Terry McMahon (front centre) with friends from the class of 1988 in Mullingar Vocational School at their 30-year reunion last Saturday

Terry McMahon writes:

Sometimes you just get lucky in life.

We went to a Christian Brothers School, up to the age of twelve. Our teacher was a nonce. Served a lengthy sentence for multiple counts of child sex abuse. He had his own private bathroom in the class. How transparent. Bastard tried it with me. First time I fought an adult. And almost won.

That was our primary school. Couldn’t get out of the place fast enough. But the nonce had other plans. The Christian Brothers had a secondary school next door. I was destined to go there. We had to do an entrance exam. But it was all a done deal. An all boys school. All ripe. All ready.

On the other side of town was the Vocational School. The Tech, they called it. The shithole. For the poor folks and the dumb fucks. The rejects. The rabble. At least that’s what the snobs said. The snobs and the Christian Brothers. It was also a mixed school. Boys and girls. Nobody ripe. Nobody ready. All curious as hell.

We used to have to line up for the nonce before entering class. He was from Belfast and reckoned himself a quasi-military man. The boys he wasn’t sexually aroused by he simply beat.

He had a Masters Degree in Humiliation. The day of the entrance exam for the shithole school, he ordered the boys who were going to do the exam to take one step forward. Every poor bastard he had ever tried to break stepped forward. The rest of us stayed where we were. He was happy with the result. A line of winners and losers. Eugenics in full flow.

I was too scared to breathe. Sweating. Paralysis. But some things need to be done. I forced my skinny, trembling, twelve-year-old frame to step forward. The nonce did a double take. Loving the theatre of his own making.

He stood in front of me. I could smell his cigarette breath. Feel his spit on my face. He told me to get back in line. Everything in me wanted to fold like a cheap accordion. But I looked at him. My voice barely broken yet. I said, “I’m going.”

He didn’t get angry. He got off on the skinny defiance. Grinned. Aroused. ‘Okay, boy.’ Your skin would crawl at the way he used the word ‘boy.’ He put his mouth close to my ear but spoke loudly so everyone could appreciate his stature.

‘You can do the exam but you’re not going to that school. Ya hear me, boy?’

I nodded. Defeated. Knowing he was right. Knowing that the entrance exam for the Christian Brothers secondary school was the following Saturday. Knowing my fate was sealed.

We crossed town to get to the shithole school. Me and that motley crew of miscreants. Some of the best men I would ever meet. We had to go through a public park.

The closer you got, the more you could feel the greasy grip of the Christian Brothers lessen. And the girls. Everywhere. One more beautiful than the next. We were only twelve years old but it felt like our hearts were too big for our chests.

We sat the exam. Giddy with hormones. Then returned to our Christian Brother madhouse. The nonce ridiculed us as we took our seats. A particularly ugly grin for me. ‘See you at the exam on Saturday, boy.’ I wanted to punch his head in. Perhaps someone is doing it to him in prison right now.

That Saturday morning my folks got me and my brother up early to sit the Christian Brothers entrance exam. I said nothing. Ate breakfast. A simple plan had formed. Only a simpleton could have come up with it. We walked there. Me and my athlete brother. Him, the perfect specimen for Christian Brother GAA glory. Me, the perfect gammy-legged gimp.

Halfway there, I stopped. Saluted my brother. And walked the opposite direction. He called after me. But I was gone. If I didn’t sit the Christian Brothers bullshit exam I couldn’t legally be allowed to attend the Christian Brothers bullshit school.

The nonce wanted me dead. Probably to fuck the corpse. But I was going to a place where raping children wasn’t the top priority of most of the teachers. The Tech.

A place so underfunded most of our classes were held in prefabs. A place so underestimated most of the students were deemed to be anonymous plebs to be exploited in the labour force.

A place so fucking beautiful it became our Paradise.

