About the first decade of [the 20th] century education became compulsory. A number of days attendance each quarter was obligatory. Notices and threats of prosecution were common although actual cases of prosecution were rare.
“[The] butcher was the school attendance officer. If you got a summons for being absent, you had two choices: you went and bought meat in his shop; or you could treat him in McSorley’s and the summons was off.”
Do you mind oul Rodgers the attendance officer, coming into the school with these wee nip glasses and he’ make this speech-
“You have to attend school regularly and punctually. Do you know what that means?’ he’d say, ‘That means that you must come every day an you must be in before Roll Call’”
I went to Garvey School and I can remember some of the ones I went to school with: there was Lizzy Curley, Annie Kelly, Maggie Kelly, Packy Curley and James Coyle.
Some of us lay out day after day and even in winter months I remember lying down below the school and we stayed at the old mill race which was owned by Patrick Henry Lynch at the time. There were big saggings growing out of this dry sheugh [a drainage canal in a field]. We lay in it one day. I hid the bicycle behind a bush up an oul lane.
Didn’t the postman come this day and he’d stop at Montague’s Post Office and he’d be there a couple of hours maybe. Then he’d lift whatever mail there was and he’d head on to the next place. He came down to fish this day and didn’t he see some one of us pop up. I took out this pen knife out of my pocket and I said, ‘Start Pulling.’
I began to cut the old saggin’s and they started to pull. He came straight up to us and said, ‘Are youse mitchin’?’
I knew rightly what he meant and what he’d do.
“Deed we’re not,’ says I, ‘We’re doing nature study and we have to bring this saggins into the teacher.’ So, we lay down again and there wasn’t another word about it.
[Mitching is an Irish term for ‘skiving’, ‘cutting’ or laying off from school, or any other thing.]
There used to be a fowl market over at Tommy Kelly’s and one in Newtownsaville, and the fowl dealers came from Dungannon and Omagh for the day. Anyhow, I lay out in a field at Carraig Cross. I think Wills Robinson owns the field now. At the head of that hill and over to the left of that house there was a big heap of whins [which is known as gorse elsewhere] growing in that field.
It was my first day back ‘at school’ after being off sick, but I headed my bicycle for the whins. I lay in those whins all day and I watched my father and mother going across the road to Kelly’s Garvaghy, with the turkeys.
And I watched them coming back again. I lay low in the whins and as I say, it was on the verges of Christmas. There was a dusting of snow on the ground. I got that cold that I couldn’t stick it any longer, so I arrived home a bit early, saying that I had been sick in school.
My mother was very sympathetic and said, ‘For all the lock of days you’ve left to go, I don’t think we’ll bother sending you back.’
Be God I was as delighted as if I’d been given half a crown. So that was my last day in school.”
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