Saturday, October 27, 2012


We're on our half-term break now, until Monday 5th November. After that, plenty more book recommendations from our Transition Year pupils, the remainder of the Macbeth annotations via ShowMe, and lots more.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Macbeth 8: Act 2 scene iii - 'the wine of life is drawn'

This is the eighth in a series of analyses of key moments in Macbeth via the iPad app ShowMe.

Macbeth expresses in public his horror at the sight of Duncan's body.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

House Speech Competition 2012

Recently we had the first major Transition Year event of the year, the annual House Speech Competition. Here, Samuel Clarke casts his eye on it:

This year’s Transition Year house speech competition, which took place at eight o’ clock o the final evening of September was, I believe, considered by all who went to be a great success. The annual competition which has been taking place in the college for several years now showcased ten speakers, with two different speakers from each senior house who delivered words on a range of various topics of their choice.

Having watched many of the candidates preparing their speeches in our English lessons throughout the week, and having also given advice as a class on how they could improve their speeches, it was interesting to see how the speeches turned out.

After filing in from the cool night air of Chapel Square, to settle under the varnished arching beams of the Big Schoolroom, the evening commenced rapidly with a short word from Ms Smith followed by a warm welcome by the appointed presenter of the evening, Lydia Johnson, whose responsibility it was to explain the marking scheme of the competition and introduce each speaker.

First to the stage was Roman Sharykin student from Glen House who confidently began the evening with a speech that questioned how far one would go in order to impress and be noticed by others, or as he himself put it “be accepted.” Being from Moscow, he referred to a recent incident that has taken place near his home where a heavy metal music group, ‘Pussy Riot,’ in order to gain more fame for themselves, stirred up great controversy. Entering a Russian Orthodox Cathedral they performed a heavy metal song behind the altar - the place where Christ is believed to reside, resulting in a two- year prison sentence for each band member. He claimed that the band had “put fame in the centre of their lives” and that they had been willing to go extremely far in order to “be accepted.” Having stated at the start of his speech that his objective had been to “make people think,” he finished the speech with asking how far each of us would go to be accepted.

Speaking for Gwynn house, Alex Barnes-Auld followed Roman with an equally good speech where he recounted some various experiences from boarding in Columba’s,in Gwynn House itself. He explained to the crowd that although he could find it tough at times, ‘returning to dorm after a tiring day where he would find his mattress outside in the rain,’ he very much enjoys his time in Gwynn and loves being a member of the house.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

TY Book Recommendations 6

Two more recommendations from pupils preparing for their Transition Year Extended Essays-

Eireann Tinkhof has read Natascha Kampusch's book 3,096 Days:-

This autobiography was an extremely enjoyable read. Natascha tells us about her struggle to survive for years whilst being kept captive by a man name Wolfgang Priklopil. I enjoyed the way you got an insight into what actually happened and how she used her willpower to get through the horrible situation. She was a girl living in Austria and was captured by the age of ten and was kept in a cellar for 3,096 days. The way she tells her story is very interesting and it is good that she doesn't go into much detail about some topics. I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants to move away from fiction and try reading something new.

John Clarke has read Daphne du Maurier's classic novel Rebecca:-

Rebecca is a book that in my opinion is more geared towards females. This is partly because it is written in the first person of the heroine (whose name we do not know). The novel displays a womanly rivlary, between the two wives of Maxime de Winter, the main character, his newfound spouse from Monte Carlo, and the late Rebecca, famed for her beauty, personality and elegance. As other themes feature in the book such as dress codes and tea parties, I would definitely recommend this to a girl.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Recommendation: 'A Neutron Walks into a Bar'

Tonight in the Science Gallery in Dublin, A Neutron Walks into a Bar: random facts about our universe and everything in it is launched. Co-edited by our Science Department colleague Humphrey Jones of Frog Blog fame, it's just the thing for Christmas and we recommend it to all our visitors. And all royalties go to cystic fibrosis research.

In the words of the Amazon page:

Fun, quirky and informative, A Neutron Walks Into A Bar... is a collection of facts, definitions, explanations, biographies and jokes guaranteed to quench a thirst for knowledge, discovery and humour that's out of the ordinary.

Did you know that water is the only thing found naturally on earth in each of the 3 states of matter?

This book began its life as Science140, an exciting social media project co-ordinated by four Irish science communicators and enthusiasts including Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin presenter of RTE's The Science Squad, Maria Delaney, Humphrey Jones and Paul O'Dwyer. Since its launch on Twitter in the spring of 2012, thousands of tweets have been collected, each explaining a scientific principle, fact, joke or biography in 140 characters or less. The tweets collected are on a range of topics from astronomy to zoology, and have been compiled by science enthusiasts, educators, members of the public and celebrities from all over the world.

