Friday, May 29, 2009


Our podcasting started in March; there have been over 1000 'listens' since then, and increasing numbers have been 'tuning in' to our Macbeth revision sessions in particular. If you're spending this sunny weekend nervously preparing for your English Literature paper in the Leaving Certificate, you might find them helpful; they're each between 10 and 15 minutes long, and are listed below. Click here for all seven together.

1: The crucial moment : the soliloquy in Act I scene vii before the murder.
2: The real Lady Macbeth.
3: King Macbeth - law and order in Scotland.
4: Malcolm the hero?
5: The Witches and the Supernatural.
6: A quotation auto-test.
7: Macbeth's tragic end - 'Tomorrow, and tomorrow ...'

Tomorrow we have our St Columba's Day celebrations, and prize-giving. The blog will resume on Wednesday with a busy week catching up with lots of pupils' work that's built up recently, particularly poems and TY Work Portfolio material. We'll also have a new podcast on Tom MacIntyre's The Great Hunger, with colleague Evan Jameson.

And of course on Wednesday the Leaving and Junior Cert candidates start their exams with English. Good luck to all...

Terry Dolan on Geoffrey Chaucer

At the start of this month, we put up a podcast discussion with Professor Terry Dolan about the great Middle English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. An edited transcript of this interview will be published in the Library magazine 'The Submarine' before this term ends. Meanwhile, click here for the transcript, and here to go back to the podcast.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Podcast 11: Macbeth revision VII - Macbeth's tragic end

The last of our seven Macbeth revision podcasts deals with Macbeth as he faces his end in Act V, and analyses the crucial speech in Act V scene v, 'Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrrow...' It considers why we consider his story tragic, given the horrendous deeds he has committed.

Listen to the podcast 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).

Poetry Ireland newsletter

Greetings to anyone who's visiting this blog via the link on the current Poetry Ireland eNews newsletter, and their section 'Things We Liked This Week!' Thanks to Poetry Ireland for this boost. We've had their website in our links for a long time; it's an excellent and well-designed resource for all things poetic, with media resources, a blog, podcasts, and more, and you can sign up for the newsletter too. And of course we take part in Poetry Aloud each year, too.

Poetry links and labels in SCC English:-
General poetry, the Senior Poetry Prize, the Junior Poetry Prize, a podcast about Chaucer with Terry Dolan, a podcast interview with Louise C. Callaghan, Poetry Aloud, Voices of Poetry evenings, Poems of the Week, Images in Poetry.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

TY English Evening, 2009

Last night we had our annual Transition Year English Evening in the BSR. This evening is the culmination of the TY Programme, and at the end of it pupils receive their final grades and comments from their teachers. Congratulations go to this year's Premier Award winners, who achieved 80% or more over the whole year: Kate Boyd Crotty, Susannah Cooke, Thomas Emmet, Sophie Millar, Olivia Plunket, Miriam Poulton, Amelia Shirley. Some of their work and others' will be posted here shortly.

Our guest of honour this year was Garrett Fagan (pictured), who has taught at Warwick University and at DCU and is a tutor at UCD. He has interests in Renaissance literature, legal-literary relations and Anglo-Irish writing. Quotes from his comments are in italics below. He commented on the striking differences between the pieces, and the variety and clarity of what he had heard.

The first of the eight pieces was Susannah Cooke's 'My First School', originally written for her Easter exam. It was read out by Amelia Shirley. Garrett Fagan commented on how well this re-created the texture of reality, through her precise focus on detail. Next was Virginia Peck with a different kind of writing, her snappy, sharp and fast review of the film Closer, recently posted here, being 'simply killer'. Her own reviewing style suited Closer particularly well. Reviewing is itself a creative act, not merely a plot summary.

Next came the first piece of narrative writing, Carl Ibe's 'The Watcher' read by Patrick McGonagle. This showed a talented cinematographer's eye in its careful, stark and sinister images; given his ability to think visually, Carl might well have a future as a scriptwriter.

Miriam Poulton wrote an excellent story told from two different perspectives, a fresh take on the Cinderella story. Robbie Hollis read out the first version of the story, and Miriam herself the second. Writing has to 'make it new', and this certainly did; observational empathy is the kernel of good writing, and this sardonic reworking of an old fairy-tale smacked of personal experience.

