Friday, June 21, 2013

Summer reading suggestions list for pupils

Last year we sent out a summer reading suggestions list for pupils, and here it is again, this time revised with lots of new books. 

Today term ends, and so everyone has over two months to read, read, read... Enjoy. 

(click once on the magazine for a closer view, once again for the closest, and use the arrows to navigate. Put it on your own device by clicking the arrow top second right, and then 'Download').

Summer Reading List for parents, 2013

Here is our 4th annual reading list of suggestions for parents (well, of course for all interested adults), which this time incorporates all the 'back issues' for those who missed them (click once on the magazine for a closer look, once again for the closest, and use the arrows to navigate. You can also put it on your own device by clicking the arrow top second right, and then 'Download').

This is a pretty meaty list, with 16 pages of recommendations and 86 books. So you're bound to find plenty of interest. Happy reading, and enjoy the summer...

Monday, June 17, 2013

Actiontrack Diary 2013

The final entries from Ally Boyd Crotty describing the Actiontrack Showbuild, which came to a very successful conclusion on Saturday evening with the Western show The Good, the Bad and the Thirsty (left, the dress rehearsal) ...

Day Three:

Thursday 13th June - On our third day of Actiontrack, we began with more warmup games, and then gathered round in a circle and were given out a script. The Actiontrack crew has spent the night gathering all of our ideas and using the songs as inspiration to write a script with a western theme. There was a character for each person with individual names, and the only thing that wasn't ready was the title. We read through the story, line by line, and then were given out our parts after break-time. With props to make and lines to learn the real work had only just begun.

Day Four: 

Friday 14th June - Beginning our fourth day it was very strange to think that we were going to be performing the fully completed play the following day. We had so much to do! We started from scene one and worked our way through, after setting the stage out in a peculiar but clever way in the middle of the BSR. The characters twho weren't in the scenes that were being practised began making props such as signs, and some of the puppets we would be using during the show. A few of us also raided the costume room to try to source some Western costumes that could be used. At the end of the day soloists got to practise their songs also, and we learned some of the dances that would go with them. The last thing we did was choreograph our first scene - the bar room brawl. We used strobe lighting and each had groups to fight in, and had a particular fight choreographed in our groups to ensure no one would be hurt. We had one more day, and there was still a lot to be done!

Day Five:

Saturday 15th June - Even the start of the morning was hectic on the show-day. Everybody was running around frantically, learning lines, painting signs, choosing costumes... There was a lot to be done, and after we finished learning our last 3 dances, we went through the play from start to finish - which took us three hours. On watching the play, the Actiontrack crew knew the problem - lines had not been learnt. The shadow puppets and props were finished, and what was letting us down was our lines. They gave us 45 minutes to get our lines together and get changed into our costumes for our final dress rehearsal. Finishing just in time before the audience began to arrive, we went through the whole play, remembering our lines and our dances.

At 8.15 the BSR was packed, and as we waited nervously in the Cadogan we were talked to by Nick before we began the performance. As we began, everything went well. No lines were forgotten, songs were sang, danced were danced and the shadow puppets and costumes were perfect. 
The whole week was extremely enjoyable, and it is certainly something I will not forget. The songs we sang have been circling insude my head ever since the performance. I would like to thank Nick and his team from Actiontrack for an amazing week!

Saturday, June 15, 2013


Here are three more poems which were entries for the recent Peter Dix Memorial Prize for Poetry, this time by IV former Mark Russell:

The Path She Walked

As she followed the path she had chosen
She contemplated her footsteps
Making no impression on
The path she walked.
Her steps were sure.
More sure than when she made her way home
With pebbles and words
Hurled at her;
More sure than passing through her open front door
Into the rooms stained with
Stale beer and undried tears.
But now committed, she followed her path,
With the salty wind blowing in her hair,
And the jagged rocks below her
That rushed up to meet her.

Strangers Together
Like grey cells in a test tube
We sit together
Silently hoping not to notice each other.

