The Class of 1972
The Swinging Sixties
We've done larger things, but not better things. We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less. (Anon)
In late 1965 the
world was in a state of flux, as images of the Vietnam War were broadcast on black
and white television screens across the country. Death was brought into our
homes at a time when these images still had the power to shock. Dr Martin
Luther King was beginning to galvanise support for his Civil Rights Campaign,
The conflict in
In many ways we
had not yet lost our innocence despite the 1960s images of sex, drugs and
rock-and-roll. We were more familiar with the era of the Show Bands and the
pulsating effect of the wooden floor in Portadown Boat Club, which seemed to
defy the laws of physics.
facing my parents was not the political ramifications of
their financial challenges paled into insignificance, as they struggled to get
a uniform to fit a twelve-year old with a large body mass. My girth physically
challenged every hooker in the school, as they struggled inch-by-inch to reach
the other side of their prop's landmass. Consequently, nothing fitted, not in
the usual fashion, where children grow into their voluminous uniform that mum
had purchased in their first-year to last, but rather one where the buttons on
my coat could have been re-classified as dangerous projectiles, with the
potential to remove the eyes of my peers, should I have attempted to button-up
my school blazer.
skull-cap, which I will return to later, sat on top of my head like one of
those that the Jewish community wear on the back of their heads. The religious
cap was rich in symbolism but mine only served to restrict the blood flow to a
brain that did not reflect the girth of my other physical dimensions. The uniform
was a badge of pride then, and remains so today, however some strategically
placed whalebone-stays would have done me a great service.
The working-class boy bound for the Grammar school concerned about fitting into a middle-class school was much more of a worry for me than fitting into that posh uniform. Today I have a middle-class income with the same Protestant-work-ethic passed down by my parents; my working-class values are still there but they remain those of the 1950s and 1960s.
The Journey Begins
We must work to prevent intolerance from taking hold in the next generation. We must build on the open-mindedness of young people, and ensure that their minds remain open. (Kofi Annan)
The first day was
full of warmth and excitement, feelings that have remained with me to this day
for a school that transformed my life. Standing in the assembly hall
waiting for the day to start I met a boy called James Hampton, whose smile
radiated from ear-to-ear. James is still a personal friend and he symbolises
all that was good about the school and the
We shared many adventures over the ensuing years even though, on more than one occasion, he "rucked" his boots frantically over the top of my body to get to that oval-shaped ball, on a cold and wet games-day. At other times he used his immense strength to remove the opposing players who were intent on strangling the life out of my rotund body. He remains a gentleman in every sense of the word.
Mr Woodman knew
every one of us on the first day and he never lost that personal touch, as we
progressed from the front of the assembly hall in first-year to the rear of the
hall in Upper-Sixth. This journey turned us into adults and inculcated us with
a broad and liberal education that has served us well to-date, as we continue
along the ever-decreasing road to retirement.
The school was
never solely about results but spiritual, personal and social growth to enable
us to serve within the community, both as leaders and followers. Mr Woodman was
inspirational and I still detect the echoes of his teachings in my peer's
conversations, as we fondly remember him. Today the world of education is
catching-up to the point where he had already reached during the 1960s.
Pastoral care has to be taught today but for him it was a life-well-lived, as
he walked in the shoes of the fisherman from
I Have a Plan
The bus journey to school was always enjoyable in the company of Philip Wright, Maxine Moore, Stephanie Weir, Daphne Bailey and Diane Rusk. They were, and are, great friends of mine and we have enriched each other's lives in so many ways; forming a bond that stretches back though the decades. However, the social group for me was generally a boy's club, comprised mainly of primary school friends and new acquaintances. Boys-and-their-toys, nothing changes!
friend, Annesley Renshaw, always had a plan and we were daft enough
"to-boldly-go" anywhere with him for the "craic". One event
has never left me, as it was one of Annesley's better impish moments, and one
that brings me back to those ill-fitting skull-caps. Someone at PC decided that
once a week we should learn how to make egg-boxes and pencil cases at the
"Old Tech" on the
The banter was cruel and mostly justified, but in truth many friendships from primary school were rekindled. The strongest of these friendships to develop over time, for many of us, was one with Kalbhushan Suberwal. Who could forget "Bushy", certainly not anyone who propped against him in later-years?
