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Behind Bars

I always hated school. Sitting in class listening to boring teachers talking about their boring subjects really turned me off. And even worse they expected me to do homework in the evening when I could be out with the lads or watching videos. I disliked everything about school – that suffocating uniform, the books full of stuff I didn’t understand and the pernickety rules that seemed designed to catch me out. I hated everything about the place.

However I loved going to school. Where else could I meet lads like myself on a daily basis. As Sr Anunciata said one day “athnian ciarog ciarog eile”. We used to have great craic dodging classes, sneaking out for the odd fag behind the bicycle shed or taunting certain teachers who had it in for us. It was so easy to get a rise out of some of them. Farting was one of our favourite pastimes, letting off a stink bomb was even better. Needless to say I spent a lot of time sitting outside the Principal’s office and promising I’d be better the next time. You see I hated getting suspended. It was so boring at home with the auld ones fighting like cats and dogs and the 2 brothers in jail for stealing cars and being drunk and disorderly.

Coming towards the end of third year the teachers started dropping hints about me “graduating” as they called it – reminding me that as I was now 16 I didn’t have to stay in school any longer. Clearly, they wanted to see the back of me. So, when the school reopened in August, after I got my Junior Certificate, I stayed in bed or mooched around the house fighting with everyone even the cat. One day after a neighbour reported me to the Guards for setting fire to one of his bales of hay the auld lady dragged me down to the school and begged the Principal to take me back. He was slow to agree because he knew the teachers didn’t want me upsetting their nice classes but, fair play to him, he took me back. He was a decent auld skin and he took me aside that first day and said to me: “Stephen you’re a big lad now and it’s time you settled down and stopped all this silly carry on”.

Well I did settle a bit after that thanks to lots of help from the learning support team – Mrs Finn was an auld darling. She had endless patience, nothing I did seemed to upset her. Mick Cunningham, the Construction teacher, kept telling me that I wasn’t stupid – just as thick as two planks he’d add. Anyway I stuck it out and finally graduated with the Leaving Cert Class of 2008.

Last month there was a big charity do in the Hilton Hotel and there I was dressed in the black suit, white shirt and dickey bow wandering around chatting to the cream of Galway society. And who did I see but old Mr Construction himself so I tapped him on the shoulder and said “How ya, Sir? Do ya miss me?” It took him a minute to recognise me and the first thing he said was “Jesus, Stephen, what are you doing here?”

Pausing for a minute I replied “Well Sir, remember you used always say I’d end up behind bars? Well you were right in one way. I’ve been behind bars for several years – in fact ever since I graduated from the Catering School in GMIT I’ve worked in pubs and hotels around the city. So, in answer to your question as to what I’m doing here today – I’m the manager of the bar. So can I get you a drink, Sir?”

In fairness to Mick he gave a loud laugh and said: “well fair play to you Stephen. So I was right when I said that you weren’t stupid”. “Dead right Sir”, I replied, “ just as thick as two ! But I’m grateful to you and all the other teachers for sticking with me. In fact I’d love to go back to the school and talk to the lads – I hear there’s a new generation of Stephens there now. Maybe I could tell them that school is not so bad after all – especially compared to working for a living”.

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