Saturday, March 28, 2009

End of Term

Term ended yesterday, and we're now on our holidays until Tuesday 21st April. There may be the occasional post before then, but now it's off to the (metaphorical) beach with lots of books.

We've previously reported on one of the key literary awards of the year, the Bookseller-Diagram Prize for the year's oddest book title, and are now delighted to announce that the 2009 winner is a new classic, The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-milligram Containers of Fromage Frais. It beat off tough competition from the other shortlisted titles - Baboon Metaphysics, Strip and Knit with Style, The Large Sieve and its Applications, Techniques for Corrosion Monitoring and our own favourite,
Curbside Consultation of the Colon.

(Top - another of the reverse sides of our World Book Day bookmarks, designed by Wordle).

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Submarine, March 2009

The new edition of the Library magazine, The Submarine, has just been published (after a period off the news-stands - the Editor Tom McConville compares it to the Asgard, saying that it seemed to have 'struck an unidentified semi-submerged object', but is now 'eminently seaworthy' again).

It will be fully distributed at the start of next term. Again, it's an interesting and eclectic mix, including:-
  • A first in the form of a recipe from Hal Downer (chicken, rosemary, tomatoes ...)
  • Reviews by Molly Dunne of Jenny Valentine's Broken Soup, and by Emma Moore of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight,
  • Richard Brett's review of The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence,
  • A recommendation of Nicholas Gage's A Place for Us, by our Chaplain, Rev Michael Heaney,
  • David Sowby's comments on Pierre Berton's Klondike,
  • and two features which have already appeared here - Milo Reddaway's short story 'Regal Surprise at Tibradden' and John Fanagan's piece on Richard Yates.
The Editor thanks particularly Sebastian Stephenson for his work in laying out and designing the magazine. Read it above via Issuu. Click on the pages for a larger view, scroll through by using the arrows, and click again for a close-up.

Second Bell, March 2009

The second edition ('The Daffodil Issue') of Second Bell, Evan Jameson's brain-child last term, is now out and about the College. The Editor this time is Miriam Poulton, who writes in the editorial that the magazine is 'something to brighten up your day, just like a host of daffodils might'. Aaah.

What to know what really goes on in the Staff Common Room? How Kurt Cobain died? If the film Watchmen is any good? What Ian McKinley's hobbies are? Why Sope Anthony-Ojolola finds it a little tricky making her way around the campus? If so, this is the publication for you.

Read it below on Issuu. Click on the magazine for a larger view, and scroll through the pages. Click again on a page for a full view.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Everything's crowding in now in the last couple of days of term. Two magazines, the Library's Submarine and Mr Jameson's Second Bell, are in the final stages of production, and we hope to publish them online here shortly, to augment their paper versions. And Nick and Jules from Actiontrack have been here for the last three days working with II form in the annual 'taster' workshops - more soon.

'Habitat' expedition

Our latest TY expedition to Hungary under the 'Habitat for Humanity' umbrella left early this morning, and carries our good wishes. You can follow their progress at their blog here once they swing into action.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Podcast Plans

We've just started podcasting, the first two 'casts' being an interview with Ronan Swift about his new album, and an interview with John Fanagan about the life and works of Richard Yates. Since we're now into the last four days of term, that's it for this term, but from April we expect to be very active, with plans including:-

* an interview with Terry Dolan about the first truly great English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer.
* an interview with Louise C. Callaghan about her own poetry, and creative writing workshops.
* a series of revision podcasts on Macbeth prior to the Leaving Certificate.
* a discussion about the interface of literature and science, focussing on Charles Darwin.
* an interview with Nick Brace of Actiontrack, discussing their work and 'showbuilds'.
* an episode on our annual Voices of Poetry evening.
* a discussion of Henry James's great novel, The Portrait of a Lady.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Poetry Round-up

A reminder to all pupils that entries for this year's Peter Dix Memorial Senior Prize for Poetry (left) and Junior Poetry Prize, are due by the last day of term. See noticeboards for details.

The poet Louise C. Callaghan has been working with our Primary class over the last couple of days. Congratulations to Louise on being shortlisted for the Strokestown Poetry Prize (English language section). The Strokestown International Festival takes place from May 1st to May 3rd. Next term one of our podcasts will be an interview with Louise about her own poetry, and the ways she runs her workshops.