Back to those
skull-caps. Annesley told us that the headmaster had decided to relent and caps
were no longer compulsory. To celebrate this momentous day on the way back to
the school, having destroyed more perfectly good pieces of wood at the
"Tech", the sheep gathered on the
Mr Renshaw had the bright idea of having a cap-race in the river. As usual, we sheep removed the offending piece of clothing and duly obliged by throwing them over the bridge and into the muddy waters. Our cheers became rather muted when we encountered a set of prefects on our return to school. These prefects did not seem to be aware of this new regulation pertaining to caps. On the horizon was our first detention in our initial brush with the law at school and perhaps his representations on our behalf inspired Annesley to study for a law degree later in life.
In Upper-Sixth he surpassed himself when he arranged a well deserved rest-day from learning for Philip Wright, Kathryn Lavery, Audrey Russell and me. What a glorious day it was, as we went down to the river near Maghery, where we enjoyed ourselves immensely. Unfortunately, when Mr Woodman heard that Wright, Tate and Renshaw were missing he made a general announcement in assembly to the effect that anyone meeting us later in the day should ask us to grace him with our presence.
In love and
kindness and with true Christian charity Mr Woodman offered us a choice, a
concept so highly prized in the world of education today referred to as
pupil-voice. Ours was the choice between three of the cane, to be administered
most accurately by DW across the rear-end, or a Saturday detention. In a truly
democratic manner Philip and I allowed Annesley to choose wisely for all of us,
as my pupil-voice was shaking. I had never attended school on a Saturday before
that day. True-to-form though, he had another plan in mind.
As the Saturday
in question dawned we attended school reluctantly because it was the F.A. Cup
Final and our beloved
What of the plan? A gem indeed, Annesley had arranged for us to go to Brian Irwin's house to see the match in colour. This was probably the only colour TV set in Portadown at the time. I will not quote the final score of the match but even Annesley had his limitations. You will of course have realised by now that Kathryn and Audrey escaped Scott-free as we carried-the-can for our collective transgressions. In truth they prepared one of the best picnics on what was the only day we ever "mitched-off" from school.
The Teaching Staff
Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means. (Albert Einstein)
Everyone has their favourite member of staff and I apologise that I cannot mention them all because I both respected and valued every teacher at our school. Mr Jackie Mulligan and Mr Raymond Stewart in our early years attempted to make rugby players of us all and they did succeed in fostering a life-long love of the game. I can still see the concern on Mr Mulligan's face, as I waddled at top speed down the gymnasium towards his brand new trampette, which was meant to hurl my undulating body into the air and over the wooden-horse. That man was my hero at school and his patience with me was limitless, as my body mangled much of his expensive PE equipment.
In seven years none of us ever managed to tackle "Snowy" Stewart on the mud-soaked school rugby pitches. He was a talented rugby and cricket player; a man of warmth and enormous generosity to all in his care. Later Mr Derek Wilson joined the PE staff and some years ago he recalled an incident involving me, that he thought at the time had finished his teaching career in its first-year.
He decided one
day to introduce us to baseball, not a common inclusion on the grammar school
curriculum. I was behind the batter when Ralph Hanlon, who was unfamiliar with
the protocols of the game, came in to bat. Mr Wilson called for the delivery of
the ball and Ralph hit it with a degree of ferocity unknown to man-or-beast.
Unfortunately, for me that is, Ralph let go of the bat and it hit me on the
skull where my school cap formerly resided and I deeply regretted that I had
not worn it on that day. The offending bat knocked me out and left me with a
giant lump on the side of my head. I hit the ground with a proverbial
"wallop" inducing a second injury to complement Ralph's first blow.
Poor Mr Wilson
was in a bigger state of shock then I was but Mr Woodman rescued the day. I was
carried to the medical room by a team of students and staff who still bear the
consequences of the injuries to this day, forgive the poetic licence. Whenever,
I recovered consciousness Mr Woodman made a medical assessment and decided that
I should go to the newly-built
I am sure that,
in the politically-correct and litigious world in which we live, the Department
of Education would carry out a full enquiry if this happened in school today. His
decision to send me on my own in a taxi would undoubtedly have led to him being
incarcerated within the bowels of Rathgael House. However, I must confess to an
appreciation for Mr Woodman taking this decision because, on my release from
hospital, I kept the taxi money, walked home and bought some sweets, thus
adding to the pressure on my blazer buttons.
Wilson went on to become the principal of a school in Dungannon, where some of
my pupils transferred to when I was the principal in
briefly, at university Ralph, Annesley and I were sitting in a pub in
Can anyone of us
ever forget Miss Nora Harvey, who made teaching seem so effortless and
enjoyable for her pupils? I am sure that many readers will remember the
lugubrious Mr Bud Graham perched precariously on his seat, close to the warmth
of the radiator and surrounded by a collection of books, which resembled that
famous tower in
I am deeply indebted to Mr Uel Fulton, as he struggled manfully to convince me that quadratic equations have an intrinsic value in themselves. After I left school he became the vice-principal and I believe this was a just reward for getting me through my O Level Mathematics. I am sure that I was the one that drove him to the tobacco!
