Thursday, January 31, 2008

I Form Public Speaking Result

Congratulations to Neil Dalrymple on yesterday winning our inaugural Form I Public Speaking Competition. The runner-up was Aifric Tracey. All the finalists spoke impressively but it was Neil’s thoughtfully-structured speech on keeping boredom at bay which appealed to the judges the most. Chairman of the judges and Head of English John Fanagan commented on the confidence and ease of manner each of the participants showed. His one point of guidance to all was to consider the importance of ending strongly and well.

Form I enjoyed the experience and expressed the desire, where possible, to do more work and projects together as a whole form group. Mr. Swift and Mr. Jameson have their thinking caps on ...

A Sofa in the Forties

Our 21st Poem of the Week is Seamus Heaney's 'A Sofa in the Forties.' The Nobel Laureate read this at the Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration last Sunday in the Mansion House. The poem (from his book The Spirit Level) is set during the war, as a family of Irish children play trains on the sofa at home. It juxtaposes their make-believe play with the terror and tragedy of the Jewish people as they are transported across Europe to their terrible fates.

All of us on the sofa in a line, kneeling
Behind each other, eldest down to youngest,

Elbows going like pistons, for this was a train ...

The full text of the poem is here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Perfect World

Recently we encouraged our pupils to enter the Guardian's 'Perfect World' competition for teenagers). Isobel Hunter in V form wrote a piece on her time in primary school, and reflected on children's images of perfect lives :-

My perfect world was so perfect because I was just so happy. I didn’t have to worry about divorce, cancer or exams. So if I could make the perfect world, I would bring people back to the happiest points in life and leave it at that. That and destroy all mushrooms. I despise mushrooms.

Read her full essay here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I form Public Speaking

The final of the I form public speaking competition takes place tomorrow. The finalists are : Lily Guinness, Neil Dalrymple, Aifric Tracey, Sabrina Sherwood, William Maire and Kezia Wright. They have to prepare a two-minute speech on one of these topics :
  • The qualities I look for in a friend
  • What I've learned so far this year
  • Keeping boredom at bay.

HMC welcome

Welcome to the College to teachers from all over Ireland who are attending (today) academic and (tomorrow) pastoral in-services at St Columba's, organised by the HMC. Here are some past images from our blog, in an Animoto video (music - 'Latino Freakout' by Square Ears ...). For the links on the presentation about this blog this afternoon, click here.


The Computer Education Society of Ireland's annual conference on February 8th/9th in Tallaght takes the title 'Teachers using ICT', and includes sessions on blogs and podcasting, interactive whiteboards, support in schools, integrating science and ICT, and much more in a wide-ranging and impressive programme. We'll be giving a presentation on SCC English on Friday afternoon. Booking is open online now at CESI.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Punctuation News

Boarders return tonight, and day boys and girls tomorrow morning, after our Exodus break.

Thankfully they will find it easier to locate the College now. Holding as we do to high standards, it has irritated many of us for some time that the local road-signs have referred to the apostrophe-less 'St Columbas College'. Now all but one of these signs have mysteriously sprouted the appropriate punctuation (see pictures below). Who should we thank - the Punctuation Compliance Standards Department of Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council? The Punctuation Militant Front? The Apostrophe Action Coalition?

[In the sidebar is a link to Sue Palmer's Home for Abused Apostrophes, which is a fine resource dedicated to examples of that more common phenomenon, the Instrusive Apostrophe].

The last remaining offender
A newly punctuated sign
We will keep an eye on that last offender, and hope that the Language Liberation League strikes again. The local pub obviously also needs some help.

Friday, January 25, 2008


We take a weekend Exodus break today, resuming on Tuesday. On that day there's an Academic Issues Training Day for HMC schools at the College, which will include a presentation on this site, 'Establishing an Effective Departmental Website'.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


The 20th Poem of the Week is Lewis Carroll's famous nonsense poem 'Jabberwocky' :-

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe ...

Full text

Carroll (Rev Charles Dodgson) wrote the poem for his family in their personal publication Mischmasch, as a way of showing how not to write a poem.

There's a full, updated, list of our Poems of the Week here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

300 Posts

Yesterday we reached 300 separate posts since we started this blog in summer 2006. During that time there have been :-
  • 92 poems by pupils at St Columba's
  • 43 essays (both literary and creative) and stories by pupils
  • 117 book recommendations by pupils and staff
  • 32 posts about interesting sites and articles on the Web
  • 45 posts about plays in the College
  • 15 reviews of plays and other events by pupils
  • 48 notices about school events, including debates, concerts and competitions
  • 18 'Poems of the Week'
  • 12 news items about theatre visits
  • 6 items about talks and lectures
  • 37 posts about English school prizes
  • as well as a lot of other material - photo albums from plays, visits to famous authors' graves (Keats, Hopkins), news of Old Columbans, plenty on new books in our Library, an MP3 Shakespeare project, a pupil's interview with Jennifer Johnston, Teaching English magazine, the Library magazine 'The Submarine', and much more.
  • plus over 120 recommended links in our sidebar.

