Those of a certain age will recall their schooldays and the ritual of acquiring the requisite schoolbooks, which were generally passed down from class to class. Here, as students make their way back to the classroom for another year, Nicky Rossiter takes an affectionate look back over some of the books which were part and parcel of our schooling back then.

It’s that time of year again as young scholars return to the classroom. Today they head off to school with the full complement of books, with their book lists having been filled in the local bookshops or online since early summer.
Back in the middle of the 20th century such was not the case. We usually returned to classes in late August or early September with an empty schoolbag, well we would have probably had the full pencil case, wooden ruler (later plastic but never steel) and maybe a geometry set in later classes.

On that first day back we wrote down our book list from the one written on the blackboard by the teacher. Then it was a matter of the parents ‘stumping up’ the cash over the coming days and thus we took possession of the texts, from the in-school shop or office, that would enhance or haunt our lives for the coming 9 to 10 months.t

Apart from the text books there were the copies. The ‘landscape’ copy with its pink and blue lines that would help us learn cursive writing – capitals up to the pink others between the blues. The Sums Copy (not maths in those days) was similarly laid out to teach us how to write numbers neatly within the squares.

One of the most iconic books of early schooldays was Spot the Dog – with sentences like ‘see how Spot runs’. Then there was Ann and Barry. I often wonder about the choice of names in that series, we knew a lot of Anns but Barry was far from a common name.

Irish books from primary school included Jimín Mháire Thaidhg by Pádraig Ó Siochfhradha, who wrote under the Gaelic pen-name An Seabhac (‘The Hawk’) and his semi-autobiographical comedy Jimín Mháire Thaidhg that we had was first published in 1919. It followed his childhood under the control of his powerful mother, but we never realised much of this.

Another was Nedin which told the life story of a donkey. Scéal Séadna was another school textbook in our youth. This was an abbreviated version of Séadna and was only a third of the length of the original book by Fr. Peadar Ua Laoghaireis. It was a tale of the cobbler who made a deal with the devil to sell his soul in exchange for enough money to buy as much leather as he needed.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own