This was followed by another different kind of writing, Georgina Wilson's take on 'Parents' in the Facebook age. Writing can be cruel, even when it's affectionate, and this piece examined the different protocols of the online world. Online engagement is changing the way we write, and the next Dickens will come from this engagement.

The second piece with two readers was Thomas Emmet's story 'Shadows', in which he found that, after a visit to the barber's, his shadow had his old haircut. Fergus Morton played the part of his slobby flat-mate, Nick. This funny piece with brilliant dialogue showed a rather macabre sensibility and the important ability to step outside oneself in writing.

Olivia Plunket's 'The Oldest Person I Know' was one of the many excellent pieces written with this title during the year. This personal piece about her grandfather was exceptionally courageous. Just as Michel de Montaigne wrote essays to a dead friend, keeping up a conversation with him after the latter's death, so Olivia's piece was part of a kind of ongoing conversation with her grandfather.

The evening concluded with Jessica Sheil's piece 'Sweet Sixteen' about her memorable experience this year getting her ears pierced in a rather surprising location. This was brilliantly read by Andrew Martin, who might well have a career as Juliet. Again, it captured the texture of the everyday.

Garrett finished with some interesting and powerful comments about literature generally. Here is a precis:-

Walter Bagehot remarked that writers were like teeth, divided into incisors and grinders, and we have certainly had plenty of incisive writing tonight.

In these post-Celtic Tiger days, when we seem to be cutting back on everything, and a utilitarian view is taking hold, it might seem that there is less space for literature in the classroom, and in the nation. Other nations however, regard Ireland highly for our literature and authors like Yeats, Swift, Joyce and Beckett. It is true that literature pays little, but the returns literature gives us are great. W.H.Auden said that 'poetry makes nothing happen', but Seamus Heaney's response was to credit poetry for making the moonwalk possible.

The writer has ambition, an inquisitive joy. The writer is one who speaks, but who primarily listens. That empathy to reach out beyond oneself and to hear 'others' is to be at our most human. A great piece of literature or the attempt to create one can change the world. It is like the impatient thump that restores a snowy TV set, the shock that sets the fibrillated heart back in rhythm. A good poem, or the attempt to write one, is, as Heaney says, 'not only pleasurably right but compellingly wise, not only a surprising variation played upon the world but a re-tuning of the world itself.'

Thank you for allowing me to share your stories with you.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

'Ribbons', & 'Deerpark and the Great Snow'

Two more poems now from the winner of this year's Senior Poetry Prize (pictured, the Deerpark in the 'Great Snow' earlier this year):-

'Ribbons', by Fiona Boyd

as we move through the air
we weave in and out of each other
inseparable ribbons
that were dropped
to float to the dead, dying ground.

carried and shaped by the wind
i will not move for you, unless i have to
unless this invisibility forces me to

the ground's approaching
faster, faster now
when suddenly i realise
it was my hand that rested on the windowsill
it was my hand that let us go,
that waves at us as we fall,
the shadow of my smile leering down at us.

' Deerpark and the Great Snow', by Fiona Boyd

An alleyway of trees.
A weight of snow covers everything.
I sit surrounded by white
Apart from you and your rushing colours
Fading now in the dimmer light.

You move your mouth to tell me things
And I listen
But nothing comes in.

All your words are like snowflakes
Pushed by the slightest puff of wind.
The world is pushing your words away,
And with the wild wind
I can’t find any tonight.

'Write a Poem' competition

Congratulations to two pupils who have been Highly Commended in the Teaching English magazine 'Write a Poem' competition this year. Both poems have already been posted here: Thomas Emmet's 'The Old Guitarist', based on Picasso's painting (and which he read at the Voices of Poetry evening on Sunday) was commended in the senior cycle competition, and Oliver Glenn-Craigie's 'Tea Pot' was commended in the junior section. Thomas and Oliver have been invited to the awards ceremony in Portlaoise in September.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Voices of Poetry 2009

Last night, after a glorious summer's day, we gathered in the BSR for our annual Voices of Poetry evening, and listened as 24 pupils and staff read poetry in various languages in the darkened hall, lit by a single spotlight. It's always a special evening in the College's calendar. Some of the poetry has already appeared on this blog this year (click the links).

Matt Brooke from I form opened with 'My Dad's Old Boots', an appropriate start for an evening that involved journeys of many kinds - geographical, linguistic, poetic, emotional...