McCormick was the Army Cadet Force officer in school and he was one of the
wittiest men I ever encountered. I will always remember him putting us into a
defensive trench and then throwing in a "Thunder-Flash" to test our
state of readiness for the next world war. Now remember, my body shape was not
conducive to agile movements and any manoeuvre that required a speedy exit from
a trench left me at a distinct disadvantage. Philip Henry, who later became an
officer in 4 Royal Irish mortar platoon, left more footmarks on me as he left
the trench than James Hampton had ever done in his prime on the rugby field.
Mr McCormick was
later to become very successful as a Principal in the Further Education sector
and his pipe developed a life of its own and was last seen living in
We did have some fun
at Mr Woodman's expense but he always took it in good grace. On occasion
that suitcase he carried, the 1960s equivalent of the Blackberry, that
contained all of his professional documents and text books could be found
sitting in the middle of a corridor. The owner, having remembered something
more important to do, had set it down on the floor and it just screamed out to
be moved. The usual new location was the girls’ toilets but wherever it
ended-up he always found it.
It was a
privilege to listen to his talks in assembly and during Religious Education
classes. He challenged us intellectually and spiritually, both by his actions
and in his professional dealings with us in school. He led us from childhood to
adulthood during the most formative years of our lives. I remember his smile on
one occasion when he invited some of us to help with a group of disabled people
from the area. Philip Wright and I were tasked to help a gentleman to get into
the school building, at a time when there were no disabled ramps at the front
Philip and I had never encountered a wheel-chair before and we nervously gripped the arm-rests to lift our charge up the steps. The offending handles were detachable and we were left standing with the arm-rests whilst the wheel-chair took off backwards, as the owner scowled at us. Mr Woodman retrieved both the man and the situation with his customary charm and we retreated into the sanctity of the school.
As a principal, I
have had to cope with those sad days in school whenever a death occurs,
especially difficult when it is that of a pupil or teacher. Sadly, Mr Woodman
had occasion to lead us during our time of collective loss. His sense of grief
for the loss of a member of his school family was self-evident but he was only
ever concerned for us, as we grieved for one of our PC community. He never put
his personal needs above those of his children and staff.
Fortiter Et Humaniter, with Courage and Courtesy
that was Mr Woodman. Remembrance Day was a special day in school and for him every
poppy represented a life lost and a face remembered. When he spoke to us
there was no glorification of war.
Studdert Kennedy, a poet and clergyman, was often quoted in class and assembly by Mr Woodman. Kennedy earned the nickname "Woodbine Willy" for his habit of giving Woodbine cigarettes to soldiers during WW1. He was awarded the Military Cross for risking his life to comfort the wounded at Messines Ridge. During the war "Woodbine Willy" wrote verses for soldiers in the trenches. Mr Woodman was a Londoner and he skilfully captured the cockney nuances inherent within the poetry. I am sure that they both stand in the presence of God, as men of honour and courage.
An understanding heart is everything in a teacher, and cannot be esteemed highly enough. One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feeling. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child. (Carl Jung)
Sometimes it worries me. I feel something's got to give. I know what Harry Secombe meant when he said he's worried that one day the phone will ring and a mystic voice will say, 'Thank you, Mr Secombe. Now can we have it all back? (Eric Morcambe)
never aspire to the heights achieved by Pauline Matchett, Elizabeth Wright,
Richard Hegarty, Norman McFadden, Kenny Harrison, Philip Troughton, John
Douglas, David Anderson, Ian Boyd, Tom Robinson, Barney McGonigle, David
Barriskill, Ronnie Withers or Ferguson Cosgrove. How I loved to watch them
compete in their chosen sport and on sports day in particular.
Many of these pupils would be sent to youth academies today, such was their individual talent. They were competitive individuals all of whom remain within my personal virtual-DVD-player encased within my head, now free from the restrictions of that skull-cap. A place where they have never aged one day since performing for their House or School in an attempt to bring success to PC . These individuals were living proof and a testament to the hard work of Mr Mulligan, Mr Jones et al who gave of their time so freely.
school was very focussed on sport but that never diminished the academic
achievement. Dr George McKerr has excelled in his research field at the
Joan Maginnis, Doreen Toal, Heather Murphy, Hillary Carrick, Sally-Ann Maginnis, Alexandra Black, Janne Rountree, Pauline Mann, Barney McGonigle, Gillian English, Mervyn Adamson, Geoffrey Kyle, Susan McDonagh, Brian Chambers, Isobell Lappin, Marilyn Smith, Audrey Russell and Fergie Cosgrove have been successful teachers for more years than they care to remember.
