The history of St Joseph’s College.  Chapter 2. House of Cards.

And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and great was the fall of it.    Matthew  8/26-27

It was the custom amongst ancient writers to start their narratives, ‘in medias res’, that is ‘in the middle of things’. In this way the reader would receive a grasp of where the plot was heading and how it was going to get there. This mode has been used to good effect by successive waves of post modernist writers, as for instance Keneally begins Schindler’s Arc with Oscar already in the company of the Gestapo, offering them inducements, to send him more Jews for his protection. For the more sophisticated of the post modernists, it became customary to start the narrative at the end, as in Amis’s Time’s Arrow, and for the author to work backwards so finishing at the beginning. One day some aspiring author will begin his novel at the beginning and progress chronologically until he reaches the conclusion. To this young person will fall the adulation of critics and readers in no small measure. He will receive literary prizes, scholarly awards, medals, honorary degrees and a great fat contract for his next work. He will justifiably receive the adoration of the literary world for his innovative structure and audacity of style. But give me the old fashioned method any time. I am steeped in the manner of the early post modernists who jumped into the middle without messing about with straight lines of thought. This history will be a simple narrative, starting in the middle, jerking back to the beginning, and progressing asymptotically towards a conclusion, stopping only for the occasional diversion, when I know it to be my duty to do so.

The College’s history begins with expansion, and continues with expansion until it reaches its apex, and then it begins its steady decline and eventual fall, and this apex, the central point of the history, fell on 15th February 1963, slightly before lunchtime. It was on this day that the new block was declared ready for occupation. The plan for the shift was that all classes that had been allocated rooms in the new block were to move to their new location, one class at a time and at a given signal. At that time, I was in class 5c, and our classroom was the physics lab. When there was no class occupying the physics lab for the study of physics, we were in the lab, and when there was a class in there at physics, we were in their classroom.  And so it came to pass that at about noon, the whole class trooped behind the master who had charge of the class at the time, who happened to be O’Sullivan, and marched in formation to the new classroom. The workman were still in the corridors, making the finishing touches to the fabric, and O’Sullivan looked down on them as if they were dog turds in the street. I don’t know if this was because he looked down on the lower orders, or whether he was anxious for them to be gone, and leave the school in the hands of the masters, but his mood was becoming sourer and his lips ever more pursed together. When we arrived at the classroom, in my haste to secure a good position at the back of the class, my foot skimmed a section of the skirting board, or at least O’Sullivan said that it did. He looked down on me as if I were one of the workmen and, between pursed lips that would hardly allow words to escape, declaimed “You, foolish boy! Can you see what you have done?” pointing to an alleged mark on the skirting board.  O’Sullivan must have had extraordinary eyesight, because I could see nothing. “You have caused the first damage at the new block.” Mercifully his eyes fell upon someone who was about to cause the second damage to the new block and he sped away.

I doubt if this was the first damage.  I think that the first damage was caused by O’Sullivan’s twenty-stone frame, waddling up three flights of stairs, and the second damage was caused by the troop of boys following behind him. One of the Brothers once told our class that our very existence was a sin before God, which made me wonder whether it my existence should be told in confession as a sin, and if I would receive an additional quota of the mandatory Hail Mary’s for having the effrontery to be alive. But our existence was a sin to that building, because we caused it to crumble, for we caused the bricks to fall apart. For the building was sinking. It was Jerry built. Despite protestations from surveyors and architects and from the Department of Education, a substandard structure was built in the name of progress.

For, so it was at Joe’s. Each headmaster built a new block. Every one added more and more to the structure. But what of repairs to the existing buildings? The policy was to leave these to future generations. What was wanted was new buildings now! But this new block marked the end. The next planning application in 1968, for the building of an assembly hall, was flatly turned down by the Department of Education, who found that Joe’s not only had no funds to build, but had no money to meet repair bills and had nothing for running expenses and was bankrupt. So from that fateful scuffmark on the skirting board, (I swear I couldn’t see anything. I deny it all) Joe’s began its slow fateful decline.

And so when we left the school at the turn of the century, it was in Park Road. The meagre historical sources available suggest that it moved to larger premises in Whitegate Lane (now Whitegate Drive) before moving back to Park Road, when in 1918, it was being run by a Dr R D Riley. There were 40 boys and not much room for these boys and so when the house of the late William Lumb became available for rent, the erudite Dr Riley took up a lease and moved into the house at Layton Mount.

Here there was ample room for 40 boys, or even 50 or more and then expansion on a grand scale. But it was a very small house on a very large estate and, in order to expand, the school needed to own the freehold of the property. Dr Riley thought long and hard and eventually conceived an idea. If, or so his train of thought went, the fathers of the boys were all to come together, and chip in some money, we could buy the freehold and then we could add some more buildings to the property, and thereby take in more boys, whose parents will pay more fees, and enable us to expand further and so on, and you get the picture.

Dr Riley was a Classicist by nature and training. He was steeped in the traditions of Cicero, Ovid, Tacitus and the rest. He knew Greek too, and had a smattering of knowledge of the English Classics. Gentlemen, mock not the Latin instruction we received at Joe’s.  Do not scoff at Josh O’Leary, L Charles and the other buffoons who vainly tried to instil the Classics into us. If we had learned from them all that they had to offer, we would have become as knowledgeable as Dr Riley, who knew the Classics as if they were his native language. He was a man of learning and intellect. He had the intellectual capacity of what we now know as an ‘accountant’.

And so Dr Riley convened his meeting of the parents of the boys in his charge, and on Thursday 15th May 1919, addressed the meeting as follows. He said “Gentlemen………...”

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