The Model School Fire
The timbers cracked as the flames kissed the sky. I stood on the school wall and watched the fire blaze as the smoke bellowed high and mingled with the clouds.
The smell of tuf in the open fire.
The squeak of tin whistles from the school band.
The croaks from the choir as we practiced for the Feis.
The screech of chalk along the blackboard.
The panic as the duster made it’s way through the air towards a chattering classmate.
The tension for the first five minutes as we gauged the mood of the teacher.
The lame excuses for not having my homework done.
The box in the ear for telling a fib.
The race to be first to the handball alley at lunchtime.
The sprint to the gate at the start of school holidays.
My First Communion.
The fear in the classroom as we waited to be examined by the priest. If I didn’t pass I thought I’d be a pagan forever.
The nervousness as we lined for our first confession.
My anxiety when I overheard the ‘sins’ of the boy ahead.
The thunder and rain as we walked to church in our shiny new suits.
The priest who said the weather was bad because God was angry with us for being bold.
I figured we must be very bold because it always rained in Limerick.
The tears in my mother’s eyes when I received the host.
The money in my pocket at the end of that day.
The joy of telling teacher I had a new sister. I watched over her at school, as a big brother should.
The joy as she won a competition for painting.
The smile as she ran to show me her prize.
The compassion of the teachers the Christmas she died.
Whenever I’m in Limerick I pause and gaze through the railings at the modern school that has emerged from the ashes of that inferno. Gone are the turf fires and the ‘clips in the ear’. They have computers and learn foreign languages now. So well they might boast, but I wonder do they have a Tin Whistle Band?