape and mood of Will and Me enact this : it's freewheeling, rambling, often sentimental. But there's also plenty that is considered and thought-provoking.

On the comedies: 'how quick and light is the twist of the coin that can turn despair to joy.'
On character : 'Certain actors, Judi Dench as a prime example, have a voice that makes you care for them. With her, it's a little catch in the throat, a curl of sleepy sensuality, a gentle dancing humour. It doesn't matter whether villain or saint, you get pulled towards the humanity. Shakespeare's gift was that, however preposterous the situation, he makes you care for every one of his characters. They all have that catch of humanity in their voice.'
On learning how to play Shakespeare : 'keeping it light, and fast, and not signposting intentions, just speaking. About the nature of subtext, the sewage system that runs underneath all great writing and gives it its own electric tension. About the clumsiness of great dialogue, its scrappy messiness, and how a smooth speech articulating its own meaning is often a terrible one. He wrote speech, not speeches. He heard and reproduced the crackle and spark, the myriad small tensions that make it alive.'
On the less famous, less 'important' characters : 'His speciality is the non-heroes. the confused, the human - the scrappy and the messy. They are there to show how we are 95% of the time. When we're awkward and self-conscious; when we stumble and fall; when we're gossipy and small. They are the people who love to hover close to the action but are frightened to join in. They are among Shakespeare's sharpest creations, and they are us.'


John Fanagan adds : Julian passed Will and Me and I read it all in one afternoon. It really is a terrific book : funny, wise and passionate (rightly, in my view) about Shakespeare.

Mozart's 'Requiem'

A cross-curricular plug for the performance later this week of one of the greatest of all choral pieces, Mozart's Requiem, in which four of the English Department's teachers are singing (one soprano, two tenors, one bass) - along with the pupils, parents, friends and Old Columbans who make up the St Columba's Choral Society.

It's in our beautiful College Chapel (designed by William Butterfield in the late nineteenth century) and all are welcome at 8pm on Friday 23rd March. No tickets are being sold, since there is no charge for entry, but there will be a retiring collection for contributions to 'Turning the Tide', which 'helps to reduce suicide through research, intervention and support.'

More Primary work

Here are two more poems from our Primary form's work on animals - Timothy Hone's poem 'My Labrador', and Sam Harley's 'My Pet Dog'.

Friday, March 16, 2007

World Book Day

Our Librarian, Tom McConville, writes :

"World Book Day on March 1st was marked by the distribution of book tokens and some very stylish bookmarks. Our survey in search of St Columba’s favourite book showed that Eragon by Christopher Paolini is this year’s choice. The survey, held by the Library with the support of the English department, revealed a wonderful reading range—109 authors were mentioned, and 137 separate books. Other high scorers were Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy and Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series, with honourable mentions for The Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Rings.

Our favourite authors were as follows: 1st Christopher Paolini and Anthony Horowitz; 2nd Philip Pullman; 3rd JRR Tolkien; and 4th J.D. Salinger, William Shakespeare and Meg Rosoff.

Thank you to all who took part, and to the English Department for facilitating the survey.

€10 Book token winners. Survey: Karl Rysbergen. Junior Quiz: Kezia Wright, Archie Brooke, Eochy O’Conor, Kate Boyd Crotty. Senior Crossword: Ben Armstrong, Lauren O’Connell, Eki Osayande."

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Ides of March

Today being the Ides of March, we post here a review by Lewis Mathews (V form) of the current Abbey Theatre production of Julius Caesar, which he saw on a Shakespeare Society outing on Monday night. He wasn't greatly impressed :

"I had mixed emotions about the production. I particularly enjoyed the play having studied it and, I must say, I found it particularly boring as an eleven year old. Unfortunately I felt that the standard of acting at the Abbey wasn’t particularly great ...

Although I enjoyed both sets a great deal, the rather abstract Roman forum before the interval and the elaborate battlefield after, I felt that they didn’t quite complement each other. This odd mixture seems to sum up the production for me because I also found it slightly odd that they couldn’t quite decide what era they were setting the play in."

Read the rest of Lewis's review here.

How Green Were the Nazis?

The Guardian reports on "the only famous international book prize never to have received sponsorship money or TV coverage", the Bookseller-Diagram Prize for the year's oddest book title. You can vote on The Bookseller's site, choosing between
  • Tattooed Mountain Women and Spoon Boxes of Daghestan, by Robert Chenciner, Gabib Ismailov, Magomedkhan Magomedkhanov and Alex Binnie
  • The Proceedings of the Eighteenth International Seaweed Symposium
  • The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification
  • and the obvious favourite, How Green were the Nazis?
The latter points out that "the Nazis created nature preserves, contemplated sustainable forestry, curbed air pollution, and designed the autobahn highway network as a way of bringing Germans closer to nature"- a new angle on the Third Reich.