The first foreign language heard was Russian, in the form of a poem to women by Pushkin read by Olga Kolobkova, and others were Dutch (Lavinia Thelen), Farsi (Milo Reddaway), Latin (Patrick Faulkner), Italian (Sophie Kyd-Rebenburg), Spanish (Gina Mirow), French (Philip Arndt), Gujerati (Rishi Manuel), and German (Helene Tonner). Our national language was represented by Oscar Nunan from Donegal reading a poem by Cathal O Searcaigh.

Interspersed with these languages was poetry in English, much of it by pupils. Olivia Plunket read 'A cold wind', which came out of the Christmas Past project last December; two poems from the TY Images in Art module were Thomas Emmet's 'The Old Guitarist' and Robbie Hollis's 'The Scream'; Opeline Kellett, one of the three successful Poetry Aloud finalists this year, read her Junior Poetry Prize-winning 'Youthful Innocence'; Patrick McGonagle read 'Messy Room' by the American children's author Shel Silverstein (see his fine site here); William Maire, another Poetry Aloud finalist, read Yeats's 'An Irish Airman Foresees his Death'; the Senior Prefect, Rebecca Feeney-Barry, chose Wilfred Owen's 'Has Your Soul Slipped?'; Fiona Boyd, winner of this year's Dix Poetry Prize, read one of her winning pieces, a memorable mirror poem called 'Christmas Reflexive'; and the evening concluded with Molly Buckingham reading 'Dawn' by the youngest poet of the night, Mark Russell from Primary.

There were also readings from staff members - the Warden marked Seamus Heaney's recent 70th birthday with 'Twice Shy' and his powerful sestina 'Two Lorries' (listen to Heaney reading it here on the Poetry Archive); Dr Riemenschneider, shortly on her way to America after two years here, read Robert Frost's 'The Road not Taken'; Mr McCarthy read a powerful personal poem about love by his brother Ted (from his 1999 book November Wedding); and the Chaplain, shortly to retire, delivered Peter Dix's poem 'We all walk on walls', which is inscribed on the front of the Dix Memorial Award (pictured).

It was a superb evening, full of juxtapositions and surprises, eddying through seriousness and humour, and expertly brought together by organiser and presenter Mr Swift.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

'Closer' review

Today, TY pupils handed in their Work Portfolios, thus completing their written work for the year. Over the next week, we hope to post some of this work, especially after the TY English Evening on Tuesday next (more about this in due course).

Pupils can write a play/film review for this Portfolio, and Virginia Peck wrote a review of the 2004 film Closer, starring Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Natalie Portman and Jude Law:-

Set in modern London, this hypnotic tale is simply a killer. With Damien Rice blaring out ‘The Blower’s Daughter’ in the background and the ironic title ‘Closer’ it is certainly refreshingly different but what I like most by far is the dialogue. People this sharp, witty and clever just don’t exist. Still my fascination with the dialogue continues. The characters constantly assault each other with perfectly timed verbal abuse. It’s a stylised and idealised language that you’ll only wish you could speak. However back in reality these are the kind of retorts you think of ten minutes after losing an argument. In fact there are lots of things in that movie I wish I’d said because they are so true!

Read Virginia's full review here.

Below, Damien Rice's song, with images from the film.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Podcast 10: Macbeth revision VI - a quotation auto-test

Our penultimate Macbeth revision podcast is a little different. Here are ten quotations from the play; you can pause your computer or MP3 player after each, and guess who spoke the words, and the context, and then listen to the answers and a commentary on the quotation. These commentaries examine the quotations as key moments in the play, linking them to the rest of the text, and again trying to prompt fresh reflection on the themes and characters.

Two useful online tools for revision:-
  • the excellent Shakespeare search engine, Clusty. You can search the entire text of his works, or narrow your search to Macbeth (such as this one on 'blood').
  • word frequency lists for all Shakespeare's plays, courtesy of Mount Ararat High School in Topsham, Maine. Compare key words in Macbeth with how often they appear in other plays.
Listen to the podcast 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).

'Me' & 'You'

Two more poems from the Senior Poetry Prize ... this is a pair written by Carl-Victor Wachs (the layout is deliberate):-

Me, by Victor Wachs

I stand here
Waiting for it all
I stand, I step, I stay
Wondering if I may
feel tall

I came here
Waiting for it all
I crouched, I climbed, I came
Just to assure my fame
Not to feel small

I am here
Having seen it all
I wish I was. I would
Stand, come, be, if I could
before I fall

You, by Victor Wachs

You shine
Even across the line
That separates your life and mine
make me be thine
Feel fine
Unable to define
How you could not be mine

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Stagecraft Prize 2009

Congratulations to Emily Plunket, winner of the 2009 Fry Prize for Stagecraft, awarded for her work on our November production of My Fair Lady (artwork, scenery, chorus).