Michael Longley

Last night on BBC Northern Ireland Fergal Keane interviewed the poet Michael Longley, whose poems often feature on the Leaving Certificate course (next in 2009, and so we will be studying the works before long with our V form). Referring to his own experiences as a war correspondent, particularly in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, Keane said :

For me Longley’s poetry rescued the dead from the land of statistics. It was his voice that caught me first - generous and tolerant.

During the programme, several of the poems on our course were referred to, including 'Last Requests', in which the poet remembers the death of his father. He said that as he gets older 'I miss him more and more' and that his poems about him are a way of 'saying to him that I love and respect him'. Longley discussed the devastating experience of World War I on his father, who was 17 when he signed up, and 20 when he was made a captain. He was one of the few soldiers who fought through from 1914 to 1918 and survived, and Michael said this 'burnt him out'. One of 'the sadnesses of my life' was not talking to him properly before he died before the poet was 21.

Keane also asked questions about the Troubles in Belfast, and Longley's experience of Mayo, both of which are reflected in the Leaving Cert selection.

He also discussed his fine poem 'Ceasefire', which 'caused quite a stir' when it was published as the IRA were declaring their 1994 cessation. He revealed for the first time that the face he was thinking of when writing about the King of Troy, Priam, visiting the tent of his son's killer (Achilles) was that of the late Gordon Wilson, whose acts and words of forgiveness following the murder of his daughter Marie in the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bombing 21 years ago struck so many (Wilson's words can be heard here, on the Spirit of Enniskillen Trust website).

Part of the interview took place in Mayo, Longley's 'home from home', and featured the poem 'Carrigskeewaun'. The programme can be seen again using BBC's new iplayer for the next six days (only available in UK)

Several of the links here are to the Teachnet resource on Longley also with a link in our sidebar, recommended for all our V form to look at when studying the poet.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I form Public Speaking

Good luck to the participants in our inaugural First Form Public Speaking Competition (heats today and tomorrow, final next week). We'll have details here of finalists and speeches, perhaps with pictures, in due course. Judges - Mr Swift and Mr Jameson.

This is the 300th post on our blog since we started in summer 2006. Shortly, some stats about those posts.

Monday, January 21, 2008

'White Boy' by Tanika Gupta

Drama is vibrant at the College, and the last few years have seen quite a few Old Columbans continue drama in adult life, with several becoming professional actors. Yesterday's Observer has a review of the National Youth Theatre's London production of White Boy, by Tanika Gupta. In it Timi Fadipe (right), who left the College in 2004, is praised for his 'harrowing' performance as a Sudanese refugee. An article and more pictures also in the Curtain Rising 'virtual magazine'.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Junior Poetry Prize 2008

This year's Junior Poetry Prize has now been launched, with candidates to submit entries by the last day of this term, which may be emailed to this blog. It is open to all in Primary, I, II and III forms. Last year we published some of the best entries, and hope to do so again next term.

Mr Canning, the judge, writes :-
You need to write at least one poem of 10 lines (of course, you may submit a series of poems if you wish, and they can be of any length).

The poems can be based on or inspired by any of these ideas:

Memory / People / Place / Feelings.

This rubric is not intended to be restrictive or inhibiting in any way, but only a guide. Any link, however tenuous, will be accepted.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Poem for a Man with no Sense of Smell

Our 18th Poem of the Week, being displayed now around the school, is 'Poem for a Man with no Sense of Smell' by Kate Clanchy, which comes from her 1999 book Samarkand. A Scottish poet born in 1965, her other books are Slattern (1996) and most recently Newborn (2004), which is about pregnancy, birth and looking after a baby.

'Poem for a Man with no Sense of Smell' starts:-

This is simply to inform you :

That the thickest line in the kink of my hand
Smells like the feel of an old school desk,

The deep carved names sleek with sweat ...

(full text here).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Ideal School

Leaving Certificate pupil Lewis Mathews has written an essay in response to the task 'What qualities would make the ideal school?' which starts chattily discussing the nature of Christmas at home, but which then moves onto a different level entirely. It is 2004, and the Mathews family sets off for a relaxing holiday in Sri Lanka ... Then the tsunami hits, and everything changes.

Read Lewis's essay here.