A Marriage Proposal

Tonight at 8pm in the BSR we again put on the award-winning production of Chekhov's A Marriage Proposal for those who missed it last time.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

'Teaching English' magazine

Hello to visitors who have been directed here by the Spring 2007 edition of Teaching English, published by the Second Level Support Service. The magazine features our Department, with an interview with department head John Fanagan by editor Kevin McDermott, a piece on this blog called 'Putting the English Department on the World Wide Web', and our Junior Certificate reading list. See the magazine below by clicking on the pages (and then again to zoom).

There are also interesting articles about Breege O'Brien of Scoil Damhnait in Achill ('In praise of the school library'), by Anton Floyd of Ashton in Cork on 'Creative writing in the English classroom' (he quotes the marvellous 'Japan' by Billy Collins, and the cover shows David Hockney's 'Mt Fuji and Flowers, 1972'), and a response by Kevin McDermott to 'Looking at English', the Department's report on English teaching (see here). He calls for 'vision and passion' in English teaching, and hopes that 'future publications will include the voices of teachers in all their individuality and uniqueness.'

Monday, March 12, 2007

Actiontrack workshops

Nick Brace and Cindy Watts of Actiontrack Performance Company are with us for the first three days of this week working with II form in the BSR. Later we'll post a pupil-account of the drama workshops. Actiontrack have been coming to us for 15 years now, mainly for the Showbuild week at the end of June with Transition Year, but also for these 'taster' workshops with younger pupils.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Chinese Cinderella

Sarah O'Mahony (III form, Junior Certificate class) recommends Adeline Yen Mah's autobiography :

"If you are only going to read one book this year, make it Chinese Cinderella. It is an extremely moving and powerful autobiography. It is about the author's childhood growing up in China during the Civil War.

Neglected, verbally and physically abused by her stepmother and siblings, ignored and shunned by her father, Adeline struggles through her painful upbringing. If you are looking for a truly inspiring book, read this. The author tells you her story in such a vivid way; you quickly become gripped in her world of daily heartbreak. Adeline as the heroine strives to make herself heard through her intelligence, and her life's ambition is to be noticed.

It is beautifully written with Chinese proverbs blended throughout the book. It is an absolutely amazing read."

(see Adeline Yen Mah's website here).

Thursday, March 08, 2007

New Library Books

Our Librarian, Tom McConville, keeps our Library stock fresh with regular deliveries of new books. Click here for his latest school notice listing recent additions.

In Junior fiction, there's Nicola Morgan's Fleshmarket, 'set in Edinburgh in the gruesome 1820s' according to her website. The novelist David Almond has called it 'a dramatic and thought-provoking book.'

In senior fiction we have Zoe Heller's Booker Prize shortlisted Notes on a Scandal (recently made into a fine and chilling film with a superb performance by Judi Dench), another take on the idea of the unreliable narrator - in this case a teacher, gradually revealed as demented and obsessive (she's a history teacher, not an English one).

New non-fiction books include Northabout, the dramatic tale of an Irish crew's adventures in the Northwest and Northeast Passages. In January two of the sailors from this extraordinary journey at the top of the world came to talk to us in the Annual Geography Lecture in the Big Schoolroom.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Primary work on animals

Our Primary form is the youngest in the school, and here is some of the work they have recently been doing with their English teacher, Mrs Frances Heffernan.

They have recently been discussing Roald Dahl's 'The Swan' from his book of short stories The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. Kezia Wright and Sam Harley write about it here.

They have also been writing poems based on animals. Follow the links to Joshua Leahy's 'Fern' (about his dog), and Chris Doherty's 'Button' (about his cat), and finally Kezia Wright's 'Jemima', which starts :-

Out of the pen I come in the morn
And in again at dusk.

continued ...

Monday, March 05, 2007

Ten Books You Can't Live Without

The World Book Day poll on 'Ten Books You Can't Live Without' on the official WBD website produced these results :-
  1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen - 20%
  2. Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien - 17%
  3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte - 14%
  4. Harry Potter books - J K Rowling - 12%
  5. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee - 9.5%
  6. The Bible - 9%
  7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte - 8.5%
  8. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell - 6%, tied with:
    His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman - 6%
  9. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens - 0.55%
The Da Vinci Code was 42nd. More in the Guardian.
Results of our own Library/English Department poll shortly.

This is the 100th post since we started our blog.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Julius Caesar

Names are now being gathered for a Shakespeare Society outing to the Abbey Theatre production of Julius Caesar on Monday 12th (the week after Mock exams end). This is the first time that the National Theatre has put on the play, and they are promoting it in election year as "Shakespeare's definitive drama of politics and power." It is directed by Jason Byrne, who has previously directed Macbeth and Coriolanus for Loose Canon. We will post a review by a pupil next week after our visit.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

World Book Day

Today is World Book Day. To mark the occasion, our Library is organising a senior crossword puzzle and a junior book quiz (for book prize tokens) and, in association with the English Department, is conducting a whole school survey to find out what the College's favourite books are. Results will be posted here when they've been collated.

We are also distributing €1.50 book tokens, and new Library/English blog bookmarks, recently made by The Postcard Company of Omagh.

The World Book Day website has a survey here on 'The ten books you can't live without.'