'The Time', 'The Theatre'

Here are two more poems which were entered for this year's Dix Memorial Poetry Prize:-

The Time, by Olivia Plunket

You make your way across the room and fall beneath me,
I fly, you fall,
I fall, you fly,
We soar.
I can feel your hand in mine; I can hear your heartbeat in my ear.
It's a comfort, if it's steady, if it's clear.

This is my time, our time, the time,
Where we will find this essence that draws us in,
This fire that burns around us,
But when I see you your eyes change, you change,
This is it, this is the time, and you're my time.

You're my time and I'm your minute,
You're my hour and I'm your second,
And this place, this person, this heart is mine to give,
I give it to you ... it is time.

The Theatre, by Sophie Millar

It’s tiring,
On a one-man stage,
All the roles left down to you.

Trying not to forget,
Who you really are.
Thinking, beneath the masks,
Is there even someone still there?

It’s tiring,
Concentrating so hard,
To be those persons they all expect.

(photo courtesy 0f Photos8)

Fox, Dawn, Sea

Three more poems from Mr Swift's I form class collection now:-

The Fox, by William Wood

In elegance and grace it strides,
Its paws make no sound

As they land on the ground
In the deep green of no man’s land.
Seen by nothing, heard by nothing,

It goes like an assassin at night.

The Dawn, by Sally Beeby

As the sun rises over the hills,
Like a balloon slowly filling up,
The moon slowly deflating,
The light gently brightens.

It is dawn, the early morning,
People are slowly waking, animals stirring.

The sea is starting to shine,

The water glistens,

Boats begin to bob,
Sea life starts to swim up to the surface.

Seaside, by Tara McCormick

Sizzling sun,
Burnt bodies,

Waves of water,
The seaside has come!

Shells shudder,

Toddlers tumble,
Children chat,

The seaside has come!

Fabulous foam,

Balls bouncing,
Shady shadows
The seaside has come!

Heat hurting,

Glitter glowing,

Wind whining,

The seaside has COME!

(photo courtesy Photos8)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dix Poetry Prize Winner, 2009

Congratulations to Fiona Boyd (V form), who is the 2009 winner of the Peter Dix Memorial Prize for Poetry (she also shared the prize last year). Over the coming days we'll be posting poetry by Fiona and other entrants. This is a real week for poetry, with Louise Callaghan visiting us for workshops (see today's other post for a podcast interview with her), and the Voices of Poetry evening on Sunday.

The first piece is a mirror poem, like Julia Copus's 'The Back Seat of My Mother's Car', this week's Poem of the Week (our 52nd).

Christmas Reflexive, by Fiona Boyd

today, just for a window width's glance
i felt Christmas again
that deep childhood feeling stirred
somewhere near my heart, where emotions live

as we drove past the church with its ringing bells
and the giggling children
i turned to my father
i was angry
not so much with him, as with anything

i tried not to cry
the whole way home.

the whole way home
i tried not to cry.

not so much with him, as with anything
i was angry.
i turned to my father
and the giggling children
as we drove past the church with its ringing bells

somewhere near my heart where emotions live
that deep childhood feeling stirred.
i felt Christmas again
today, just for a window width's glance

Podcast 9: Louise C.Callaghan - an interview and reading

We're delighted to present an extended interview with the poet Louise C. Callaghan, who discusses her poetry, and reads several poems. Included is 'The Binder's Notes', the poem for which Louise was shortlisted at the recent Strokestown International Poetry Festival, and which you can read here on their website.

Louise also reads poems such as 'The Palatine Daughter Marries a Catholic', 'Fragments', 'The Trader's Magneto Dynamo Company' and 'The Trick Is', and discusses the origins of her writing, and the methods she uses to encourage children to write. She will be visiting the College for workshops with I form pupils over the next week or so.

Below is her poem 'Colophon', which is a companion piece to 'The Binder's Notes', and which she read at Strokestown; this illuminates the chief damage to the Binder's manuscript, that of the guide-letters which have been cut out.