Pushing up a wall between you and
The person an inch away.
A wall made of lined paper
Or earphones.

And as the outside world flashes by
The steamed up window
Blurs it all

And you wait
For the train to bring you home.

All Roads Lead To Rome

They say that
All roads lead to Rome.
It seems as good a destination as
It’s not here.

So I’ll take that road.
And I’ll follow it to Rome.
And it will take me
Away from my home.

And I know everything stays the same.
Wherever I am,
Nothing ever changes.
But while I follow the road
To some place else
At least
I can dream.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Submarine, June 2013

The latest edition of the Library magazine, The Submarine, has just been published, and you can look at it online below via Issuu (click for a closer view, again for the closest, and navigate via the arrows).

This excellent publication (the last of the academic year) is this time showcasing art, including pieces by our own pupils. As Mr McConville, the Librarian, says in his editorial, 'if we look properly at art we can carry away with us into the actual world a new way of looking, a new insight.' Some such new ways are evident here, such as in the entertaining Instagram versions of famous works like American Gothic and the Mona Lisa. Saya Kasuze writes on (and sketches) Leonardo's Last Supper, Mr Watts writes about the splendid Chester Beatty Library, Mrs Haslett about the Casino in Malahide, Ms Cullen considers the importance of line in art, Bella Purcell recommends the Bilbao Guggenheim and Ms Smith the Lady Level Gallery in Port Sunlight near Liverpool. And there is more.

[Here are some poetic interactions with art that have been on this blog in recent years]

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Beauty of the World

At the recent Transition Year English Evening, Sofia McConnell read out this piece, which was composed for her TY Work Portfolio:

The Beauty of The World

Sunrise. I watch it from my bed. A golden-red, enormous African sun comes creeping up over the blue-green hills, around it a ring of orange, yellow, pink, and then the blue, blue sky. The world is lit up within minutes. The twinkling stars have hidden for the day, allowing the sun to revel in her glory. The moon, realising it is time to go, slowly, reluctantly hides her face.

I rise and run downstairs; the cold, marble floors are a welcome shock to warm feet. The kitchen sizzles, bacon and sausages fry happily in the pan, spitting at anyone who dares to come too close. Only Gichuki can get way with it: the skilled and laughing man cooks happily to his heart’s content, adding aubergines and tomatoes to the already crowded pan.

Outside a table is laid for four, with cold lemon juice, tea and milk lie, waiting to be drunk in the centre of it. Sitting around already are a young man of about seventeen, eating a mango and reading his book, a small girl of three, sucking the juice out of an over-ripe tangerine with a hole in it, and an old, old woman, recently widowed, whose only consolations are her three grand-children.

I walk out to join them and am greeted by smiling faces and yapping dogs at my feet. Down below the veranda I see a small herd of elephants coming for a drink and maybe a splash in the water hole. I heave a happy, happy sigh and take my seat.

The day that follows is filled with sunshine. The market is buzzing with shouts, laughs and boasting old mamas comparing delicious, ripe bananas. Vibrant colours meet my eye wherever you look. The hot earth warms the soles of my feet through worn, leather flip-flops.

A visit to the village school is welcomed with the huge smiles, wide eyes, screams and shouts of overjoyed children. The afternoon spent on horseback is just as happy and even more exciting, galloping up a long succession of hills, over fallen logs, through shaded valleys and dams, checking fences and livestock with a laughing older brother. The impalas and other gazelles watch us ride from behind small acacia-tree clumps, leaping away in graceful arches when we get too close.

A delicious dinner of beans and stew in the dining room awaits us that evening. The sun has finished her journey through the sky and the stars and moon are back in all their glory. Bath and bed are welcomed after the day’s course. I smile as I drift to sleep, looking forward to whatever tomorrow may bring.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Actiontrack Diary 2013: Days One & Two

Ally Boyd Crotty and Sofia McConnell will be reporting each day this week on their experience of the Actiontrack Showbuild in the BSR.