Seamus Heaney has just been awarded the David Cohen Award for Literature; part of the award is the chance to nominate the winner of the Clarissa Luard Award, which is for a literature organisation which encourages young people. Our Nobel Laureate has chosen Poetry Aloud, which our pupils have taken part in for several years - a fine and typically thoughtful choice. He talked about his choice on BBC Radio 4's 'Front Row' this week (you can listen again on the site, and via their podcast), and said that learning poetry and speaking it through Poetry Aloud provided an 'inner grace' for its participants.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Best Actor

Many congratulations to our colleague Evan Jameson, who last weekend was given the Best Actor award at the Dublin Drama Festival in the Mill Theatre for his performance as Patrick Maguire in The Great Hunger. We reviewed this Tom MacIntyre adaptation of Patrick Kavanagh's poem when it ran at the Mill in November as part of the Balally Players' season.

Early next term we'll have a podcast interview with Evan about his experience in performing this part, and about the poem (which is on the Leaving Cert course).

[update, 08.04.2009 : further congrats on winning Best Actor at the Mid-Ulster Drama Festival, and a Certificate of Merit at the Newry Festival. The production has now been selected for the All-Ireland festival final in Athlone in early May. More details on the Balally website]

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Podcast 2 : the life and works of Richard Yates

Our second podcast is an interview with our former colleague, John Fanagan, who has been using his recent retirement to discover the works of the American novelist Richard Yates, left (1926-92). Relatively neglected in recent years, a lot of attention is now being directed at Yates due to the success of the film version of his best-known novel, Revolutionary Road. John recently blogged here on Yates, but now provides us with a detailed advocacy of a man who he calls 'a remarkable writer' and who is 'very easy to relate to: his prose is very clear, very accessible and very eloquent.' John also discusses other books, such as Eleven Kinds of Loneliness (short stories, 1962) and A Good School (1974).

Listen to the discussion via the player below.

You can also listen to our podcasts via the 'widget' on the sidebar to the right, or by visiting our podcast page here
(if you have iTunes on your computer you can also subscribe by clicking here, and so download our episodes to your MP3 player, or by searching for 'SCC English' in the iTunes Store).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Regal Surprise at Tibradden

To mark the recent World Book Day, the Library ran a short story competition for Juniors. The winner was Milo Reddaway from I form, who told a distinctly surprising story involving the arrival in the College of a very unusual visitor:-

I had just finished Latin and was going to Break. The sun was up and the black clouds looked like a massive army coming to invade the sky. I was passing the Library when I heard a huge blast. The ground trembled and I almost fell on the hard ground. I got up and asked Brendan if he had heard the explosion. He said no, and looking at me as if I were mad, went to Break. Thoughts were racing in my head. “A massive blast and tremor and no one noticed?"

The blast seemed to have come from Tibradden. I raced there as fast as I could, and when I saw the front door I was stunned. The handle had been ripped off and the whole door was covered in deep gashes. “If only Mr Patterson could see this!" I thought. I carefully pushed the door open and went to the Day area. I felt I must be in a dream as standing before me, dressed in full armour was none other than Xerxes, King of Kings, Emperor of Persia ...

Read the full story here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

World Book Day survey results

St Patrick's Day greetings to all.

Our Librarian, Tom McConville, writes:-

On Thursday 5 March, World Book Day, the Library asked the pupils of St Columba’s to vote for their favourite book. This voluntary annual poll is a snapshot of current opinions, conducted through the kind offices of the (ever-patient) English department. All and any books were eligible, from childhood favourites to today’s bestsellers, be they fact or fiction, poetry or drama, in English or any other language.

We achieved a respectable poll of 163 votes (many of the 6th form were already engaged in exams). In a remarkably wide-ranging selection, and a testimony to the very positive reading culture in the school, 105 individual authors were nominated and 125 separate books.

Analysts far more perceptive than the librarian may draw conclusions from these figures, but a brief overview suggests the following.
Twilight is Stephenie Meyer’s fabulously popular vampire/human romance, the first of a four-part series, and features Isabella Swan as its heroine, and vampire Edward Cullen as the love interest. Though the vote for it was almost exclusively female, the librarian knows that males borrow and read this book too. A feature of it is that though Edward is ‘dangerous’, for love for Bella he denies himself his full vampire instincts, and, as well as the heightened love story, honour, loyalty, friendship and courage are important, as they are in all good fantasy adventure. The recent film release no doubt boosted the vote, but the book, published in 2005 in the USA, and held here in the library here since March 2007, was seriously popular long before that.

[added 20.03.09 - read Jenny Turner's sharp and funny article on the Twilight phenomenon in the current edition of the London Review of Books.]