In her interview Louise kindly says how much enjoys visiting St Columba's, 'this place which is so friendly to poetry' (pictured, she reads in the Cadogan Building to pupils last year).


A scholar in the Priory Library
cut right through the skin
of the
Selected Saint Augustine,
removed two zoomorphic initials.

Centuries before, this one monk
when he'd finished copying
the Latin text, wrote
the following as his end-note:

If anyone deface this book let him die

the death. Let the falling sickness
take him, let him be broken
on the wheel, then hanged, Amen.

Listen to the podcast 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).

Poets Ranked by Beard Weight

Damien Mulley links to a seminal post at A Journey Round My Skull ('Unhealthy book fetishism from a reader, collector, and amateur historian of forgotten literature'), about a crucial and under-analysed element of poetry. In the Edwardian leaflet 'Poets Ranked by Beard Weight', the author analyses 'poetic gravity' - an intangible property which results from the aesthetic "charge" of the beard itself rather than from any intrinsic ability or merit attaching to the wearer in question or to his literary productions.

You can look at are some portraits of hirsute versifiers, including Sir Walter Raleigh, Alfred Lord Tennyson (beard type - Maltese) and the phenomenal Walt Whitman. Note that the poet pictured in our post is struggling a long way behind these whiskery bards.

'400 Years Young'

Today's London Independent 'Life' section has seven pages here on (and reprinting) Shakespeare's sonnets, with an introduction by Boyd Tonkin. Then various people recommend their favourite sonnets, including Bonnie Greer, Amanda Craig, Ian McKellan and Jo Shapcott, who chooses no 73 :-

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

All My Sons review

Transition Year and III form have now both been to see the Gate Theatre's production of Arthur Miller's tragedy All My Sons. Among the Junior Cert pupils to go last week was Michael Kemp, who reviews it below:-

Reading play scripts before seeing the play is the exact same as reading the book before the movie. I had already envisioned how it should be played, the timing and setting all in my head and thus prepared myself to be appalled by any motion not in sync with my vision. My vision was wrong though.

I think that All My Sons is a play that will only work with the right cast, although this production pulled it off marginally.

The portrayals of Joe and Kate were flawless and fully deserved their standing ovation, Joe especially simply for making Keller's transformation from family man to the angry, confused and guilt-ridden character that dominates the final act, seem so real and human. Unfortunately, Chris could not pull this off.

The actor certainly played it well at the start but as he needed to be more dramatically unhinged; he became fidgety and lost his restraint, perhaps uncomfortable with how he was supposed to attack Joe.

I won't go into too much detail about the supportting cast but even though I imagined them differently, they were all good, especially George and Annie, whose chemistry electrified the second act after a slow beginning.

The set was authentic though I found the lighting scheme to be a little jokey [George is sad so put him under a blue light, but now he is happy, get him under an orange light!] but it worked although it distracted me a little.

But the general lighting was superb, and especially the deep orange flooding the stage as the sun sets. I won't give too much detail about the sets because as long as they are there, they do their job but the set designers did well to give Keller's home a 'Lived In' look with old wood and a seemingly overgrown garden.

All the things I found annoying in this adaptation are subjective to every person. For example, some of the things that I would see differently were: Jim's too old to be Chris' s friend, Sue wasn't old enough, and Kate seemed weaker than she was supposed to be. Many seemed too concerned with keeping their accents in check than expressing their emotions.

Although it sounds like I thought it was a poor production, that's not true at all, I'm simply nit-picking.
I was slightly confused at the start, mainly because the characters were so upbeat and jokey, contrasting so heavily with their true selves, but I soon got it. Like the best suburban dramas, All My Sons shows the gloss and rose-tinted memories that suburbia promises and provides, yet dig a little deeper and the play reveals the dark heart that beats behind the forced smiles and the tragedy that is the American Dream.

[Go here for links to press reviews]

Monday, May 18, 2009


At the end of this week, on Sunday night, we have one of the English highlights of the year, the Voices of Poetry evening. This year, we hope to record and podcast it here, technical matters allowing. Ronan Swift is in charge of the event, and is rounding up readers in English and many other languages. Also, during the year, his I form set have been writing poetry, and we'll post some of this here over the next few days.

First, 'Wolf', by Matt Brooke, I form:-

The night is dark and black,
Yet the moon shines high and bright.
In the peaceful wood nothing stirs
But an owl enjoying a mouse.

