Music in School

Music in School

Mrs Currie was the teacher in Dernakesh NS during my time there. In 1967 I was in 1st class. That kind lady taught us many things- the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic.. Every now and then, at least once a week we had singing class. It provided a little light relief from the daily chores of standard education.
She gathered us in a circle around her old brown desk. We would start off singing the scale. Doh Ray Mee Fah Soo etc as a vocal warm up, before we got stuck into serious singing.
My first real distinct memory of being alive and functioning in this world was around 1964. I heard The Beatles on the radio, singing, ‘She Loves YouYeah Yeah’. That particular sound struck a chord in my kid brain and from that moment on music would be one of the most important features in my life.
However in ’67, The Beatles hadn’t established a foothold in Mrs Currie’s clasroom. It was the old Irish songs that were very much the order of the day. Fainne Geal an Lae, An Madra Rua, Seanin ar a Rothar and probably the biggest hit of them all, The Croppy Boy. It was the one song that stood in my mind for a number of reasons. Being song from the era of the 1798 rebellion gave it a strong political undercurrent. Added to that it was quite long, tedious and mournful. That’s how it sounded to our tender ears. You soon developed a loathing for the song, for singing in general and indeed the British. An important thing in a catholic Irish national school in the mid 60’s.

The song and its endless verses told us all about this young man, who had been fighting against the English Redcoats during the Wexford Uprising in 1798. Then at one stage during the battle, he decided to take time out for visit to confession, as indeed any young Catholic lad at the time would be eager to do.
Fr Green was the local priest, and as the song says,
’tis easy speaking with Fr Green’
But The English even as far back as then were no slouches when it came to counter insurgency and dirty tricks, Unknown to the unsuspecting Croppy Boy Fr Green had been taken captive by the Redcoats, and a soldier had replaced him in the confession box. The young man proceeded to tell his, ‘sins’ as one does in confession, holding nothing back. Most of what he had to confess related to his deeds, during the rebellion, and the role of his family in the affair.
That was what the ‘priest’ wanted to hear. He revealed himself to the Croppy Boy, who was immediately arrested and taken away to receive his penance. A much more severe sentence than the real Fr Green would have dished out. Yes, as happened to many before and after him that rose up in an effort to cast aside the burden of British rule in Ireland, he met with the fate of death by execution.
So that was one of the first songs we were taught at school. Week in, week out we gathered around the teachers table, she struck the tuning fork on the wooden desk- top, we took the note it being the right or wrong one, and away we went some in tune, others not, singing this sad tale of woe. Not exactly party music.

Mrs Currie spent time out of school due to illness, and a younger, female teacher took her place. The teacher was more modern in her ways and indeed in her choice of music. She was certainly more rock n roll in her approach. No she didn’t introduce any of those Beatles or Rolling Stones hits of the day into the repoitre, but the songs were new to our tender ears and she had rhythm.
Two songs I remember well. Frere Jacques, which translates to English, as ‘Are you sleeping Brother John’ This little French ditty, was gay, happy, sunny and cheerful. The teacher, although we didn’t realise it at the time, made it also sound sexy. She had an English accent anyhow and when she sang the song, put a French twang into it. We knew there was something about the whole thing, which was modern, new and sort of dangerous.
That tune has stayed with me down the years. In 1988 I began to follow the sport of cycling. Channel 4 television in the UK would show a half hourly highlights programme of the Tour De France. And what was the signature tune they used at the start of the programme. Yes, you guessed it, Frere Jacques. Once again I was back in school 20 years ago, and there was the teacher with the sexy voice belting it out with vigor. Fast-forward to 2006 and I take up learning the piano. What was one of the first tunes the teacher
offered to me as a simple learners tune. No prizes this time for guessing Frere Jacques. Played only with the right hand it’s a breeze for any beginner .So an innocent little song, far removed from the tragedy and the hard politics of the Croppy Boy.
The song London’s Burning was also another favourite of the new teacher. This song was in commeration of the Great Fire of London, and you would imagine that songs on such a topic would also be sad, and tragic, just like the Croppy Boy. But it was far from a dirge. Bright, cheerful, sunny and bouncy, the words and melody of the song, were sung in celebration of this burning of London. Thousands must have lost their lives. Houses and homes were razed to the ground, but it seems the English even when the chips are down and all seems beyond hope,will sing a happy song and keep the good side out. We all enjoyed singing along with it, feeling that it must have been exciting with all the flames and fire engines on the go. Shock and awe Middle Ages style, long before the assault on Baghdad in 2003.
I couldn’t help thinking that the Croppy Boy would have shed few tears over the great Fire of London, and perhaps it was just reward and sweet revenge for what happened to him and his kin during the 1798 uprising. What goes around, comes around..

So what are they singing in school nowadays. My eldest daughter started this September in the same school, although now a much bigger than the standard 3 room school of our time. No word of the Croppy Boy as yet. Wheels on the Bus, seems to be popular. From what I’ve heard of it, there doesn’t seem to be any potent political messages lurking amid the verses.
Styles and technology move on. Only last week I did an Internet search for the Croppy Boy lyrics, and in about 11 seconds I had the entire words on the screen in front of me enabling me to print them off.
I feel it’s only right and proper that I should reproduce them here.

Good men and true in this house who dwell, to a stranger buachail, I pray you tell,
Is the priest at home or may be seen, I would speak a word with Fr Green.
The priests at home boy and maybe seen, tis easy speaking with Fr Green.
But you must till I go and see, if the holy father alone may be.

The youth has entered a silent hall, what a lonely sound has his light foot fall.
And the gloomy chamber is chill and bare, with a vested priest in a lonely chair.
The youth has knelt to tell his sins, ‘In nominee Del, the youth begins.
At,’mea culpa,’ he beats his breast and in broken murmurs he speaks the rest.

‘At the siege of Ross did my father fall, and at Goery my loving brothers all.
I alone am left of my name and race; I will go to Wexford to take their place.
I cursed three times since last Easter day, and at mass time once I went to play.
I passed the church yard one day in hast, and forgot to pray for my mother’s rest.

‘I bear no hate against living thing, but I love my country above my king.
Now, bless me father and let me go, to die if god has ordained it so.
The priest said naught but a rustling noise, made the youth look up and in wild surprise.
The robes were off, and in scarlet there.
Stood a Yeoman Captain with a fiery glare.

With a fiery glare and with fury hoarse instead of a blessing he breathed a curse.
‘Twas a good thought boy to come here and shrive, for one short hour is your time to live.
Upon yon river three tenders float, the priests in one if he isn’t shot.
We hold this house for our lord and king, and amen, say I may all traitors’ swing.

At Geneva Barracks the young man died, and at Passage there his body laid.
Good people, who live in peace and joy, breath a prayer, shed a tear for Croppy Boy.

Words courtesy of Carroll Malone, from the Internet.

Music in School

Brian Reynolds

Bailieborough, Ireland

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Reminiscing about when I was a junior pupil in National school some years ago

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