Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Transition Year English Evening 2018

The 25th annual TY English Evening was held in the BSR last night to round off the pupils' course. As usual the formula consisted of pupils reading out interesting pieces from their Work Portfolios, and a guest commenting on these and then on 'matters English'.

The guest speaker last night was the first 'graduate' of the TY programme itself, Sophie Grenham, journalist and Old Columban. She has an excellent series in The Gloss magazine called "Writers' Block", having interviewed writers such as Louise O'Neill, Dave Rudden, Sebastian Barry and Sarah Webb. The presenter, Mr Girdham, mentioned the many other guests who have spoken at the evening over the years, including: academics Professor Colin Graham of Maynooth (last year), Professor Terry Dolan, Professor Kevin Barry; English teachers John Fanagan, Colin Polden and Mary Milne; and journalists Trevor White and Tom Doorley.

Shannon Dent started, with a reading of her evocative piece 'My Secret Place of Wonder', about the lush nature of Ecuador. Sam Lawrence gave us 'Being Underwater', another but rather different world. Charlotte Klingmann, who the previous night had performed several pieces at the TY Music Concert, read out 'The Greatest Pleasure of My Life' (music, of course). Andrew Kim's piece was vivid about the early morning urban sprawl of Seoul in South Korea. Kathryn Kelly struck a recent note, since 'The Big Snow' was her most memorable event of the last 12 months, as she took the chance to reconnect with old friends. Frances Wilkinson was the only person to read a poem, "You", delicately examining the difficulty of saying those three words "I love you". Tania Stokes's garden piece about a day in the sunshine was fine with detail. Finally, Andrew Pollock ended things entertainingly with his quirkly essay 'Is Donald Trump Bald?'

Sophie Grenham then gave an account of her writing life, and of how well the College had prepared her for this. She said it was particularly important for young writers to 'find their own voice', and she made attentive comments about each piece she had heard.

She then made the annual announcement of Premier Awards winners. Congratulations go to Shannon Dent, Charlotte Klingmann, Sam Lawrence, Songyon Oh, Eliza Somerville and Tania Stokes.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Electric Picnic

Caoimhe Cleary was Commended in the recent Senior Poetry Prize for her portfolio, and indeed read one of these poems, Electric Picnic, at the Voices of Poetry event last night.  

Mr Canning comments: '"Caoimhe's body of poems on 'Wellness' sought to chronicle stages of recovering from mental illness and trauma.  Her poem 'Electric Picnic' was a strong, gritty assortment of images accentuated by jumpy alliteration. Her poem 'Bulb' echoed William Carlos Williams and imagist poems like 'This is Just to Say', while 'White Swans' evoked a very different take on Yeats's masterpiece 'The Wild Swans At Coole.'"

Electric Picnic

Strobe lights pound.

Sweat cascades.

Screams roughly grope me.

I’m a fish

jerking for water

through greasy air.

The bass jumps beneath

my skin.

I latch on

to your arm

Looking into your

endlessly cold


I’m hot.

I’m so burning



We twist away to twitch.


My chore has always been

to put away the leftovers.

I slide the food

From box to box

Trying to find the right fit,

making a mess.

As I put away the food in the freezer,

steam swiftly seems to rise

and fill the space.

The fridge light flickers

And dies,

pneumatic suction hisses

A breath of frost grazes me

I sigh

and go to the shelf

For a new bulb.

White Swans

During my holidays

I go out by the lake,

and just sit for a while.

Below the Homeric waves

dance fatal weeds.

I rest on the little boardwalk

next to the two festering

white corpses;

candles and rotting flowers by their feet,

still getting used to the smell.

I look out.

A crowd of cows amble out,

and swimming through the reeds,

are two white Hallmark swans

gently touching heads.   


Voices of Poetry 2018

That excellent annual event, Voices of Poetry, took place last night in the BSR. Every year it seems the sun is shining outside as the darkened space, lit by a single spotlight, gives us an hour's treat of great poetry. As Mr Swift, the compère in black tie, pointed out, there was a '175' tinge this time.

Again there was the mixture of poems in English and other languages, and of pupils and staff reading. The first off was appropriately the Senior Prefect, Kitty Morris, with a poem she had studied in Irish class, followed by two pupils with their own poems - Emma Hinde, winner of the Junior Poetry Prize, with 'Eye of the Storm' and Caoimhe Cleary, Commended for the Peter Dix Memorial Prize, with 'Electric Picnic'.