Across the plains a young wolf trots,
Its body graceful and strong.
Its great amber eyes glint with wisdom and power.
His name is feared all over the land
For the wolf is deadly and wise,
He eats his fill of the hunt,
Nothing is wasted, nothing lost.

But in this beautiful moonlit night
Man is stalking the wolf,
The wolf knows this well
But he does not run, he does not cower
For death meets any man that challenges the wolf.

BBC Poetry Season

The BBC are broadcasting lots of good programmes on poetry at the moment as part of their Poetry Season, particularly on their digital channel BBC 4 TV (available in Ireland from UPC). The website is here, and visitors can vote on their favourite (British) poet over coming months, from a large selection of British poets, starting alphabetically with Simon Armitage, W.H. Auden, John Betjeman, William Blake, Robert Browning ...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Podcast 8: Macbeth revision V - The Witches and the supernatural

Our 5th Macbeth revision podcast, leading up to the Leaving Certificate, examines the influence of the 'weird sisters' and the supernatural on the events of the play, particularly on Macbeth's own thoughts and actions. It concentrates on the witches' influence in the early part of the play.

References from the podcast:-
  • Tony Nuttall's 2007 book is Shakespeare the Thinker.
  • Edmund Blackadder visits the Young Crone of Putney looking for the 'Wise Woman' here.
Listen to the podcast 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).

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Niall MacMonagle's 'Text'

The Irish Times magazine today carries a feature by Grainne Faller on Niall MacMonagle, who teaches at our neighbours Wesley College, and whose new Transition Year book Text has just been published :-

He is positive about the recent changes to the English course and exams. 'I know pupils are happier with the exam now,' he says. 'It’s interesting though, when the course changed a few years ago we all thought, ‘Oh great, now we can teach The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, we can teach Inside I’m Dancing.’ But then at the end of the year I asked my class, ‘Who’s the best?’ They all said Shakespeare! They’re right of course. You can’t beat him.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Drama Prizes 2009

Congratulations to the winners of this year's Drama Prizes:

Oliver Smith wins the Senior prize for his work as Professor Henry Higgins in our November production of the musical My Fair Lady.

Emma Moore wins the Junior prize for her work as Juliet in the February production of Romeo and Juliet, and also for her work in My Fair Lady.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

'Death of a Naturalist'

Pictured, our first edition copy of Seamus Heaney's first book, Death of a Naturalist, perceptively bought for the Masterman Library straight after its publication in 1966 by the then Librarian, George White.

The flap reads:- "We are very pleased to publish this first volume of poems by Seamus Heaney, a young poet who already has an eagerly-appreciative audience in his native Ireland. Seamus Heaney grew up in a farm in Derry; and it is in particular the acute observation of the countryside and its people that gives his poetry its distinctive strength."

The book cost 18 shillings.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

'Teaching English', Summer 2009

The latest edition of the excellent Teaching English magazine, from the English Support Service, is now out and can be read via Issuu below. The Summer 2009 edition is mostly prompted by the February 2009 conference in Loughrea on 'The Art of Teaching English' which we reported on at the time.

If you're looking for our own presentation (printed on page 28 of the magazine), please click here and you can click through to the various services (the page is updated when we come across something new).

There's lots of meaty interesting material in the issue, including:-
  • The text of Mary Gilbride's opening address to the conference,
  • Editor Kevin McDermott on ten years of the 'new' Leaving Cert course,
  • Lots of suggestions by Maureen Curran on encouraging children to write poetry,
  • Frank Bredin on debating,
  • Paul Murray on 'Introducing Shakespeare',
  • and Jim McDonagh and Jeff Wilkinson from Sheffield Hallam University on 'Grammar Grief'.
Click on the magazine for a larger view, and scroll through the pages. Click again on a page for a full view:-

'A Call' by Seamus Heaney

Our 51st Poem of the Week is Seamus Heaney's poignant 'A Call', from his 1996 collection The Spirit Level. In Chapel this morning, Mr Girdham spoke about Heaney's contribution to contemporary Irish literature, as a way of marking his recent 70th birthday, and read 'A Call', 'St Kevin and the Blackbird' and 'Thatcher'. The Library is currently displaying its collection of books by Heaney, including our first edition of Death of a Naturalist. Below, Seamus Heaney speaks at his birthday celebration some weeks ago.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Library News

The latest batch of Library News on the College website is worth checking out here. Librarian Tom McConville writes about the recent edition of The Submarine. He also has interesting thoughts on reading generally, and on Sebastian Barry's novel The Secret Scripture.