From day one everything was different. My brother’s secondary school seemed hellbent on ripping the underpants of every vulnerable boy so far up their backside that it took months for their testicles to recover. Wedgie, they called it. And how they laughed. Like psychopaths inhaling a deep y-fronted high only they could understand. We, on the other hand, were walking around a building possessed by angels. Real ones.

The girls were so much more mature than us that the idea of giving anybody a wedgie made you feel like a moron. While the boys in the Christian Brothers school were busy learning how to flick towels at naked arses in the shower room, we were getting lessons in how to be men. By the most formidable women we could ever dream of meeting.

The teachers were amazing too. Mostly. No doubt there was the odd degenerate. No doubt some of those girls have some of their own horror stories. No doubt those stories were buried, like everything else in our culture at that time. Just like now.

I remember the girl who told me what her father was doing to her at night when her mother went to bingo. She needed help. Decided I was the one to tell. I had no idea what to do. I approached the religion teacher. Not because I gave a fuck about religion. But because she was a beautiful woman. Inside and out. She handled it with the seriousness that it deserved. Then the girl told me it had stopped. But she looked sad. Not relieved. Soon after, she left school. Never saw her again.

There is a hundred-thousand stories to tell of that school. Of those people in it. Of the boys and the girls. First loves. Fist fights. Broken hearts. I hated home. But I loved that place. Mornings couldn’t come quick enough. Entering that building was like strolling into a John Hughes movie.

Every snobbish statement about the school proved to be horseshit. Our headmaster was the wisest, kindest, white-haired man a kid could ever hope to encounter. Same with most of the teachers. All the way to the janitor. We were too young to recognise just how remarkable our world was. It was rare as diamonds. And more valuable.

I had to leave the place at fifteen. Never got to finish school. Do the Leaving Cert. Go to the Graduation Dance. All the rituals. Big chip on the shoulder afterwards. For decades. But life went on. Stayed in touch with some. Lost contact with others. Yet always felt warm memories of all of them. Then a message came through. On Facebook. A Thirty Year Reunion.

It happened last Saturday. The night was long. The stimulants intoxicating. And the company sublime. The snap (top) of some of the many magnificent people who were there was taken before I snuck out the back door at about 3am. Hopped a taxi back to the hotel. Full to the brim with renewed love for these remarkable people.

Sometimes you just get lucky in life. Sometimes the Gods get together and decide to make magic in a rural town, in a shithole school, with the best folks a body could hope to meet.

And fuck the Christian Brothers.

Terry McMahon is a filmmaker and can be found on Twitter @terrymcmahon69

Related: Christian Brother Stories

24 thoughts on “A Class Reunion

  1. Truth in the News

    Given that this August that the Catholic Church with the Patronage of the Pope will have a special
    celebration for the year of the Family, is not time that Public Reckoning and a Confession by the
    same institution for the Crimes they committed to the Mothers of Ireland and their Children both
    young and adolescent, All dioceses and religious congregations are made to publish full detalis
    of their past crimes against the people of this country young and old, the secret confidential
    deals the made to hide their crimes and their own culprits.
    Before any Pope set foot here this issue has to tackled as to conduct a celebration honouring
    the family by certain elements of the Irish Catholic Church would be nothing short of a disgrace
    Will the Pope set’s foot in Tuam or Castlepollard and good few other places his creed did all the
    damage……not likely….by our silence we condone what they did.
    Its great to see a witness to their regime in Mullingar expose them, as is it not time for the Vatican to
    disband the so called Christian Brothers and return their records hid in the Vatican:

    1. Johnny Keenan

      Well said TITN
      My views exactly.
      I think that’s a whole program for Broadsheet On The Telly to consider doing ASAP

  2. Liam Deliverance

    Nice piece, well written, and yes hopefully his life these days is a living hell, where he now hides and fears and hopes for an end but also at the same time a little part of him knows he feckin’ well deserves it.