TY Book Recommendation 5

Ally Boyd Crotty has been reading Mark Haddon's novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time for her Transition Year Extended Essay, and recommends it:

This book is about a boy named Christopher Boone, and Christopher has autism. The story begins when Christopher finds a dog dead on his neighbour's lawn. This dog is his neighbour's dog, called Wellington, whom he knows and likes. Because Christopher wants to find out who killed Wellington, he decides to write a 'murder mystery' novel. As the novel unfolds it unravels to be about more than just who killed Wellington, but also about Christopher's complicated family life and the secrets and lies held by his parents.

I would recommend this book to anyone my age and older, but probably not younger. I especially like how it is written through the eyes of an autistic boy of about my age because you can see how differently he sees day-to-day things to us, and this is very interesting, and also amusing at times. Christopher's narrative is one of my favourite things about this book, although it is quite hard to get into at the beginning. Once you get past the beginning chapters however, it lures you in, and after that I did not want to put the book down.

Christopher puts some maths problems in the book which are something like puzzles, such as the 'Monty Hall Problem'. This is one of the main reasons this book is more suited for my age group or older because I know that if I was any younger I could maybe find these a little confusing, or even just very boring, but when I read it I really liked having the problems because it did make the book even more unique.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it would definitely recommend it to a friend.

"Hallowe'en 1915"

The 76th Poem of the Week is "Hallowe'en 1915" by Winifred Mary Letts, an Englishwoman with very strong Irish connections, and who is buried in Rathcoole, Co Dublin. Hallowe'en is next week, when we are on half-term holiday. The Poem of the Week will resume after half-term.

Will you come back to us, men of our hearts, to-night
In the misty close of the brief October day?
Will you leave the alien graves where you sleep and steal away
To see the gables and eaves of home grow dark in the evening light?

O men of the manor and moated hall and farm,
Come back to-night, treading softly over the grass;
The dew of the autumn dusk will not betray where you pass;
The watchful dog may stir in his sleep but he'll raise no hoarse alarm.

Then you will stand, not strangers, but wishful to look
At the kindly lamplight shed from the open door,
And the fire-lit casement where one, having wept you sore,
Sits dreaming alone with her sorrow, not heeding her open book.

Forgotten awhile the weary trenches, the dome
Of pitiless Eastern sky, in this quiet hour
When no sound breaks the hush but the chimes from the old church tower,
And the river's song at the weir,—ah! then we will welcome you home.

You will come back to us just as the robin sings
Nunc Dimittis from the larch to a sun late set
In purple woodlands; when caught like silver fish in a net
The stars gleam out through the orchard boughs and the church owl flaps his wings.

We have no fear of you, silent shadows, who tread
The leaf-bestrewn paths, the dew-wet lawns. Draw near
To the glowing fire, the empty chair, — we shall not fear,
Being but ghosts for the lack of you, ghosts of our well-beloved dead.

Monday, October 22, 2012

TY Book Recommendation 4

Bethany Shiell has been reading Emma Donoghue's novel Room for her Transition Year Extended Essay, and writes:-

This book had been recommended tome by so many people that I felt I had to read it. And now I know why, now I can’t stop reading!

Jack lives in Room, which measures 11 feet by 11 feet and has a locked door and a skylight. This is Jack’s entire world. Jack has never been outside of Room, so he knows that all his friends he sees on TV aren’t real. Jack’s Ma was kidnapped seven years ago at the age of nineteen, and neither of them have seen Outside since. Though the difference is that Jack was born in Room, and is happy with his life in that 121 square foot room. Until one day when his Ma turns his world upside down and tells him that there’s a world outside. We are plunged into Jack’s life of ignorance about the outside world, and  the frustration of his Ma, who has always wanted him to live a normal life.

I found this description of the book that I agree with completely: "Room is a book to read in one sitting. When it’s over you look up: the world looks the same but you are somehow different and that feeling lingers for days" (Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveller’s Wife). It makes you see your life in a whole new light, and it is also "a moving portrayal of how love can be born, nurtured and survive even in the darkest of places" (Cecilia Ahern, author of P.S. I Love You).

Sunday, October 21, 2012

INOTE Conference 2012

Yesterday the third annual conference of the Irish National Organisation for Teachers of English, INOTE, was held in Kilkenny, "Words Alone are Certain Good". Below are some links and tweets from the day via Storify. Evelyn O'Connor, who runs the excellent, delivered two ICT training sessions, and has handily put her useful notes online here on a variety of web tools. Thanks to her for the kind mention of this blog, too. She also encouraged English teachers in Ireland to join Twitter (there are still fairly few). Here's her own post on the day.