A City Street Late at Night

Transition Year pupils are currently completing their Work Portfolios as they come towards the end of their course. Ten pieces of work (short stories, essays, personal pieces) have to be re-written and then revised before being presented on May 23rd.

Thomas Emmet has written a descriptive piece for his portfolio called 'A City Centre Late at Night', and you can read it below (click on top right icon for full screen):-
Emmet Night

Monday, May 11, 2009

Podcast 7: Macbeth revision IV - Malcolm the hero?

Our fourth Macbeth revision podcast in a series leading up to the Leaving Certificate looks primarily at the latter part of the play. It leads on from last week's session, which examined the nature of order and law in the early part of the play. This week, we consider the end of the story, looking particularly at Malcolm and Macduff in the long scene set in England, the English King Edward, and our feelings as an audience as we watch Macbeth vanquished by the forces of decency.

Here are the statistics quoted in the podcast, comparing Macbeth to Hamlet (note that counting depends on which edition you're using):-
  • There are 27 scenes in Macbeth, with an average of 63 lines per scene.
  • There are 20 scenes in Hamlet, with an average of 193 lines per scene.
  • Macbeth is 1755 lines long; Hamlet is 3856 lines long (so Macbeth is 45% the length of Hamlet)
  • The English scene (240 lines) is the much the longest in Macbeth; it would be 6th longest in Hamlet, which has one of 612 lines (II ii).
Listen to the episode 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).

III form Scholarship

This morning eight Junior Cert pupils start two days of scholarship papers with English; they are being tested on an unseen poem (Eileen Sheehan's 'Waking') and the opening of Julia Kelly's novel With My Lazy Eye (go here for an interview and review on RTE's 'The View'). Then they write a literary essay recommending a book, and comparing it to others.

This evening, all our III formers will be attending the Gate Theatre's production of All My Sons: we'll have reviews here in due course.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Billy Collins reading

While putting up the video interview with Helen Garner yesterday, we came across a film of one of our favourite poets, Billy Collins, on, so here it is, below. Try out the wonderful 'On the Love Poem' with which he starts.

Collins has provided two of our Poems of the Week - 'The Dead' in January 2009, and 'Walking Across the Atlantic' in November 2007.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Spare Room

The Spare Room, by the Australian writer Helen Garner, is both spare and unsparing. Just out in paperback, this is a very short novel, but is all the more resonant and effective for its laser-like concentration on the see-sawing emotions of the central character, a 60ish journalist called Helen. She volunteers to look after Nicola, an extrovert and eccentric friend who is desperately ill with cancer and has turned to a series of medical charlatans for a cure. Helen agrees to put her up for three weeks; it turns out to be much harder than she expects to put up with her.

This novel is good about many things - the dependencies of friendship and caring, the strengths and weaknesses of an older woman, the city of Melbourne, food and drink. It's full of both rawly intense moments and light funny ones. It is beautifully and elegantly controlled, despite its grim subject-matter. The epigraph is from Elizabeth Jolley: 'It is a privilege to prepare the place where someone else will sleep', about which Garner says:-

I was so struck by it, it stayed in my mind ever since. Like a lot of things that Elizabeth Jolley said, it seems to take the tiny tasks of daily life and make something rich out of them. She seemed to have this wonderful way of connecting humble daily tasks with very deep meanings. So I always knew that I was going to be able to use that as an epigraph when I wanted to write this book, so I did, and I'm glad.

Listen to Helen Garner talking at length about the book here on ABC Radio (with a long reading from the start of the book - and the transcript is here) and read a profile of her in The Australian here. Below, she talks to ABC.


Friday, May 08, 2009


The latest post from entries to the Junior Poetry Prize competition is by Aoise Keogan-Nooshabadi:

'Monumental', by Aoise Keogan-Nooshabadi

We sat there.
Watching it pass,
Watching you pass.

We tried to catch it,
As it longingly lurked
under our feet.
But it wouldn’t stop, hold, pause.
Now, one can only hope.