Tuesday 11th June: This was the first day of this year's Transition Year Actiontrack Workshop. We started the day with various warm up games such as zip zap boing, a game we had played before with the Actiontrack crew in second year, as well as various name and shape games. We then put our acting skills to a test and used these shapes to create mini-plays of our own. Later on in the afternoon we began playing word games, which to us seemed pointless, but little did we know they would expand into bigger ideas for the play itself. We had to place these words together to create song titles, and were then given the job of putting lyrics to these titles. Everybody got stuck in and enjoyed themselves.
Wednesday 12th June:  On the second day, after our warm-up games, which were mostly vocal, we all gathered around the piano to sing our newly made song choruses, with the crew playing instruments along to the lyrics they had improved from the day before. Each song was catchy and had a western theme, which we found out would be the basis for our play. We were then given songs and told to put stories to them, and acted out the scenes. Ideas from these were jotted down and could contribute to the final production. Even though it was only a small start, we could see the play beginning to be formed.

Peter Dix Prize for Poetry, 2013

This year's Senior Poetry Prize was won by Sadhbh Sheeran (who also won it last year). The Peter Dix Memorial trophy is pictured.  Here are three of the poems from her portfolio which won the prize:-

The words
That fill the face
Of the damned
Slip out less freely
Than their souls.
Wail for the wicked,
Mask heart for the

In the absence
Of innocence
Resolve to call
Upon conscience.


Mummy puts Her Love
into reused jars with Homemade jam,
irregularly sized, plastic lunchboxes,
as well as big medium and small, pyrex bowls.
It joins daddy’s apples in the fruit bowl
and fills up the empty biscuit tin.

Mummy scatters Her Love
about the place with care.
It can be found in the wash basket
and folded in Her jumper drawer,
alongside the jumbo pack of tissues in her bag.

Mummy lends Her Love
and tells us to keep It Forever.
to take It with us on our journeys.
Lent things are Always to be returned,
never damaged, brought Home.
She taught us that, Our Mummy did.

By putting Her Love into reused jars
With Homemade jam.


I want to say I threw you a party,
Played your songs and told your stories,
But I didn’t.
I wore pyjamas down to breakfast.
I want to say I put on your jacket,
The one you gave me,
But I didn’t.
I did visit you, for the first time all year.
A muddy oblong without a stone.
I chose a card for you. I’d painted it,
Brimming with colours.
I didn’t know what to write so mummy did it.
Maybe you could read it,
I couldn’t.
I did bring you flowers, boring out of season

Flowers; white, cold, nameless things and
Yellow roses.
I placed them close to your head.
Maybe you could smell them.
I couldn’t.
Somebody had put a rock where your heart should be,
Flat and round and white against the mud.
Maybe you could feel it.
I could,
It hurt.
I wanted to tell you that Spring will come
But I didn’t,
Because I know that you know that,
Can taste it in the earth and rain.
For then the mud shall turn to flowers,
And you shall show the world you came!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Birdsong, Catcher, Crucible: conflict in fiction and drama

In his Transition Year Extended Essay, Samuel Clarke wrote about the theme of conflict in three very different books. For this outstanding piece, Samuel was awarded a Commendation. He writes:-

In the first text that I read, Birdsong by English novelist Sebastian Faulks, the theme of conflict was by far the most protruding within the novel. The story, set in the early 20th century, with its main character Stephen Wraysford living through four years of the horrific First World War, saw scenes of what many consider to be the worst conflict ever seen. Yet the war is not the only conflict that one comes across. There are many smaller conflicts woven into the overall story. Examples of these are the conflict between Isabelle and Stephen with Isabelle’s husband Azaire, and the riots that take place in the town of Amiens between Lucien Lebrun and Azaire’s workers.   
However in the second book which I chose, J.D Salinger’s
The Catcher in the Rye, the author portrayed conflict in a completely different light. Unlike Faulks who looks at the theme with a backdrop of a horrific war in his novel, Salinger looks at the mind of his principal character Holden Caulfield. Holden seems to be constantly faced with an internal conflict, an on-going depressive struggle with himself. The story tells of the sixteen year old boy, after having been expelled from school and having had a fight with his Pencey School roommate known as Stradlater,leaving the college three days early without his parents knowing. The depressed teenager takes a train into New York where he spends the night in a hotel, and the following days in the city.  

