THE OLD BOYS’ CLUB

It comes as no sur­prise that pri­vate schools still have quite a grip on Ir­ish pub­lic life. With al­most a third of the cur­rent cab­i­net a prod­uct of pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion, Donal Lynch looks at 50 of Ire­land’s most prom­i­nent old boys — with some of them shin­ing

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - THE LOVES OF MY LIFE -

Enda Kenny gath­ered pace in 2010, his per­ceived-as-posh ad­ver­saries — among them, Leo Varad­kar and Si­mon Coveney — were quickly dubbed “the Cap­puc­cino Plot­ters”. The moniker stuck, and may have been de­ci­sive, de­spite the fact that cap­puc­ci­nos are now avail­able and con­sumed through­out the land. And yet, priv­i­lege found a way of burst­ing through; nearly a third of the cur­rent cab­i­net are pri­vately ed­u­cated — com­pared with just 7pc of the pop­u­la­tion gen­er­ally. Per­haps less sur­pris­ingly, the ju­di­ciary and le­gal pro­fes­sion are stuffed to the gills with pri­vately ed­u­cated peo­ple.

In sport, the dis­pro­por­tion­ate clout of pri­vate school­boys can be seen in the suc­cess­ful pros­e­lytis­ing of their cho­sen re­li­gion — rugby — and the now set­tled law that BOD is God. This is a bit weird when you think about it. Not that Brian O’Driscoll isn’t great, but only a hand­ful of (mostly pri­vate) schools through­out the coun­try play the gen­tle­man’s game, nowhere near the num­ber that play soc­cer or Gaelic.

Rugby is ac­tu­ally only slightly less niche than those other pri­vate-school pas­times, ten­nis or hockey. And yet it has mys­te­ri­ously been el­e­vated to a na­tional sport, and its mud­died oafs are icons, who make Lil­lie’s groupies of all of us. More than any other game, it seems to cross-pol­li­nate the worlds of busi­ness and pol­i­tics.

The arts, here as else­where, has be­come no­tably more mid­dle class since the in­ven­tion of the in­ter­net. The web seemed like it lev­elled the play­ing pitch by al­low­ing ev­ery­one to steal con­tent, but, in fact, it did the op­po­site. Poor kids, quite sim­ply, can­not hang around for years hop­ing that enough peo­ple con­sume their mu­sic or writ­ing for free, mean­ing that they even­tu­ally might get paid for their work.

The re­sult has been that pop mu­sic has seen an in­flux of sup­posed for­mer rug­ger bug­gers. Hozier, who went to St Ger­ard’s in Bray, finds a place on our list, join­ing the pri­vately ed­u­cated el­der states­man of Ir­ish rock, Boom­town Rat Bob Geldof, a Black­rock boy — who grew up in a theoc­racy and so needed to be ur­bane, ar­tic­u­late and de­fi­ant in that pri­vateschool way.

Lenny Abra­ham­son, cur­rently our most suc­cess­ful di­rec­tor, is an alum­nus of The High School, which sounded Amer­i­can even be­fore its stu­dents did.

When it comes to the up­per ech­e­lons of Ire­land’s wealth hi­er­ar­chy, col­lege-ed­u­cated old boys — such as founder of CyBerCorp, Philip Ber­ber — are the ex­cep­tion. Ire­land’s Rich List is dom­i­nated by those who re­ceived their post-school ed­u­ca­tion at that other em­i­nent col­lege — the Uni­ver­sity of Life. These in­clude fi­nancier Der­mot Desmond, who joined Citibank on leav­ing school; and John Mag­nier and JP McManus, who both went straight to work di­rectly from se­condary school. There are some pri­vately ed­u­cated women stud­ded through the power cen­tres of Ir­ish so­ci­ety, but it is still pre­dom­i­nantly an old boys’ club, in the most lit­eral sense.

A pri­vate-school ed­u­ca­tion has be­come in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar in Ire­land. Even through the re­ces­sion, the top schools in­creased their num­bers — and their fees. Elite ed­u­ca­tion has been de­scribed as “more af­ford­able” here than in other de­vel­oped economies, mean­ing a greater spread of the mid­dle class have ac­cess to pres­ti­gious schools, if they so wish. Part of this is the usual striv­ing for the best pos­si­ble re­sults. But snob­bery and the hope that their off­spring might meet more ‘suit­able life part­ners’ in pri­vate schools seem to be main rea­sons for the surge in at­ten­dance, the for­mer Pres­i­dent of the Teachers’ Union of Ire­land, Paddy Healy, has sug­gested.

Un­der­ly­ing all of this mar­vel­ling at the great and the good who have been to pri­vate schools, is a de­bate about who pays for this struc­ture of priv­i­lege. Rich peo­ple run the show in ev­ery coun­try, but the huge dif­fer­ence be­tween our pri­vate sys­tem and, say, that of the one in the UK, is that the wages of teachers in pri­vate schools in this coun­try are funded by the tax­payer (although some pri­vate schools use a por­tion of their fee in­come to pay for ex­tra staff ) and not solely by school fees.

So, in Ire­land, those who can­not af­ford to send their chil­dren to a pri­vate school must pay for the ed­u­ca­tion of those who can. In this sense, we are, per­haps, even more eli­tist than the Brits, or Amer­i­cans, who at least leave the up­per classes to con­sol­i­date power on their own.

We aid and abet the for­ma­tion of a rul­ing class, and the list on these pages looks at ex­actly who the mem­bers of it are.

Chat-show host — Ban­don Gram­mar School

The young Gra­ham was al­ready a bit of a card in the 1980s, ac­cord­ing to his for­mer teachers at Ban­don Gram­mar School. He showed up to present the prizes at a cer­e­mony in the school a few years ago, and with typ­i­cally re­fresh­ing hon­esty, told re­porters, “Friends are go­ing, ‘Oh, you must tell us funny sto­ries about things that hap­pened to you in school’. But ei­ther noth­ing very funny hap­pened for six years, or it was 30 years ago and I don’t re­mem­ber any more”.

We can re­late.

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