But Time
Promised to come to me.
Only then
I can promise to hold you,
Once again.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Gala Concert

Our annual Gala Concert is on Saturday 16th May, and details of how to get tickets are on the College site here. As usual, members of the English Department are involved in singing, but the real purpose of this note is an excuse to post Celeste Guinness's lovely prize-winning poster and programme cover for the concert.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

'Family Breakup', 'A Simple Coin'

Two more poems from the recent Junior Poetry Prize competition, the first being another by the eventual winner :-

'Family Breakup', by Opeline Kellett, III form

Land the cause of all evil
money the root of the problem


The relatives you treasured
the memories you saved


Times that you savoured
loved ones you'll miss

'A Simple Coin', by Lauren Scully, I form

It causes a lot of harm,
Greedy and selfish,
The people become.
It’s shiny and silver,
Like a new horseshoe.
It cannot buy happiness,
But sometimes people will try to.
It is vital equipment for life,
As is a sword in a fight.
When put in a pocket,
It rattles as it moves,
Just like planets in space,
When placed in a vending machine,
It is swapped with an item,
As the buying begins to take place.
This can be a magical thing.

Carol Ann Duffy's 'Text'

Our 50th Poem of the Week (since the scheme of displaying poems around the school started two years ago) is 'Text' by the new British Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. See her discuss her new position on the Guardian site here.

'Text' is from her fine T.S. Eliot Prize-winning collection of love poems, Rapture, and is a characteristically witty, sharp and indeed painful piece, and one of the first poems to take on this quite recent technology.

Her 'Valentine' was our Poem of the Week leading up to last February 14th...

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Willis Shakespeare Prize, 2009

Congratulations to Crispin Maenpaa, who has won the Willis Memorial Prize for the Knowledge of Shakespeare for the second year in a row. The best other entries in forms received Distinctions and book-tokens : Rebecca Feeney-Barry (VI) and Carl-Victor Wachs (V).

The recent exam involved examining sonnet number 93, and then writing a general essay using knowledge of Shakespeare's plays, and also comparing them to those by other dramatists.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Podcast 6: Macbeth revision III - King Macbeth

Our third Macbeth revision podcast is called 'King Macbeth - law and order in Scotland', and deals with the importance of kingship and order in the play, as these ideas reflect thinking in Shakespeare's England. The 'cultural context' of the play, especially as seen through Duncan's rule in the first part of the drama, is discussed.

Two links to references in the podcast :-
  • a definition of 'tanistry' here
  • an family tree of James I, and characters in the play, here

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).

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Mobile Podbean

A note to visitors interested in our podcasts who are using mobile devices, such as iPhones: our podcast site has a special mobile version, which is displayed like the demo to the left (you can also view the full version). Then you have a handy stripped-down version of the site, and can easily see the podcasts available.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Podcast 5: Geoffrey Chaucer - an interview with Terry Dolan

Our fifth podcast is an interview with Professor Terry Dolan, about the life and work of the great Middle English poet Geoffrey Chaucer and especially his masterpiece The Canterbury Tales. See today's earlier post for more about Terry Dolan.

To see The Canterbury Tales online, together with translations, go here. Books referred to in the interview, include Neville Coghill's translation of the Tales, Terry Jones's Chaucer's Knight: Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary, and Who Murdered Chaucer? by Terry Jones, Terry Dolan and others.

Listen to the podcast 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).

Professor Dolan on American English

Last night, Professor Terry Dolan talked to our senior pupils about the origins and history of American language. He is pictured above with staff and visitors at dinner before the talk. During an informal talk in the Drawing Room to VI, V and IV formers, he ranged over the origins and uses of words such as 'kibosh', 'OK', 'cool', 'caucus', 'dollar', 'buck', 'Yankee' and 'bagel', and then answered many questions about all sorts of words used in different versions of English, including Hiberno-English.

Professor Dolan was educated at Queen's College, Oxford, where he was Hastings Senior Scholar and later Junior Dean. He worked at University College, Dublin, from 1970 in the Department of Old and Middle English, being first Associate Professor, and then Professor of English and Professor of Hiberno-English. He retired from UCD a year ago. He has been a guest lecturer all over the world, including Brazil, Egypt, USA, Denmark, China and Belgium. He was Director of the International James Joyce Summer School in Dublin. He has also broadcast widely on BBC and RTE, and has a regular slot on Sean Moncrieff's afternoon show on Newstalk where he discusses 'The Meaning of Words'. He is the compiler of the Dictionary of Hiberno-English, a new edition of which he is working on, and his website on Hiberno-English can be visited here. See today's other post for details of his podcast interview on Geoffrey Chaucer.