Daphne Abraham, Tom Robinson, Nicholas Bloch, Elizabeth Pepper, Richard Hegarty, Malcolm McMahon, Helen Irwin, Paul little, Diane Quinn, Annesley Renshaw, Kenny Harrison James Hampton, Ronnie Beggs, Harry Gallery, Jack Corkin, Brian Eakin, Ronnie Wilson, Harold Twinem, Harry Eakin, Keith Stanfield, Brian Irwin, Paul Moore, Stephen McCann, John Burnett, Harold Twinen, Michael Stevenson, Jim Turley, Daryl Silcock, Alan Bowen, Lavene Shilliday, Trevor Beggs and David Anderson have all prospered in the agricultural, business, legal, commercial and public sectors of the economy both here and abroad. Tom Hanvey has remained a free spirit and a genuine character, in many ways a true child of the 1960s.
I took away from school a strong sense of social-justice and a love of literature; encouraged by Mrs Celia Lewis and Miss Helen Mehaffey. Helen later became the Chief Officer of the SEELB where she helped me on numerous occasions. Mr Vivian McIver and Mr James McCormick left me with a passion for history. Mr McIver became a senior figure in the DENI and I had the pleasure of meeting with him from time-to-time.
The most precious thing that I have taken away from school was a wonderful box of memories, that time has not eroded to-date. Unfortunately, my blazer is now tighter than ever. The other day the renowned heart man at the Royal Dr David McCluskey, PC class of 1970, came to visit me in school and his eyes opened wide with a professional challenge. Perhaps he has a plan!
It would be a travesty not to mention some characters who brightened-up all of our lives and sadly they are no longer with us in body but most definitely they remain in spirit. Harold Humphries, Jim Neill and Wesley White were lovely lads with a wicked sense of humour. I enjoyed many a conversation with them and they always made me laugh.
The first person to die in our year was Margaret Pearson, who was killed in a road traffic accident in our first year when her hockey stick caused her to lose control of her bicycle.
Some years ago I was asked to take a church service near the Dobbin. On opening the Bible to read it I found that it was inscribed with Margaret's name and my mind flooded back to that dark day where the tears filled my eyes in assembly, as we heard about Smiler's death. Once again the tears returned some thirty-years later and my heart still breaks for her family. I will never forget the ashen face of Mr Woodman, as he prayed for her family. Leo Marks' poem brings some comfort for lost love and youth.
The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.
A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause.
For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours.
The Good Times
The pupil who encapsulates the spirit of the class of 1972 is Barney McGonigle who has kept us all in touch over four decades. A gentleman and scholar! We were no saints in the class of 1972 but we were a special year in so many ways. Some of the names will not come to mind and I am sure that you will email these to me for inclusion at a later date. I would love to learn what John Bustard, Issac Busby and Michael Scott have been doing during all of these years.
I can only remember the good times and I am fairly certain that we must have fallen-out on occasion, much in the manner of all large families, but these incidents have not remained with me and that is a testament to the character of these individuals.
Today, as I write this passage, the names cited above just rolled off the tongue. This feat of memory would amuse my own children who are rarely called by their proper name at home, much to their disgust. This is a mistake that I never commit with my wife's name. Memory lapses are now more common in my mid-fifties. I am now older than most of the staff who taught us from 1965 - 1972.
Bill Dickie, who loved to reminisce, I also enjoy looking back and cherishing
the time that I spent at
Instead of giving a rifle to somebody, build a school; instead of giving a rifle, build a community with adequate services. Instead of giving a rifle, develop an educational system that is not about conflict and violence, but one that promotes respect for values, for life, and respect for one's elders. This requires a huge investment. Yet if we can invest in a different vision of peaceful coexistence, I think we can change the world, because every problem has a nonviolent answer. (Rigoberta Menchu)
was to bring some of the darkest years of the Troubles, epitomised by the
Bloody Friday bombs in
My parents were worried that they could not afford to send me to Stranmills College of Education. The innocence we had enjoyed in 1965 was long gone, as the civil strife progressed, and we prepared to enter the adult world.
For they could not love you, but still your love was true,
And when no hope was left in sight, on that starry, starry night,
You took your life as lovers often do,
But I could have told you, Vincent,
This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.