Mr Swift was proud to have unearthed possibly the most obscure yet in the history of the event, as Shannon Dent read a poem from a native pre-Columbian Ecuadorian language. This was followed i by Latin (JiWoo Park), Italian (Sveva Ciofani), French (Georg Mueller-Methling), Korean (JiWoo Park again) and Vietnamese (Florian Zitzmann). Tiernan Mullane read in 'American' Raymond Carver's 'My Death', and then there were Swedish (Gioia Doenhoff), German (Carla Ladanyi) and Swahili (Akin Babajide).

Poetry has featured throughout the Columban year, and Jasmine Williams read a piece from the 'Poem in Your Pocket' initiative on Ireland Poetry Day (and in Mental Health Week), Walt Whitman's 'I Dreamed in a Dream'. Poetry Aloud was represented by national finalist Harry Oke-Osanyintolu, who recited Thomas McCarthy's 'State Funeral'. Next Mr Swift sprang a surprise: a €10 tuck-shop voucher with a poem was taped to the bottom of one chair, and Polina Grakhovskaia had it. She sportingly came into the spotlight to read our 'The Dead' by Billy Collins (and retain the voucher). There was a bravura performance by Mr Swift himself of his own 'Poetry Slam' piece, written as lyrics for one of his songs. Next was Kate Higgins with another Irish poem.

Four teachers were next. Mr Girdham read 'Breaking-up Night', a poem from The Columban magazine of 1890 nostalgically recalling the old pre-Christmas tradition; it is reproduced in the new book Floreat Columba. The founder of Voices of Poetry, retired Head of English Mr John Fanagan, had written his own poem marking the College's 175 years, and read it out. You can see it at the bottom of this post. The Warden followed, impressively reciting from memory Rudyard Kipling's famous 'If' (written for Kipling's only son, who died in the Great War: this is marked in Wellington College, where the Warden previously taught). Mr Finn followed, also reciting from memory, this time Yeats's 'September 1913', which he had learned when studying for the Leaving Certificate (it is still often on the course).

Frank Meng's reading of a poem Mandarin was dramatic, as was Katie Lam's in Cantonese, and then Éile Ní Chianáin read the third Irish poem of the evening.

 Rounding off, as is traditional, was the recent winner of the Peter Dix Senior Prize for Poetry, Tania Stokes, with her 'Death of A Moth' (she is pictured above with Mr Swift and Mr Fanagan), and then Manuela Sanchez from Primary with Yeats's 'He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.'

And so the final whole-school BSR event of the year came to a lovely close.

SCC 175, by John Fanagan

May in 1843 saw
St Columba's on its way.
From the plains of County Meath
To Whitechurch where we are today.

Wardens, teachers, pupils all
Have given of their very best.
We celebrate 175
Moving forward with new zest.

So much has changed, yet much remains
Of what has made us what we are:
Our friendships and our memories
Now span the world both near and far.

Next weekend it's party time,
With sports, a barbeque and ball.
Tonight, as one who loves this place,
I say happy birthday to us all.

27 May 2018

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Second Form Public Speaking Competition, 2018

The annual Second Form public speaking competition was held in the Cadogan last night, and showcased a great variety of topics and eight speakers who really engaged their audience of junior pupils. Much of the material was based on the recent Classroom-Based Assessments done in English class. Mr Brett and last year’s winner Charlotte Moffitt were the judges, and Mr Girdham compèred. (Mr Brett’s judging comments are incorporated below).

Peter Taylor opened with an account of his life in Bangladesh, a talk which was clear and well-paced – exactly right). Caleb Swanepoel spoke about bias of various kinds; Mr Brett liked the way he provoked the audience. Franz Schmucker spoke on the topic of fake news, and engaged with audience well with sensible content. Fourth came Donald Thomson, whose talk opened with the famous Johnny Sexton drop-goal against France in opening up the subject of the Butterfly Effect; there were many good examples. Georgina Stewart tackled sexism, with good examples and her point of view coming across in a reasonably way. Emma Hinde spoke on a complicate subject, the tesseract (a four-dimensional cube), making a difficult topic interesting, with fascinating ideas. Poppy Somerville spoke on a very current topic, social media and teenagers, with very good points and sound judgment. Finally, Wolfgang Romanowski’s piece on vampires much amused the audience, being very funny. Mr Brett then announced that the top places went to Donald Thompson (1st), Emma Hinde (2nd), and Georgina Stewart (3rd). Well done to all eight speakers on their polished and confident performances.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Senior Poetry Prize, 2018

The Peter Dix Memorial Prize for Poetry (the trophy is displayed above) has been awarded to Tania Stokes, with a Commendation going to Caoimhe Cleary.