Other books which did well in the survey were Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, Robert Muchamore's Maximum Security, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The favourite author, inevitably, was Stephanie Meyer, pursued by Anthony Horowitz. See the leading contenders' list here. Below, the second 'reverse side' of our World Book Day bookmarks, created by Wordle, in today's appropriate colour.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

World Book Day competition results

Just over a week ago, the Library marked World Book Day 2009 with activities run in conjunction with the English Department. The results are now out (the prizes are book-tokens):-
  • Congratulations to Milo Reddaway, who won the junior short story competition and whose entertaining and other-worldly story will be published here next week (after we return from the St Patrick's Day Exodus on Wednesday morning), as well as in the next edition of The Submarine, the Library magazine due out at the end of term. It's worth waiting for - a story involving this school, Zoroastrianism and guest star Xerxes, King of Kings, Emperor of Persia ..
  • The favourite book open draw was won by Philipp Arndt, who chose Daniel Kehlmann's Measuring the World. Next week we'll have Librarian Tom McConville's breakdown of and comments on the results of the College survey for this year's favourite book (not too surprisingly, Stephanie Meyer's Twilight).
  • The senior crossword competition book-tokens go to Miriam Poulton, Celeste Guinness, Joey Millar and Oli Smith.
  • The Junior Library Quiz book-tokens go to Sam Bewley, William Tidey, Stephanie Cafolla and Lily Guinness.
(top - one of the designs on the reverse side of the WBD bookmarks).

This is the 600th post since SCC English began in July 2006.

I.N.O.T.E. sites

The blog and website of the recently-launched Irish National Organisation for Teachers of English are now live - both in their early stages, but they should become very useful central meeting points for English teachers around the country.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Podcast 1 : Farewell Future Wives

Our first-ever podcast is an interview with our colleague Ronan Swift, the launch of whose first album Farewell Future Wives we reported on recently. It's a discussion about the nature of his song-writing, the relationship between words and music, his musical influences and much more, and is rounded off by Track 3 of the album, 'Dancing'.

This post marks our initial venture into podcasting, which we plan to do regularly from now on. We'll be recording interviews, items on books, a series on study topics and more. You can listen to our podcasts via the player at the bottom of each post, or the 'widget' on the sidebar to the right, or by visiting our podcast page here (if you have iTunes on your computer you can also subscribe by clicking here, and so download our episodes to your MP3 player). Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Shakespeare's Portrait

Today's Irish Times has an article by Martin Wall about "claims that the only picture painted of William Shakespeare during his lifetime hung for years, unrecognised, on the walls of a country house near Dublin" (Newbridge House near Donabate). The article refers to Channel 4 News last night in which Old Columban Alec Cobbe talked about the 'Cobbe Portrait'.

[Added 14.03.09 : In today's Irish Independent, Old Columban Kim Bielenberg interviews Alec Cobbe about the portrait]

Monday, March 09, 2009

Hiding Places

Old Columban Timothy Brownlow has presented a copy of his latest book, Hiding Places, to the College Library. It is a collection of personal and literary essays which are 'forays into what Wordsworth called the hiding places of the creative impulse.' In the book, he writes frequently about Ireland, as well as his adopted home, Canada. Read more here.

Tim retired in 2006 from Malaspina University-College, and is now and Honorary Research Associate there. His books of poetry include Poems for Clare and Apples Under the Bed. This latest volume is dedicated to a former English teacher here, David Fitzgerald.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Richard Yates

The American writer Richard Yates has recently been much in the news, largely thanks to the successful film of his 1961 novel Revolutionary Road, starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo di Caprio (see a clip from the film at the bottom of this post). Our former colleague in the Department, John Fanagan, has been using the first months of his retirement productively on what he calls a 'binge' in discovering Yates's work, and here writes an introduction to the author. John has also kindly donated all the books to our Library.

[added later : go here for our second podcast, which features John discussing Yates's life and works]

I have just finished A Tragic Honesty , a biography of Richard Yates, who died in 1992. Rarely can a book have been so aptly named: his life was disastrous on a personal level. His parents separated when he was a child and he became a chain-smoking alcoholic. He was attractive to women (and loved them), but his two marriages ended in divorce; he was impossible to live with. Like King Lear, whom he resembles in some ways, he had three daughters. Unlike Lear, they really loved him and he them. They were the joy of his sad life.

If he was a disaster area as a human being, he was a writer of real power. I have read four of his novels and some of his short stories in the last few weeks and am recommending him to all my friends. Of course, because of the success of the film version of his Revolutionary Road, all of his books are back in the bookshops now, in attractive retro-covers, published by Vintage.

His novels and stories are set in early Sixties America and mainly focus on the experiences and relationships of men and women, their ideals and (almost inevitable) disillusionment with their lives. Yates's writings are highly autobiographical: not just about himself in various guises, but his mother, his sister (who died a broken alcoholic is her forties) and friends and acquaintances. Young Hearts Crying (1984), though one of his later novels, has a familiar cast of idealistic young people being bruised by their experiences of the world. For the teenage reader, particularly at a boarding school, I'd recommend A Good School (1978) whose central character, William Grove, is Yates himself: nervous, an aspiring writer, struggling to fit in at an eccentric American boarding school. His ambivalent attitude to the school is both convincing and recognisable.