Golden Bulls

One of the links in the Language section of our sidebar recommendations is for the Plain English Campaign ('fighting for crystal-clear communication since 1979), which held its annual Golden Bulls awards ceremony last month in London. The awards are for 'the year's "best" examples of gobbledygook.'

Among the winners for 2007 was Virgin Trains, in a letter to passengers about problems with their online booking system :-

Moving forwards, we as Virgin Trains are looking to take ownership of the flow in question to apply our pricing structure, thus resulting in this journey search appearing in the new category-matrix format. The pricing of this particular flow is an issue going back to 1996 and it is not something that we can change until 2008 at the earliest. I hope this makes the situation clear.

and another winner was British Airports Authority for a wonderful sign at Gatwick Airport, which read :-

Passenger shoe repatriation area only.

The full list is here. While on the site, have a look also at the annual Foot in Mouth awards, given for 'a baffling comment by a public figure.' The 2007 winner was the former England football manager (the 'wally with the brolly') who said about the player Wayne Rooney:-

He is inexperienced, but he's experienced in terms of what he's been through.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Tenderfoot Drama Programme

At the end of last term, the Tenderfoot Drama Programme at the Civic Theatre in Tallaght finished, and among our pupils taking part was Anna Traill, who played one of the two parts in Molly Sanderson's short play Nobody, and who reports for us for the second time :-

The performances turned out to be absolutely amazing, especially in my view. The plays were amazingly written, well acted and the reaction of the audience was really good and exactly what we were hoping for. We did seven performances, each about 2 hours long including 6 short plays. A few of the performances we did for the schools, which were during the day hadn’t given us the reaction we were hoping for but most of them laughed when they were supposed to and kept silent at the important parts!

It was a great experience for all of us. For some, to get rid of nerves and learn acting skills and for others, a time to learn about playwrights and writing plays themselves. It gave us a great sense of achievement every time we walked off the stage, or for some people seeing their play being produced. Although we had a lot of fun meeting new people and a party at the end of it, it wasn’t all fun and games. It was a lot of hard work and a lot of hours were put into it. Because we were working with professionals they expected everything to be perfect so we all put in a lot. I definitely recommend it for anybody interested in any aspects of the theatre, even if they have no experience.

The other participants were Fiona Boyd (writing, and performing as Anne Doyle, newsreader), Lauren Cooke (assistant director) and Sarah O'Mahony (set design, and performing as a mad news photographer). Read Luke Clancy here on the project.

W.G. Sebald

For those interested in the fascinating work of the German author W.G.Sebald, such as Austerlitz, The Emigrants, and the masterly The Rings of Saturn, we highly recommend the terrific Vertigo blog, which reports that it has recently reached its first birthday. It's about "literature and book collecting, with an emphasis on W.G. Sebald and novels with embedded photographs".

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Lughnasa photos

The College December newsletter has a centre spread of photos from our November production of Dancing at Lughnasa. Here's an Animoto remix of them, with music by Eddie Tadross ('You Without Me') : /

We've now moved this blog to our own Irish domain, (the 'w's being optional). All the material should be available as before - please email us at the address in the right side-bar if you've got problems accessing anything.

III form Poetry

Last term we posted some haiku from II formers. Here now are some more from III formers (Junior Certificate pupils), also written last term :-

Rob Nolan :
The stone leaves my hand.

The ocean moves unaware.
Disturbance ripples.

Stephanie Brann :
Running through the field,

I should have known escaping
Was not the answer.

Josh Bowring :
His hands are steady,
His move followed through quickly,
And his strike perfect.

And here is the full list of poems including ones by Jack Armstrong, Igor Verkhovskiy, Sean Ralston, Jasper Pickersgill, Andrew Martin, Daphne Wright, Jessica Sheil and Ji-Won Lee.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Elizabeth Taylor, Novelist

John Fanagan recommends the novels of Elizabeth Taylor :-

During last term I was recommended to read her novel Angel (the only Taylor novel we have in the library at present - more are now on the way). I enjoyed it greatly: it was unlike any other book I'd read for a while. Over the holidays, I read three more: At Mrs Lippincote's, Blaming and Mrs Palfrey at the Clairmont (made into a film starring Joan Plowright in 2005).

The more I read, the more I liked her style which is very unadorned, yet elegant and perceptive. She
has, it seems, been for many years (she died in 1975) a writer's writer who has never really taken off as a best seller. Her subjects are simple: in the words of Sarah Waters, she writes about people 'negotiating the ordinary small crises of marriage, family and friendship...small communities, captured for a brief but crucial period of time'. Just like Jane Austen, in fact, with whom she has been compared.

