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
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.