Mr Canning comments: "'Death of a Moth' is delicately atmospheric and loaded with subtle colouring, movement and sound. The evocative language and imagery masks the undercurrent of a desperate struggle for life in a spiritual place. 'Signs of Life' is again full of sounds at every level with the poem linked effectively and simply by two isolated sprung lines. Both her pieces show that Tania is mature beyond her years, a precocious talent."

Commended Caoimhe Cleary's "body of poems on 'Wellness' sought to chronicle stages of recovering from mental illness and trauma.  Her poem 'Electric Picnic' was a strong, gritty assortment of images accentuated by jumpy alliteration. Her poems 'Bulb' echoed William Carlos Williams and imagist poems like 'This is Just to Say', while 'White Swans' evoked a very different take on Yeats's masterpiece 'The Wild Swans At Coole.'

These poems will be published in the coming days. 
First, 'Death of a Moth' by Tania Stokes.

Someone was dimly aware
Of a pair of fluttering wings.
In the half-light of the morning,
A moth scattered tiny shadows
On the chapel pews,
Illuminated faintly
By the stained-glass panes.

Floating abreast with the dust
On a bed of hushed voices,
The moth rose above the drone
Of sleeping psalms. The wan light glowed
In the windows,
Dappling colour
On a faded red floor.

Lost in a garden of stone
And regarding the windows,
The moth flitted to this crowd
Of glass flowers. The sunlight welled
From their petals,
Bright, golden nectar
For insectile eyes.

Nothing could prise it away
Though it tired of seeking its prize –
The moth’s instincts were a sorry guide.
Not once was the thing alighting
While it chased the light.
At last still, the husk rested
On the window sill.

Someone was dimly aware
Of an emptiness filling the room.
Some sixth sense of quiet mourning
Touched maybe one
For this faint struggle –
Begun, continued and ended
And noticed by none.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Reading Leaflet

As part of our entry for the PDST WellRead Initiative, and our ongoing determination for St Columba's to be 'A Reading School', here is a leaflet on reading in the school, put together by the Librarian, Ms Kent-Sutton, and Department teacher Mr Jameson. In it you can find what the most popular books are in the junior school, a list of new books arriving this summer, lists of books which have been discussed in both the pupils' and staff book clubs, and recommendations for books supporting academic subjects. A reading illustration by Tania Stokes completes the document.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Department Vacancy

We're hiring. To cover a leave of absence, we are looking for a full-time temporary English teacher for the 2018-19 academic year (September 2018 to June 2019 inclusive). The successful candidate will teach the full range of classes across the Junior and Senior Cycles, including Transition Year, the JCSA course, and Leaving Certificate.

This site is the best place to learn more about our Department. It is close-knit and supportive, as well as being forward-looking and innovative. If you would like a pre-application chat, just email 

The vacancy is now being advertised on the College site, and on Applications must be returned by 5pm on Friday 1st June.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

WellRead Award

This year, St Columba's College has been taking part in the WellRead Award, a national initiative designed and organised by the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST). It aims to create heightened awareness about the importance of creating a culture of reading in school communities for young people as part of their personal and academic development.  The initiative seeks to involve all relevant stakeholders who impact on student learning including pupils, teachers, ancillary staff, parents, board of management and the wider community in a range of reading and associated activities. We hope to achieve 'WellRead' status by May 2019 and thus far, we have had a productive first six months.

In February, we had our first ever Book Week. Along with library-based competitions, there were activities such as Book Speed Dating and Drop Everything And Read. There was also a Chapel talk in which pupils enthused about books and the doors of classrooms and the walls of the buttery passage were decorated with posters featuring pictures of staff members and their favourite books.  More recently, we celebrated World Book Day with free book tokens for all pupils and  on Poetry Day, every pupil was given an individual poem as part of the 'poem in your pocket' scheme. We have also had author visits from novelists Claire Keegan (for V and VI pupils) and Ruth Frances Long (for junior pupils).

The pupils' book club and the staff book club have continued to meet regularly throughout the year and it is hoped that we will be able to extend and expand these activities next year. At the moment, we are compiling a list of junior pupils' favourite books, as well as a list of books read and discussed at both book clubs. We intend to circulate this document among parents.

The WellRead Committee 2017/2018: Ms J. Kent-Sutton (Librarian), Mr E. Jameson, Shannon Dent,  Rory Flanagan.