I laughed out loud at this description of Yates in his car, near the end of his life: ‘a gaunt whiskered old man hunched over the wheel of his tiny car, a cigarette smouldering in one fist while the other clasped an oxygen mask to his face ... the locals seemed to be adjusting, automatically making way when the telltale Mazda came tooling into their ken’. His writing, however, remained beautifully crafted to the end. It took him five years to write his first novel; nearly as many for the second. He had started with short stories and I'm dipping into those now, particularly Eleven Kinds of Loneliness. The title says it all.

He is a great writer. Try him.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Singleton's Diary

The first Warden of the College was Robert Corbet Singleton (1843-6). He was then Warden of our sister school in Oxfordshire, Radley College, who are now putting his diary online in a blog called 'Diary of a Victorian Educational Reformer'. You can read it here.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

World Book Day

And a Happy World Book Day to you all ...

Today, we'll be distributing our 2009 Library/English Department bookmarks (the fourth winner is Pia Gromotka, left), as well as the WBD book tokens to all pupils. During class we'll be conducting the annual 'Favourite Book' survey on behalf of the Library, and the Junior Library Quiz and Senior Crossword puzzle will be available on the supervisor's desk in the Library. Book tokens for prizes, as there will be for the new short story competition - we hope to publish some winners here shortly.

We'd be happy to get comments on favourite books here - just leave a Comment on this post. What's yours? And why?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

'Handbag', by Ruth Fainlight

The 48th Poem of the Week is Ruth Fainlight's 'Handbag', which you can read here on the excellent Poetry Archive site, and also listen to the poet herself reading it in November 2007.

As the site says:-

One hallmark of her work is the special attention she pays to the apparently ordinary stuff of life, finding strangeness and even mysticism beneath familiar surfaces. Domestic life often contains and reveals the most significant truths. 'Handbag', for instance, with its intimate textures and smells, conjures an entire world, moving in just twelve lines from the smallness of the everyday objects carried around by the mother to a formidable list of human experiences : "womanliness, / and love, and anguish, and war".

Left, the third of the winners in our World Book Day bookmark design competition, by Qasim Bari.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Bookmarks 2

Another winner of our World Book Day I form book-mark design competition is Alexandra Owens, whose design is today's feature, left.

The Library is also marking the day (Thursday) with a survey in English classes of favourite books, senior and junior crossword competitions, and a junior short story competition, to be handed in by the end of the week (details here).

Meanwhile, VI form have just started their mock exams, the English literature paper being tomorrow morning.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

World Book Day bookmarks 1

The Library and English Department are again printing and distributing bookmarks this year for World Book Day (on Thursday). A competition was held in I form art classes for one side of the designs for these, and we'll be displaying the winners' work over the next four days.

So well done to I former Lauren Scully, whose bookmark is shown here and will receive a book-token as her prize. The bookmarks have again been printed by The Postcard Company in Omagh.

More on World Book Day shortly.

INOTE conference

Greetings to anyone who's come here as a result of the weekend conference 'The Art of Teaching English', at the Lough Rea Hotel in Co Galway, which marked the foundation of the Irish National Organisation for Teachers of English. It was organised by Kevin McDermott of the English Support Service, and was opened on Friday night by Senior Inspector Mary Gilbride. Then there was a delightful address from John Quinn, who looked at images of teaching from his own life and his reading. On Saturday there was a series of interesting and invigorating workshops by practising teachers.

The note-sheet (with links) from the SCC English presentation is here.

Further notes:-
  • Bernard MacLaverty's short story is called 'More than just the Disease' and comes from his collection The Great Profundo.
  • There wasn't time to show the amazing Issuu, which can display your school magazine online - see here for our own Library magazine The Submarine.
  • Atul Gawande's books are Complications: a surgeon's notes on an imperfect science, and Better: a surgeon's notes on performance. These are superbly written collections of essays which are intense meditations on the nature of learning. In the former, he writes ... Only now, as I get glimpses of the end of my training, have I begun to think hard about my father's success. For most of residency, I thought of surgery as a more or less fixed body of knowledge and skill which is acquired in training and perfected in practice. There was, as I envisioned it, a smooth, upward-sloping arc in proficiency at some rarefied set of tasks ... The arc would peak at, say, ten or fifteen years, plateau for a long time, and perhaps tail off a little in the final five years before retirement. The reality, however, turns out to be far messier.