The AGM was taken up mostly by a concerned and passionate discussion of the changes coming to the Junior Certificate. More delightfully, a highlight was Dermot Bolger's writing workshop, in which he got us to write pieces based on John Hinde's photographs of the Butlin's holiday camp, and read his own moving poem 'Neilstown Matadors'.

Our own notes from last year's conference can be found in these posts.

Friday, October 19, 2012

TY Book Recommendation 3

Philippa Carroll is reading  The Foretelling by Alice Hoffman for her Transition Year Extended Essay, and writes:-

I am reading a book based on strong, native American, woman warriors. Their whole upbringing is war-oriented. At a very young age they each get a mare. From thirteen onwards they are expected to fight in battle. They tell fierce tales of the war their country has been through.

Rain is the daughter of the Queen. She was called Rain because her mother didn't love her and never set eyes on her or spoke to her, she was raised by the priestess. The book is based on her trying hard to be the best queen she can be when her time comes. It can clearly be seen that her self-confidence has been shattered by her mother. I love this book because of its powerfully feminist feel. It talks about women who burn off their left breast in order to achieve an accurate shot. That shows dedication and courage. The problem with their society is they are unable to show emotion,: emotions are weakness to them. Rain loves a boy called Melek but can never be with him as that would be vulnerable. Even in war a woman got axed in the face and she did not cry out. 

I adore this book as it teaches how important it is to express yourself and it shows how important it is to protect your self confidence from people like the Queen who want to shatter it.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Macbeth 7: Act 2 scene 3 - 'expectation of plenty'

This is the seventh in a series of analyses of key moments in Macbeth via the iPad app ShowMe. 

Here, the Porter's language hits on some of the deeper themes of the play.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

TY Book Recommendation 2

Erik Higgins recommends War: Stories of Conflict (edited by Michael Morpurgo) which he is reading for his Transition Year Extended Essay:

The reason I would recommend this book to anyone, is because of the content of the stories, the genuine enthusiasm of the authors, and the brutal reality some of the stories show. The book is a compilation of war stories by different authors. The book is in the fiction section in the library, but there certainly seems to be a good sense of reality behind each and every story. I suppose the main reason I would recommend this book is because of the genuine knowledge and experience about what they are writting that the authors appear to have.

Macbeth 6: Act 2 scene 2 - 'a little water'

This is the sixth in a series of analyses of key moments in Macbeth via the iPad app ShowMe.

Here, Macbeth is horrified by the sight of the blood on his hands. Lady Macbeth says that 'a little water clears us of this deed'.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

'A Small Death in Lisbon'

This is the first in our annual series of book recommendations by pupils who are currently reading books for their Transition Year Extended Essays.

Mark McAuley recommends Robert Wilson's A Small Death in Lisbon:-

This book not only is an excellent page turner but it also is very well written, and anyone who reads it is immediately hooked in to the crime-filled world the author creates.  My first feeling about the book was that it was going to be another boring thriller but I was astounded and proved completely wrong by the time Ihad read the second chapter. The story really grips you from start to finish. Overall I have really enjoyed this book and would recommend that everyone should read it. It's just a great read!

I would give it  8 and a half out of 10.

Monday, October 15, 2012

'Bruises Heal'

This is our annual Bullying Awareness Week, and for our 75th Poem of the Week we've chosen 'Bruises Heal' by Andrew Fusek Peters and Polly Peters.  Polly Peters reads the poem herself on the Poetry Archive website here.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Macbeth 5: Act 2 scene 2 - 'Consider it not so deeply'

This is the fifth in a series of analyses of key moments in Macbeth via the iPad app ShowMe.

Here, Macbeth returns to Lady Macbeth after the murder, and she tries to stop him obsessing over what he has seen.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Autumn Haiku

Our 74th Poem of the Week is actually three poems - haiku by the 17th century Japanese master Basho (translated, and thus not with the correct syllabic count):

Blowing from the west,
Fallen leaves gather
In the east.


Along this road
Goes no-one,
This autumn eve.


The wind has brought
Enough fallen leaves
To make a fire.

The Crocodile by the Door

It's very hard for this blog to review the new memoir by Selina Guinness dispassionately. The author is an Old Columban, and lives close to the College, but most importantly at the centre of The Crocodile by the Door: the story of a house, a farm and a family, is the story of her uncle Charles, who worked here for many years as a French and German teacher, and is very fondly remembered.

When Selina Guinness came as a pupil to St Columba's, she lived just up the hill in Tibradden House (also the name of our junior boys' boarding house): "I felt as if I was being handed over as some kind of trophy to the victors of a battle I hadn't realised was being waged above my head. My mother had brought me to Tibradden at birth, and now I was being handed back to the house."