However, for this essay I have decided to choose a core text which I aim to describe in great detail while still relating, referring and comparing the text to the other novels I read. The core text I have chosen on which to write about is the highly acclaimed modern classic, Arthur Miller’s
The Crucible, a play dealing with conflict in the highly religious town of Salem, in 17th century America.

This play based, on a true incident which Arthur Miller described in an introduction to the text, as “one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history,” saw, in my opinion, both of the types of conflict visible in each of my other texts. - Like the war in
Birdsong, in The Crucible there is an open conflict – the Salem ‘witch hunt,’ where in the town, a court is set up to try people suspected and accused of having conversed with, and been possessed by the devil.

Read the full essay here.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Luhrmann's 'Gatsby'

Thoughts for those studying The Great Gatsby, prompted by Baz Luhrmann's new film version:-
  1. On one level, Luhrmann makes perfect sense as a director of this book: the cinematic material of the Jazz Age excesses...
  2. But he is also perfectly wrong. The novel is completely 'interior'. The central figure is not the semi-cipher and semi-cliche of the title, but the narrator, Nick Carraway. And the subject is not the Jazz Age itself, but Nick's thoughts and feelings about the world he encounters.
  3. Luhrmann tries to accommodate this, in the extensive voice-overs (and 'write-overs') by Nick. But the contradiction between the narrative voice in fiction and its poor cousin, the movie voiceover, is exposed in the addition of the framing story of Nick being in some sort of institution and writing (The Great) Gatsby. Nothing in the interior logic of the film itself (let alone the book) justifies this. Nick hasn't been traumatised. And in the book, of course, his voice is balanced and lyrical in its retrospective reflections. Luhrmann has lost his nerve: he is attempting to inject extra 'meaning' into Nick's musings (they don't need that).
  4. This loss of nerve accounts for the patchiness of the film - predictably brilliant in the party scenes and the aerial shots of the Eggs and New York City, but dully predictable in the human interactions of the central story (such as the Plaza Hotel scene). The film lacks the complete coherence and vision of the consistently superb Romeo + Juliet - no nerve was lost there. But the anachronistic music does work well, at least touching on R+J's success.
  5. The central problem: the novel is a book about a way of seeing, about how a man thinks. Film inevitably provides us with one way of seeing, and Nick's voice-overs compete with what we can now see for ourselves (such as Daisy's tediousness).
  6. In her new book, Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of 'The Great Gatsby' Sarah Churchwell says that 'suggestiveness' is at the heart of the novel. Nothing is 'suggested' in this film by this director.
  7. Leonardo di Caprio is often a bland actor. Here, he suits the semi-emptiness of his character well.
  8. Tobey Maguire sucks the life out of the film, with a dismally poor voicing of the narrative and some terrible reaction shots (but to be fair - see above - he may have had an impossible job).
  9. A minor point, but why is Jordan Baker in the film at all? Elizabeth Debicki has virtually nothing to do.
  10. Another minor point: in the film we can see for ourselves this white world's dependence on black workers.
  11. No film ever changes or damages its source novel. Back to the text.
For an articulate (and enthusiastic) counter-view, read Darcy Moore's post here (and in the first comment below).

Here, TES contributor Helen Amass writes on 'Teaching activities that make the most of what the critics hated.'

