‘BY FIFTH YEAR, THERE WERE FULL-ON PUNCH-UPS IN CLASS’

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - STATE OF THE CHURCH -

Broad­caster and jour­nal­ist Matt Cooper says there was still a cul­ture of vi­o­lence and con­trol through fear when he at­tended North Monastery CBS in Cork from 1978 to 1983.

“Every teacher was as­signed a leather strap about a foot-and-a-half long, and it was used by some of them.”

He says teach­ers also used me­tre-long ruler sticks, bamboo shoots or their bare fists.

“I re­mem­ber one teacher who was fond of hit­ting out with the me­tre stick across the knuck­les and the hand. On one oc­ca­sion, I saw him lash out and hit a guy on the cheek, right be­low the eye.”

He re­calls a par­tic­u­lar tech­nique of thrash­ing known as a “cheeser”, where back­sides where hit with the edge of a ruler in a slic­ing mo­tion.

Cooper was him­self thumped a few times, but quickly learned to keep his head down.

“There was one teacher who was no­to­ri­ous for us­ing the leather strap for dis­ci­plin­ing pupils — and when he stopped it, he turned to sar­casm and ridicule.

“He got ab­so­lutely bril­liant re­sults for our In­ter Cert, and al­most ev­ery­body in our class got an A. But then, nearly ev­ery­one gave up his sub­ject for the Leav­ing Cert be­cause they were so re­pulsed by the way they had been co­erced into learn­ing the stuff through fear of be­ing mocked.

“Some peo­ple would have pre­ferred to take a hit than a lash from the tongue.

“Up un­til fifth year, the teach­ers were well able to phys­i­cally as­sault and beat up pupils, but by the time we got to sixth year it was work­ing the other way round.

“In fifth year and sixth year, these guys started throw­ing digs back at the teach­ers. There were a cou­ple of full-on punch-ups in the class. Oth­ers had to get in­volved in pulling the pupil and teacher off each other — that is no ex­ag­ger­a­tion. And there was a ha­tred among some of the Chris­tian Broth­ers in charge of run­ning Gaelic Games of soc­cer and rugby as for­eign games.

“There was very lim­ited am­bi­tion for the pupils. When I told a ca­reer guid­ance teacher I wanted to be a jour­nal­ist, he scoffed.”

Cooper says he was asked if he had any rel­a­tives in “the Pa­per” (mean­ing the Cork Ex­am­iner).

“When I replied ‘No’, I was im­me­di­ately told I could for­get about it.

“There was this idea that you shouldn’t get ideas above your sta­tion.”

The broad­caster says he made good friends in North Mon, in­clud­ing one friend who is god­fa­ther to one of his chil­dren.

He be­lieves peo­ple in his class went on to suc­ceed and have good ca­reers al­most in spite of the cul­ture in the school.

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