Here is an overview in the TLS by Trev Broughton of the books Virago recently reissued in elegant editions, and here a discussion in the San Francisco Chronicle by Ruthe Stein about how film is addressing Taylor.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Peter Dix Prize for Poetry

Today we launch this year's Senior Poetry Prize, which commemorates Old Columban Peter Dix. Entries are due in by the end of term. Candidates must submit between two and five poems inspired by 'Time' or 'Love' (see the full notice here). Some of the best pieces will be posted here next term, after the judging.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Poem of the Week 17

Our first Poem of the Week this term (the 17th since we started the scheme in the summer term) is by V former Shane Lavin, and is about 'The person I admire most'. This was prompted by Derek Mahon's poem 'Grandfather', and Jon Snow's piece about grandparents for the Guardian Perfect World competition, which we encouraged our pupils to enter :

An exotic braid of wisdom is always visible,
Growing longer as years turn to decades.
It has given her the experience of the highs and lows
We may sometimes look forward to, yet often fear.
Their brittle shells get stepped on and crushed
Until her presence offers wings to those who witness
The smile that can encourage us all to rise to a higher state.
Although heartfelt joy battles the overpowering pressure of life,
The common obstacles continue to become increasingly larger challenges.
But there exists a pulse of strength which scarcely escapes
Her soul through the open windows of her eyes.
One that gives her surroundings an unfathomable desire
To cherish the life we all live,
Yet rarely live for.

Tomorrow we will be launching this year's Senior Poetry Prize competition.

Senior and Junior English Prizes

Congratulations to the winners of the annual English Prizes, which are presented at the prize-giving ceremony on St Columba's Day :

Senior Prize - Sophie Haslett
Junior Prize - Miriam Poulton

The standard was very high in both sections, and special book-token prizes are being given to fine performances in other forms :-
V form - Rebecca Feeney-Barry and Crispin Maenpaa
IV form - Fiona Boyd
II form - Opeline Kellett and Michael Kemp
I form - Hamish Law

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

TY Work Portfolio 2008

Classes start today, and our Transition Year pupils set off on the next stage of their course. We will be studying Othello in class this term, and the other main task for them is to get going on their Work Portfolios. The sheet of possible titles is here (they can also submit other work, such as reviews of House Speeches), and the final ten pieces, revised and improved, are submitted by the end of their course in May.

This year we hope some pupils will also take on as part of their portfolios the Transition Year project proposed by Friends of the Elderly. This involves interviewing an elderly person (such as a neighbour or a grandparent) and then writing up his or her biography. We often get particularly interesting and moving essays for the Portfolio under the title 'The Oldest Person I Know', and this project will allow pupils to expand on this idea if they wish.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Start of Term

Pupils return tonight to school, and so we get underway properly tomorrow for the Hilary Term, a term which is rather shorter than usual across the country because of an early Easter. We have plenty to pack in over the coming two months, and this site will be very busy reporting on everything.

The Senior and Junior English Prizes have been marked, and the results will be announced here on Wednesday. Also, we now start the process of encouraging entries for the Senior and Junior Poetry Prizes (we published here lots of good material from last year's entries), and near the end of term there will be the annual Shakespeare Prize exam. There's also plenty of drama activity this term, with the Junior Play Antigone by Sophocles on February 1st and 2nd, and the entry for the St Andrew's One-Act Drama Festival, The Apollo of Bellac also in February. In addition, in March II form have their Actiontrack workshops. World Book Day this year is on March 6th, and again we'll mark that in various ways.

On top of this, of course, is all the important regular work that goes on, including the Mock Leaving and Junior Certificate exams. Our Transition Year are about to start their Work Portfolios, which will eventually produce plenty of work posted here.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Night Music

New Year's greetings to our readers. Term starts on Monday next.

Meanwhile, a recommendation of Christopher Campbell-Howes's novel The Night Music (2006), which will shortly be available in our Library. The first section is set in an English prep school in 1954 and is narrated by Ben, a 13 year-old boy whose life will be turned upside down by the arrival of Claire, an 18 year-old filling in time as an assistant matron before heading off to music school.

Campbell-Howes's portrayal of prep (and boarding) school is pin-sharp, captures precisely the emotional intensity of the environment and is full of memorable characters and set-pieces, punctuated by Claire's letters to her sister Sophie. Bright humour slowly gives way to a darker tone, and this is deepened in the second half of the novel, which is set in southern France. This section ends in tragedy and shocking horror. Finally, the last twenty pages are set in rural Scotland fifty years later, and end with moving delicacy.

You're unlikely to find The Night Music in any bookshop, and there seem to have been very few reviews when it was published. There are some enthusiastic reader comments on Amazon, and the best bet for finding it is probably on Abebooks or the publisher Romarin's own website. It's strongly recommended, being beautifully written and constantly absorbing, and perhaps a mainstream publisher will pick it up before too long and give it the audience it deserves.