Many years later she returned to live in the house, this time with Colin (soon to be her husband), and would have to start waging her own battles - with the crumbling edifice, with a new farming life, with ravenous property developers, with the after-effects of her uncle's life. The Crocodile by the Door tells these stories, all skilfully interwoven in a clear and supple style.  In particular, its narrative drive comes from three strands - Charles's declining health, the tragic Kirwan family who lived in the lodge, and attempts by the property developer Bernard McNamara to buy much of the land. The result is an immensely readable first book, and highly recommended.

Finally, back to Charles: as with the Kirwan family, Selina Guinness had to pick her way carefully here through delicate issues of privacy. She has succeeded admirably. The Charles Guinness in these pages has all the eccentricity, kindness, enthusiasm and above all sweetness of the man many of us here knew and loved.

Monday, October 08, 2012

'Macbeth' workshops

For pupils and teachers currently studying Macbeth for the Leaving Certificate, the PDST site has some useful video material in which Andrea Ainsworth, Voice Director of Dublin's Abbey Theatre, takes workshops on three crucial soliloquies including (below) Macbeth's vital speech from Act I scene vii 'If it were done...'.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Our Principles and Aims

Our school has just finished an official Whole School Evaluation - an affirming and invigorating experience. Part of this involves inspections of subject department plans, and we thought on World Teachers' Day it would be good to reproduce here the page on our Principles and Aims.

Here they are:-

• To encourage in our pupils enthusiasm for and a love of English literature and language.

• To help them become life-long readers.

• To develop expressive and efficient writing skills.

• To understand the importance of planning work, and rereading/revising it.

• To encourage pupils to produce creative work, including fiction and poetry, outside the bounds of their academic syllabi.

• To help pupils develop confidence in their speaking skills.

• To help them become critically-aware about the use of language in the world around them.

• To integrate learning and teaching of language and literature.

• To prepare our pupils thoroughly and professionally for their state examinations, and help them reach their potential, including those with learning difficulties.

• To teach in a co-ordinated way, and share best practice, but also to allow space for individual teaching styles.

• To encourage participation and discussion in lessons, particularly through effective questioning, and to guard against excessively teacher-led classes. Classroom layouts enhance this.

• To mark pupils’ work carefully and intensively, concentrating on areas of improvement. This is very time-intensive, and it can be particularly difficult due to the demands of a 24/7 boarding school, but is vital.

• To encourage thorough but always pertinent note-taking in class and private study.

• To further these aims in an organised, structured way as pupils move through the school and mature.

• To showcase outside lecturers, writers and other guests with an interest in English.

• To expose pupils to as much good professional theatre as possible.

• To maintain a strong culture of improvement, to stretch ourselves as teachers, and to guard against complacency, particularly by being constantly reflective on our practices and purposes.

• To use digital technology where appropriate to further these aims.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Macbeth 4: Act 1 scene 7 - 'If we should fail?'

This is the fourth in a series of analyses of key moments in Macbeth via the iPad app ShowMe.

This is the moment when Macbeth is 'lost', fatally weakening on the idea of murdering the King.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012


As we move into October, the 74th Poem of the Week is e.e.cummings's l(a.  Nothing else to be said about it: just click on the link to see its effect.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Blog Awards Ireland 2012

We're delighted to be one of the six finalists in the 'Science and Education' category for this year's Blog Awards Ireland (to be decided on October 13th), with the initial list having been cut down from 45.

Here are the other finalists; well done to them all, and check out their work:-

Transition Year House Speeches 2012

The annual House Speech competition last night was another success. Ten speakers from five Houses spoke on a variety of subjects and ranged from the serious to the amusing, the light-hearted to the moving.

The presenter was Lydia Johnson, and she introduced these speakers: Roman Sharykin (Glen) spoke about the Pussy Riot protests in Russia, asking that we all consider what is most important in our lives; Eliza Hancock's speech on interesting words was read out by Jessye Faulkner (Iona), due to the former's illness; Alex Barnes-Auld talked out the weird and wonderful behaviour of his fellow boarders in Gwynn; Freya Pierce (Hollypark) spoke about her childhood speech problems (with no evidence of them any more); Callan Elliott (Stackallan) discussed, with plenty of knowledge, dogs; Muqtadir Shah (Gwynn) told the audience about the autism of his younger brother; Ally Boyd Crotty (Hollypark) tried to persuade the audience that she is not obsessed with cats; Christian McKeever (Glen) took us into the strange and mystifying life of that odd race, 'gamers', Nadia Al-Lahiq (Iona) explained how her hair-style is her signature feature; and finally Peter Quigley (Stackallan) took us into the extraordinary world of North Korea.

Mr McCarthy, TY co-ordinator, was chair of the judges beside Ms McEneaney and Ms Kerr, and announced the results: Roman and Peter were equal third, Ally second, and Muqtadir was this year's deserved winner, for his moving personal speech. Hearty congratulations to all.