  3. bisted

    …d’ye know…I went to the very same school…well…long way away…but the same school…

    1. italia'90

      …same here, went to tech instead of the buggers, far from Mullingah. You were more courageous than me Terry. Thanks for the feckin flashback. Sleazy priests, thundering physical abusers for teachers in primary and a couple of psychological perverts in secondary.

  4. Bernie

    Well done Terry, really well written. My heart soared for your courageous, 12 year old self.

  5. Paul

    Are you referring to Bro. McCarry? He’s not locked up, living outside Mullingar in some hinterland afaik

  6. Johnny Keenan

    This is one of many many similar stories, NOT known up and down the country.
    Thankfully there is a fantastic honest and beautiful writer, Terry McMahon to articulate the story of the voiceless.

    It takes a brave person to bare their soul and speak from the heart.
    I Always feel better and informed from reading his work that BS thankfully publish.

  7. Alan

    I got slapped and beaten up constantly for two years daily in the eighties by a woman teacher from Connemara in Tuam. It was in the Christian brothers school. I was thrown across class rooms but mostly beaten daily. I am in my 40’s now and heard she died. I still suffer anxiety to this day because I could not repeat 4 pages of Irish. I had not a clue what I was repeating. She used to suffer a form of an epileptic fit sometimes and after she was as angry as hell. When I went to secondary school, I was in an art class that got to go outside to try and draw the local Cathedral. She was passing and she went to talk to each student. Most were boarders in the secondary school and never knew her. She came to talk to me. I could not believe she did not recognise me. I confronted her. She denied everything but I knew I hit a chord. I was at a school reunion for my secondary school, and I asked about her there. She left a lasting impression of terror on us all. My story pales in comparison to what this story states and other life experiences that have now come to the surface. I am a father now. I love them so much that I will never ever let this happen to them. I listen to my kids and I will confront any person who has been given some power by society that I believe they are using for their self gratification.

  8. Cu Cullan

    Lovely writing, thank you for being so brave in a time when so few were.. respect..

  9. anne

    I enjoyed reading that. Thanks Terry.

    Very brave stuff for a young fella, deciding what school you were going to. :-)

  10. She

    These stories are staggeringly sad (yours has a happy ending, which is great, but all the same – so very, very, very sad). They also explain so, so much about this country. They explain our disproportionate degree of heroin addiction, suicide – especially male suicide – and that lingering sense of viciousness you see in certain pro-life people, which seems so much to be a barely-contained, basically pathological, need to exert control over a world that must seem chaotic to those who have settled into Stockholm syndrome.

    I reckon that Terry is younger than my parents, which also brings it home to me that this was the – casual, everyday, accepted – reality of my parents’ childhoods and adolescence, and their parents’. It amazes me they brought me up halfway decent at all, with all the personal issues and total absence of self-confidence this kind of shit bequeathed an entire generation of Irish people, on the eve of the boom.

    I had a lovely man in my life, whom I adored, and whom I cannot speak to anymore because his behaviour towards me was too cruel and irrational; he is older than me, and went to one of those schools. When we were together and he went off on one, I would look into his eyes and see this kind of blankness, like he wasn’t in the moment: it was trauma, I am sure. I had to walk because I didn’t want my life to be dragged down with his issues, but I wanted so much to fix those issues, and now I am afraid I can’t. The legacy of this shit is absolutely everywhere, everywhere – the older I get, the more I see it.

    1. yourcommentisawaitingmoderation

      I have the same relationship in my life she and unfortunately, he is my father. He beat the living daylights out of us kids and my mother. As soon as he tried it with my kids I stopped all contact with him. A cruel schooling is no excuse for being a cruel father, husband or grandfather.

  11. Fiacra

    Great story, lively wring. Thanks terry.
    You’ve really made my day. My son goes to the local tech, likes it, but the snobbery against the school is still so strong.

  12. Digs

    Great story Terry. Thanks so much for shining the light on the scandals. You are so brave and fantastic. Thanks again… you have a good gift.

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