And here are four writers' takes on the film in the Los Angeles Review of Books. Plenty of food for thought.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Leaving Certificate English 2013, Paper 2

Candidates have been walking out smiling into the warm June sunshine this afternoon after their Higher level literature paper, despite the topics: disturbing imagery in Macbeth, Doris Lessing's 'disturbing vision', the unattractive world of Gatsby, Sylvia Plath's provocative imagery and the intense religious struggle of Gerald Manley Hopkins. The smiles might have been of relief after the annual marathon, or simply because this paper on the surface was pretty straightforward.

The Macbeth questions will have been welcomed: one on Macbeth's complex character as revealed by 'the variety of significant insights' into his mind (vague enough to trap weaker candidates into rambling and unfocussed responses), the other on Shakespeare's 'effective use of disturbing imagery' (a topic our candidates practised in a test two weeks ago). As elsewhere in the paper, higher order candidates will have properly pursued those significant modifiers ('significant', 'effective', 'disturbing') and thus achieved high marks under Purpose. [Our candidates didn't do Gatsby as a single text, but the two questions on it were extremely bland].

The comparative section offered Cultural Context and Theme this year; the former looked at how difficult it can be to change 'deeply embedded values' (which requires some clear thinking), and the importance of social class (here's hoping that candidates did indeed focus on social class rather than other cultural divisions). The second theme alternative was a little challenging, asking candidates to examine how themes/issues might not be satisfactorily resolved (do they have to be in any text?).

All four favourites here came up in the poetry section: Elizabeth Bishop (also on the Ordinary level paper with an extract from 'The Fish'), Hopkins, Plath and Derek Mahon, with the two latter featuring questions on imagery.

This year's unseen poem was Derek Walcott's 'The Fist', the appropriate tightness of which might have given too little for some candidates to hang on to (enough of those metaphors now). Walcott is often on the rota of prescribed poets. This might have been a tricky technical challenge for some, but again imagery was the key thing to tackle.

The Ordinary Level paper, which a few of our pupils tackled, looked primarily at Lady Macbeth in the single text questions, provided straightforward questions in the comparative section, and as the unseen poem Bill Holm's 'Earbud'. It ended with one of literature's great love poems, Shakespeare's sonnet 60. For those who sat these English exams, the minutes have finally hastened to the end:-

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown'd,
Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Leaving Certificate English 2013, Paper 1

Our former pupil William Trevor (real name Trevor Cox) featured in this morning's Higher Level English Leaving Certificate Paper 1, in the shape of an interview from the Paris Review by Mira Stout (click here for the full interview). Trevor talked about the short story being 'the art of the glimpse', an idea followed through in Composition 4, where candidates were asked for a descriptive essay 'based on a variety of glimpsed moments'. The questions which followed this extract were fair while allowing the better candidates to stretch themselves (there was some odd phrasing in A iii, where candidates were asked if Trevor's responses were 'rich in language and imagery' - it's difficult to imagine what he could have used other than language).

Another fine Irish writer, Belinda McKeon (see our short review of her novel Solace here) also featured in the comprehension section, with this piece from the Irish Times on the centenary of the opening of Grand Central Station in New York. The third choice was less literary - Emily Nussbaum's article 'Tune in next week - the curious staying power of the cliff-hanger' (film and television mostly) from the New Yorker. Again, the questions were straightforward, with information retrieval, opinion and style to the fore. The B questions included a topic which could do with freshening up - a talk on the role of radio and television in the lives of young people today (at least allowing candidates to point how these media are in relative decline).

The composition questions followed the trend of recent years, in becoming more defined, especially in narrative options (this year, a short story about a reunion, and another in which a central character is manipulating or being manipulated). The wording of option 5 might have challenged borderline candidates (the tension between 'the everyday treadmill and the gilded promises of life'). 'The storytelling evidence in music and song and its impact on you as a listener' is also pretty defined.

Ordinary level candidates should have sailed through their paper - comprehension pieces by Des Bishop about his father, by Gary Larson on The Far Side and another by a comedian, Michael McIntyre's Life and Laughing. The composition titles will have scared no-one.

And so on to the literature paper tomorrow. Click here for plenty of Macbeth revision resources.